By Ms. Kari Hawkins (AMCOM)November 22, 2016
Uniform insignias. Deployments. Basic training. Military occupational specialties. Army traditions. Anything Army and all things military were the topics of discussion on Nov. 9 during a series of presentations by Aviation and Missile Command Soldiers at Buckhorn Middle School.
As seventh and eighth grade students asked questions about military service, the AMCOM Soldiers provided answers that gave them a glimpse of the opportunities and sacrifices made by today's service members and their families.
The Soldier presentations occurring during six different class sessions were part of Buckhorn Middle's Veterans Day observance, which also included a patriotic school assembly honoring all veterans.
"Veterans Day is where we can thank each other as veterans. We are thanking not just Soldiers, but families, too, because without the support of family we can't do what we do," AMCOM Operations officer First Lt. Melody Thompson, who grew up in a military family, told students during the first class session.
"Veterans Day reminds us that we are all one in military service. We all come together from different races and traditions, and we can still make things happen and I'm grateful for that."
Capt. Justin Wax, a military intelligence officer, reminded students of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, a day that set his course toward an Army career.
"That day, I knew I would join the Army. Our way of life, our freedoms were under attack," he said. "I've been to Iraq, Kuwait, Germany and other countries wearing this uniform, and it's a privilege to serve this country. We are incredibly blessed with rights and privileges that many veterans have fought and died for."
Several of the Soldiers, including Master Sgt. James Eastman, an aircraft mechanic, told the students about their experiences joining the Army straight out of high school.
"You turn into a different person once you join the military," he said. "Even if you are a good person when you join, you'll be better as a Soldier. I joined the military and then I pursued what I wanted to do."
Eastman, a Chinook helicopter mechanic who has served with both the 82nd Airborne of Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and the 101st Airborne of Fort Campbell, Kentucky, said Army opportunities have taken him all around the world, including deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq, assignments in Pakistan, Kuwait and Korea, and stateside assignments at Fort Rucker, Alabama, and Alaska.
The AMCOM presenters also included Maj. Curt Schultheis, First Sgt. Lee Dalton, Staff Sgt. Sherrie Wooten and Sgt. First Class Bryan Bennett. During the presentations, several themes were repeated -- the need for students to get a college education, the opportunities the military gives service members to experience different things and travel to different places, and the importance of family support and the bonding of the Army family.
For Soldiers like Dalton, military service has brought many rewards, including the esteem of the 94 students that made up his high school graduating class.
"I was just a little guy in high school. But when I went back for my 20-year reunion, I was the star. Everyone stood up and clapped when I entered the room because I'm a veteran," he said.
The Soldiers told students that the Army is much like a family, with battle buddies and senior leaders who provide support and camaraderie.
"Because of the Army, I have friends for life that I call my family now," said Sgt. First Class Thomas Flowers. "They are from all walks of life and they are from all over the globe."
Flowers, an electronic maintenance Soldier, and Wooten, a chaplain's assistant, told the students that they have friends all over the world, thanks to the Army. The longer a Soldier serves, the smaller the Army gets, they said, pointing out that they knew each other while serving at Fort Hood, Texas, and now they are serving together again at AMCOM.
"Soldiers who served before me and with me have paved the way for me, for the way of life I have now," Flowers said. "The Army changed my whole outlook on everything and made me realize what's important to me."
Wooten joined the Army at the age of 30, after deciding she wanted to follow in her father's Army footsteps and then discovering she valued what the military life had to offer.
"Knowing that I am working alongside men and women from different backgrounds to make life better for all of us is very rewarding to me," she said.
Wooten was seen by her peers at basic training as the "momma" of the bunch because she was older than the typical 18-year-old enlistee. Bennett, who grew up in a small Arizona town, joined the Army at the age of 17 to be a helicopter mechanic, a military occupational specialty he chose after scoring high in mechanical on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test. Now, married and with three children, he will be retiring in seven months with 20 years of service.
"What I decide to do after the military will still be something working with Soldiers because I love taking care of Soldiers, and I love being on aircraft and fixing aircraft. I enjoy seeing a helicopter take off and fly after I've worked on it," he said. "When I retire, I will still be in the military system in some way because I love it."
Thompson, who is half Korean, decided to follow her American father into military service while a member of the Boca Raton High School JROTC program in Florida. She commissioned as an ordnance officer.
"I was a military brat and I grew up with other military brats overseas," she said. "A lot of us went into the military because we are already part of the Army family. It's a tradition. That's what we know. That's what we do. As military kids, we traveled a lot and we became open minded because of that. It was a great opportunity to have."
