By David VergunAugust 20, 2014
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Aug, 20, 2014) -- A Pew Research Center report published in 2011 notes that a smaller share of Americans currently serve in the armed forces than at any time since the peacetime era between World Wars I and II.
Just one-half of one percent of Americans served in uniform at any given time, from 2001 to 2011 -- the longest period of sustained conflict in the country's history -- the report says.
Meanwhile, as the military shrinks in size, the connections between military members and the broader civilian population "appear to be growing more distant," the report notes.
Some commands, though, are hosting interns from colleges and universities and the training is helping boost the Army's connections with the American people.
This is not the Army's four decade's-old Civilian Career Intern Program, which is a training program for entry- to mid-level management positions as Army civilians.
This type of internship involves colleges and vocational training institutions, which typically encourage students to participate in summer internships in the business community, non-profits and government agencies.
Those that do internships with Army commands get to work alongside Soldiers, receiving personal exposure to the military and first-hand experience.
In July of this year, the Army Corps of Engineers invited four students who were studying engineering to Wiesbaden, Germany, to work with corps engineers.
"This is a professional environment," said Ariel Dowdy, who is majoring in mechanical engineering at Alabama A&M, of her experience. "Being here gives me a good idea of what to expect when I actually enter the career field. I am working on construction project sites, so it gives me a good idea of what my job will be like if I go into construction management, or project engineering. I like being out in the field and not sitting at a computer all day."
Another intern echoed her sentiments.
"I was pleasantly surprised by this internship because I have been able to get my hands on actual projects," said Ryan Deising. "I have done some design work. I worked directly with project managers to draw from scratch, or revise designs. I actually put my name on the drawings, so that is great experience for me."
INTERNING WITH ROBOTS
Last year, U.S. Army Natick Soldier Systems Center, in Massachusetts, participated in "another successful year of integrating high school students into an internship exchange program," according to leaders of that program.
Over the summer several Natick High School seniors substituted 80 hours of unpaid volunteer work at the Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center, for their last term of academic classes.
Their work included learning about and working on Natick business practices and development of an ice search-and-rescue robot.
"Every time someone reports a hole in the ice, the fire department has to go investigate," intern Adam Azanow said. "Towns don't have a lot of money to train scuba divers, and ice diving is very dangerous. The robots are used to search and locate if anything has gone through the ice without putting human lives in danger. One robot drives across the ice and lowers the (remotely operated) vehicle."
The students have been working on the robots since May 2012. Azanow said that after his internship ends, he plans to return to school to help his classmates complete the project.
"I really like the concept behind hands-on experiences, and working in the real world, because you can only learn so much in the classroom," he added.
NON-AMERICANS INTERN TOO
This year, some 60 South Korean university students are interning throughout U.S. Army Garrisons in South Korea.
"The Intern program is a win-win situation for both the Daegu City university students and the USAG (U.S. Army Garrison) Daegu installations," said Gladys Colon-Algarin, USAG Daegu volunteer corps program manager/intern program manager. "The program encourages an understanding of American culture with the future generation of Korean leaders. Many Korean university students who are interested in the American culture have the opportunity to travel, study and work in the U.S.
"However," she continued, "not all Korean university students have the financial means to do that. For those who cannot afford the cost of traveling overseas, the USAG Daegu Internship program allows them the opportunity to work in an American environment and learn skills related to their future careers."
USAG Daegu Commmander Col. Jim Bradford joined Korean university leaders and the Garrison Army Community Services representatives in a memorandum of understanding signing ceremony last November, which reaffirmed the importance the program has in strengthening and maintaining a strong relationship between the U.S. and South Korea.
Army News Service has been using summer interns now at the Pentagon for a number of years, with great success. Over this summer, Libby Howe and Lillian Boyd spent eight weeks reporting and taking pictures of Army events and senior leader activities.
Howe, an English major at Virginia Tech, said her time here was of great value and something she otherwise would never have experienced. Among the many events she covered for ARNEWS was the Army birthday and President Barack Obama awarding former Staff Sgt. Ryan Pitts the Medal of Honor.
Later, Howe remarked that it was incredible that ARNEWS entrusted her with such important responsibilities.
She noted that some of the other interns in organizations outside the Army were given routine or mundane assignments to complete, because their supervisors were uncomfortable entrusting college students with meaningful tasks.
As a result of her internship, Howe said she'd like to shift focus to journalism as a future career.
While an ARNEWS reporter did accompany the interns at most events to advise and assist, the interns did 100 percent of the reporting on their own, and very little, if any, editing or supervision was necessary.
Boyd, the other intern, also had a chance to cover Pitts during the Pentagon Hall of Heroes ceremony. She too had good things to say about the intern program.
Her opinion about the Army changed for the better as well.
"I was impressed by the Army's effort to promote social justice, including eliminating sexual harassment," she said, noting that she was especially surprised to discover that June is Gay Pride Month in the Defense Department.
Boyd interviewed Lt. Gen. Howard B. Bromberg, the G-1, about the Army's efforts to stamp out sexual assault. She thinks the Army's Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention program, or one like it, could benefit universities.
Interns don't always come from a local colleges. Boyd, for instance, is a journalism major at Humboldt State in California.
Both ARNEWS interns said the experience changed their own lives for the better, and helped them formulate their own career plans. In turn, they shared their creative ideas and innovative ways of doing things.
While working this summer, both Boyd and Howe shared their everyday experiences with family and friends via social media, and that sharing with others will likely continue for years to come, they said.
These and other interns have had the rare and precious opportunity to serve alongside Soldiers and have become better acquainted with America's Army.
(Editor's note: The following reporters contributed facts to this commentary: Donna Miles; Jennifer Aldridge, USACE Europe District; Adrienne Gagne, Natick; and Mary B. Grimes, U.S. Army Garrison Daegu Public Affairs. For more ARNEWS stories, visit http://www.army.mil/ARNEWS, or Facebook at www.facebook.com/ArmyNewsService.)