SAN ANTONIO -- For the past 16 years the nation's best high-school athletes and band members have made their way here to showcase their skills in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl game held annually in the Alamodome.

Accompanying those top-notch students is a handful of the best warfighters the U.S. Army has to offer. Soldiers who include, rangers, green berets, special forces and some who have distinguished themselves in their career fields, such as recruiter of the year, drill sergeant of the year and Soldier of the year.

Staff Sgt. Rene P. Herrera, a San Antonio native and Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear specialist, assigned to the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, is one of those elite few who answered the call to perform duties as a Soldier mentor to the All-American Bowl students this year.

"To me the All-American Bowl represents not only the best high-school football players and band members in the country, but it represents them getting ready for more responsibilities in life and making big decisions," said Herrera. "That's where we come in and provide them advice and mentorship."

Soldier mentors like Herrera spend a week with the students talking to them about the opportunities a career in the Army provides, and they discuss the qualities both groups possess such as the Army values of leadership, dedication, respect, self-less service, honor, integrity and personal courage.

"Working with these kids has been a great experience," said Herrera, who has been in the Army for 10 years and has been deployed to Iraq three times. "It's been fun getting to talk to them and getting to know them better."

Herrera and the other mentors attend practices with the students, eat meals with them and generally spend time with them providing a positive role model for them, encouraging them to do their best, offering them advice and assisting them wherever possible.

One piece of advice that Herrera shares with the All-Americans is how to be successful. "To be successful you have to have a leadership drive and you have to live the Army values," he said. "You have to have those to be successful in anything you do in life, whether it's a career in the military, pursuing a college degree, or running a business, you need those basic skills to truly be successful."

The interaction between the students and mentors seems to truly be a positive one and an experience everyone involved has seemed to enjoy.
"I'm very excited to have this opportunity," said Herrera, who played a variety of sports in high school including football. "It's very rewarding to be able to talk to these kids and see what kind of goals they have and what they want to do with their lives. It's been an awesome experience, and I feel really blessed to be a part of it."

Herrera and the group of mentors will continue to interact with the players until the big game on Saturday Jan. 7. Then they will take their place on the sidelines cheering their teams to victory. But regardless of who wins when the final seconds tick off the game clock, both the players and the mentors will leave the field with a lifetime of good memories.