By Emily BrainardMarch 20, 2009
FORT RUCKER, Ala.--A class of 5- and 6-year-olds from the Enterprise Preparatory Academy took the morning of March 19 to learn about Army Aviation and meet pilots through hands-on exercises such as looking through night-vision goggles in a pitch-black room to simulate the experience Soldiers have while using the gear.
The conversation between the 10 students included giggling, screaming in excitement and whimpering for fear of the dark.
"You look green!" yelled a small voice from somewhere across the dark room.
"I'm scared," said another.
"It was sweet," said Erika Ennis, 6, after trying out the equipment with her friends.
Company Commander and Shell Air Field Manager, Cpt. Raymond Santiago, A Company, 1st Battalion, 212th Aviation Regiment, said the fieldtrip helped the children understand where the helicopters they see flying above their houses come from.
"(It) puts a face to a name," he said. "(It) gets them outside the class environment to the flight line."
Several classes come to Shell throughout the year and take similar tours. Santiago said it is a way for the pilots to give back to local communities.
Safety Officer CW4 Matt Wellinghurst, A Co., 1st Bn., 212th Avn. Regt., explained to the group the importance of flight vests and the survival equipment carried in them. Some of the children tried on the vests while looking over the supplies.
Wellinghurst said he thought the children had a good time and said the trip is "something to expose the community to what we do."
While some of the children come from military backgrounds, the majority are local community members who do not know anything about the helicopters seen all around the Wiregrass or what purpose they serve.
"It's amazing how much they can learn and we want to be part of that learning experience," Santiago said of the children.
Other activities included a map and weather class. The children learned the importance of using instruments in difficult circumstances, such as flying in poor weather or through clouds. They then climbed the air traffic control tower to watch flight students try to perfect their landing skills.
Graham Taylor, 5, said the best part of the fieldtrip was seeing the pilots perform these tasks.
His mother, Debbie Taylor, was enthusiastic about the tour as well.
"It's great. It gives them an experience they wouldn't get otherwise," she said.
As 5-year-old Treasure Franklin tried on a Shell firefighter's helmet that went well past her eyes, her mother, Senta Franklin, watched proudly.
"She is loving it," Franklin said, beaming. "(She's) never (had) an opportunity to see this up close. Since we live near Fort Rucker we always see the helicopters, (so) it's a lot of fun for her."
Before ending the tour, the children were allowed to climb through a TH-67 Creek helicopter and an OH-58 Kiowa. They could hardly be pulled out of the aircraft to go eat lunch.
Denise Aylesworth, a Department of the Army Civilian Instructor Pilot, stood back, smiling, as the children left. She said she hopes they go home with stories from their experience at Shell to share with friends.
"They are having the time of their life."