FLORENCE, Texas -- Some Soldiers, Army Civilians and JROTC Cadets joined forces to help their neighbors at the Florence Independent School District for the 25th annual "Make A Difference Day" Saturday.

Fort Hood, Texas' U.S. Army Operational Test Command volunteers and Copperas Cove Independent School District JROTC students focused on improving Florence ISD's Elementary School playground with light maintenance including painting, and general grounds keeping at the Middle School and High School sports fields.

"Oh gosh -- The biggest thing is it allows us to provide our kids with the best that we can provide them," said Dalton West, director of maintenance and facilities at Florence ISD.

"It's an honor to work with them all, especially our Soldiers," he said. "We've got some great kids here, who deserve the best that we can give them, and so that's what we're trying to do."

A Copperas Cove ISD JROTC formation of 29 cadets got involved in the project as a suggestion by USAOTC Command Sgt. Maj. Mario O. Terenas, whose daughter is 16-year-old Junior Cadet Alechandra M. Terenas.

Cadet Commanding Officer Gabrielle Atarado, a Cove High School Junior, said she volunteered because helping others is what she normally does with her spare time.

She regularly volunteers with the local Veterans of Foreign Wars Ladies Auxiliary, Veterans Day parades, and donating time to a local soup kitchen.

"Whenever I see myself," said Atarado, "I see I have a lot of opportunities, and when I see other people who don't have as much as I do, I want to do what I can to make the lives of others somewhat improved."

Another JROTC Cadet, Austin Perry, also a Cove Junior, said hard volunteer work always pays off.

"I volunteered because it is something that would show us that it is a community service and that we are all in this together," he said. "This is a program that shows, 'Hey, we have other communities out there willing to back you up.'"

After rousing the volunteer crowd, event organizer Capt. Daniel K. Jernigan, USAOTC's Headquarters Detachment commander, said, "Today is one of the largest days of community service.

"It's a celebration of neighbors helping neighbors, united in one single purpose, which is to improve the lives of others, and no matter your age, or location of the resources, amazing things can be accomplished if people mobilize and do good in their communities."

Florence ISD Superintendent Paul Michalewicz said, "I greatly appreciate everyone coming out to enrich our community and our school district.

"We want this to be a fun project and a fun day. We don't' want to break anybody's back; we just want to have a good time together."

He also said a special thanks to the CCISD JROTC, saying the day was truly an example of neighbors helping neighbors.

"We've probably tripled or quadrupled the number of projects we have already underway here in Florence schools just because of this partnership and dedication of these Soldiers and the Adopt-A-School program," he said.


As the Army's only independent operational tester, USAOTC tests and assesses Army, joint, and multi-service warfighting systems in realistic operational environments, using typical Soldiers to determine whether the systems are effective, suitable, and survivable. USAOTC is required by public law to test major systems before they are fielded to its ultimate customer -- the American Soldier.