HUNT VALLEY, Md. -- Middle school students convening here this week for the eCYBERMISSION National Judging and Educational Event were told they had become honorary U.S. Army scientists and engineers and that they represent the future of the American scientific community.

The NJ&EE, which runs June 15-19, includes science, technology, engineering and mathematics activities in addition to bestowing awards to competition finalists.

Jyuji Hewitt, executive deputy to the commanding general of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, addressed students Wednesday at the start of the STEM Challenge workshops.

He said based on the projects they entered in the competition and for taking part in STEM activities throughout the week that they had become honorary Army scientists and engineers.

He told the students that they represent the future of science and technology.

"You will have an opportunity to make advances for our nation," Hewitt said. "Maybe one of you guys cures cancer. Maybe there's a new way to harness energy, a new way to take care of water or waste management. There are technologies out there that you guys can help work us through."

Hewitt explained the Army's interest in STEM.

"To protect the Soldier," he said. "It takes a lot of scientists and engineers (to) give the Soldier all the stuff he has to carry and make it lighter, protect him better or make his weapons more effective."

Hewitt displayed Army innovations like the Packbot robot, the T-11 parachute, night vision goggles, and newer, lighter helmets that offer the Soldier better protection. He also demonstrated for the student scientists how the uniform is designed.

He told the young audience how Army research has actually touched their lives.

"Today we are very dependent on GPS," Hewitt explained. "Your cell phones all have GPS. Can you imagine if we didn't have GPS? How would we operate?"

"Back in the early 1990s, the United States put up 24 satellites called NAVSTAR. That research started with a bunch of scientists from the U.S. Army.

"It's just not about serving our Soldiers. It's about serving our nation and making the United States the best country in the world when it comes to technology. We want to keep it that way. That's why the Army is so interested in science, technology, engineering and mathematics."

Hewitt said Army Educational Outreach Programs like eCYBERMISSION are important and was pleased to see growth in the program.

"AEOP works from kindergarten through 12th grade," he said. "We are trying to get a STEM venue out there for kids, like we do with youth activities and sports."

Hewitt, who holds a chemistry degree from the University of Maine and nuclear physics degree from the University of New Hampshire, said that recent studies indicate not enough high school students are going into the demanding STEM fields. He explained why that is disturbing.

"Because guys like me, one day, are going to retire, and we need folks like you -- better, smarter, brighter -- to take my place."

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The U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command has the mission to empower the Army and joint warfighter with technology and engineering solutions that ensure decisive capabilities for unified land operations. RDECOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command.