By Kevin Fleming, ASC Public AffairsJuly 1, 2015
ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL, Illinois -- Maj. Gen. Kevin O'Connell, commanding general, U.S. Army Sustainment Command, and other Rock Island Arsenal employees, met with teens and their mentors in the Big Brothers, Big Sisters (BBBS) program, here, June, 30.
The event was designed to help the teens understand what it takes to have a military or civilian career on the arsenal.
"Today is an incredible opportunity for our kids," said Jay Justin, CEO and president of BBBS in the Quad-Cities area. "We always talk about how there are decisions you make every day that are positive and negative on your future, and what they see today is just endless opportunities, a roadmap for success in their lives."
BBBS is a national organization that pairs 6- to 18-year-olds (Littles) with volunteer adult mentors (Bigs). The Littles who visited the arsenal were between the ages of 12 - 17.
Following introductions, Randl Besse, business development specialist at RIA's Joint Manufacturing and Technology Center, spoke about JMTC's role as the Army's only full-scale metal parts manufacturer. He encouraged the Littles to do well in math if they want to work as engineers with JMTC.
The Littles and their Bigs explored a military ambulance, which had been manufactured on the arsenal.
After a group photo, O'Connell spoke about his path in becoming an Army major general, how he went through Army ROTC in college, and how he decided to stay in to support his family.
O'Connell advised the Littles to follow what he called his "four B's": be yourself, be going somewhere, be positive, and be kindly towards others. He told the Littles not to limit their options, and to work hard in school.
"What I am going to do is make sure that your options are all open to you, and that you're not limiting your options prematurely," O'Connell said. "At my age, I can't say 'I think I'm going to play in the major leagues and be a pitcher."
"Keep your options open, but have a goal," he later said.
ASC Command Sgt. Maj. Anthony Bryant also talked to the Littles about his career as an enlisted man in the Army. He advised the Littles to find a career that is exciting.
"I actually like the excitement, and that's what you have to figure out, what excites you? Seeing the world excites me," Bryant said.
Kathryn Szymanski, the head of legal counsel at RIA, represented the civilian staff on the arsenal. Szymanski told the Littles that she really enjoys her job.
"Being a civilian in the U.S. Army affords you opportunities to do things that you might never thought you would do as a civilian," Szymanski said.
"It's hard to explain how fun it is. It really is fun. It's not like I don't go home some days and say, 'okay, where's the Tylenol? It's headache number 14.' But 99 percent of the time, I learn something new every day.... It's never dull. It may be annoying, it may be exhausting, but it's rarely, if ever, dull. I am never bored."
A panel also comprised of both lower level civilian and lower ranked military RIA personnel led a Q&A session where the Littles and their Bigs had the opportunity to see a wider diversity of career experiences.
Pfc. Ariana Williams, pharmacy technician, RIA Health Clinic, spoke about her recent experience with joining the Army. She advised the Littles to do their research and to have a plan to reach real goals.
Elysa Groepper, financial management analyst, G-8 (Resource Management), spoke about her experience with finding a job out of college, and about how, as a civilian in the military, she had more opportunities to travel than she thought she would.
Master Sgt. James Sennet, senior logistics services supervisor, G-4 (Logistics), talked about how he decided to join the military to support his family, and to serve the nation. He said that he knows his job is important because he believes logistics wins wars. Sennet also talked about the importance of finding good mentorship.
Colin James, organizational development and training specialist, ASC, also said that he decided to work at RIA to support his family. James said that he had actually been in the Navy, but he left because working at RIA was a better option at the time.
Capt. Derrick Lyles, senior plans analyst, ASC, talked about how he enlisted and eventually promoted to an officer position after he went to college. Lyles advised the Littles to expect to be a part of a team if they decide to join the military.
After the panel, George Eaton, ASC historian, talked about the island's proud heritage dating back to 1804. Eaton led the group on a short walk where they observed the retreat of the American flag.
One of the Littles, Justyus Jackson, 12, said that she particularly liked seeing how far all the speakers have gone.
"It was just an amazing experience, and I want to begin already," she said.
Jackson also said that she liked O'Connell's advice.
"It was inspiring, definitely. I don't want to be in the military, but it definitely changed my perspective on what I thought about (the Army). I thought that they go and fight in wars and everything, but I know there's way more to it now."
Shelia Guse, retired teacher and Big for three years, also said that she enjoyed the day's event.
"I really enjoyed the general and his perspective on everything. It was just real positive all afternoon. It was very rewarding."