While the route to being a Soldier is different for an enlistee and an officer, the Army values of loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity and personal courage are always the same for all Soldiers, Wax told the students. And all Soldier are expected to live up to the same standards, Dalton said, when it comes to how they wear the uniform and how they act in and out of uniform.
"We are different ranks, but we respect each other based on the experiences we have," Wax said. "We are all officers and leaders in the Army, but we all come from different backgrounds and different experiences, and that helps to make us better as a team."
Several of the Soldiers emphasized skills training and leadership development as some of the most valuable aspects of serving in the Army.
"Every kid needs a college education. I'm on the 12-year plan because I've been going part-time while I'm in the Army," Bennett said. "I have five classes left, and all my classes were paid for by the Army. I wish all kids could go to college because you need that to be competitive with everyone else."
Thompson and Bennett explained to the students the difference between an enlisted Soldier and an officer, saying that an officer is like a planner, a warrant officer is like an advisor and an enlisted Soldier is the one who makes the plan happen. They also explained the difference between basic training where Soldiers learn the basic Soldiering skills and discipline, and build physical and mental strength as well as resilience, and advanced training where Soldiers learn their occupational skill.
"I went to school for 16 weeks to be a helicopter mechanic. They taught me how to read the manuals and how to turn wrenches," Bennett said. "When I got to my first unit, it was a different world. I was on an aircraft for nine or 10 hours a day and non-commissioned officers were training me. They were showing me why they did things and what should happen when they did certain things, and they taught me to trouble shoot."
As an officer, Thompson said she received her Army training while attending college and in the summers at military classes.
"For someone who wants to be an Army office, the question is 'Are you able to lead your own peers?' We would go out in the field for a month, and they would put us in stressful situations like we would be in if we were actually an officer. We would have to still be calm and collected, and still be able to lead the team based on the situation. You have to be able to calculate multiple maneuvers so you can save the Soldiers following you.
"And you were always being graded. You were always being watched. The graders wanted to know if you act like a Soldier when no one is watching you because you are representing the Army in this uniform all the time."
Leadership training is for both officers and enlisted Soldiers, they told the students, because Soldiers of all ranks must be able to perform their duties under stressful situations.
The Soldiers told the students that the military has every occupation that can be found in the civilian world, from cooks to football players, from pilots to police officers.
"The opportunities are endless. They really are," Bennett said.
The Buckhorn Middle presentations were among several Veterans Day school outreach programs that AMCOM Soldiers and civilians participated in during Veterans Day week. Schultheis also presented at Athens High School and Dalton presented at Arab High School, both on Nov. 10, while Lt. Col. Jenna Guerrero presented at Ardmore High School on Nov. 9, and veteran Jeff Smith presented at Creekside Elementary School in Madison on Nov. 10.
"This week, all across our country -- in town halls, city squares, parades and schools such as this -- we celebrate and honor America's veterans for their devotion, patriotism, selfless service and sacrifice on behalf of us all," Schultheis told the Athens High students.
"We join hands -- in the name of peace and freedom -- to pay them proper tribute. To say 'thanks.' For it is their loyalty to this country and their own great courage which have made us what we are today -- and what we've been for more than two centuries: the world's indispensable nation, the land of the free and the home of the brave, a beacon of hope in an oft-troubled world."
Dalton told Arab High students that there is a saying that goes, "Soldier are not in the military. They are the military."
"Our tanks, helicopters, howitzers are nothing without the trusted professionals who make them work," he said. "And those Soldiers are a direct reflection of what's best about America. In fact, they are America. They are the heart, the soul and the spirit of the greatest nation on the planet."
Guerrero shared her experiences as an Army officer leading maintenance units both in the U.S. and while deployed to Iraq. She spoke to students at Ardmore High about the lessons she has learned while serving in the Army -- the importance of being on a team; of building trust and respect as a leader; of learning from different kinds of leaders; of making a difference through the Army mission; and of having balance between being a Soldier, wife and mother.
Smith, who was an explosive ordnance technician during his 20 years in the Army and who now works for AMCOM Safety, shared his military experience with third graders at Creekside Elementary School in Harvest. His presentation included lots of ordnance hardware that he's collected over the years.
"I had such a great experience in the military and I want to share that," Smith told the students. "There are so many benefits to being a veteran -- being part of a team, learning skills and becoming an expert in your career field, getting an education, becoming a leader and serving the country to protect our way of life. That's what it's all about."