ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. -- The U.S. Army Test and Evaluation Command, or ATEC, and Team Aberdeen Proving Ground, hosted their seventh annual For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, or FIRST, Lego League Qualifier at ATEC headquarters on APG North, Jan. 20.

FIRST Lego League, also known as FLL, is a robotics program for 9 to 16 year olds, designed to get children excited about science and technology, while teaching them valuable employment and life skills.

According to the FLL website, statistics show the majority of the participants in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, or STEM, activities experience an increase of 21st century work-life skills including time management, conflict resolution, and team work.

This year, 18 teams participated in the qualifier at ATEC. Of those 18, four of those teams will advance to the Maryland State Championship at the University of Maryland, Baltimore College, on Feb. 24.

ATEC Commander Maj. Gen. John W. Charlton kicked off the event by welcoming the students and encouraging them to have a good time throughout the day.

"You have two missions for today," said Charlton, as he pumped up the students to start the day. "The first is to learn and the second is to have fun."

Charlton explained to the students the importance of STEM, especially how it relates to ATEC as an entire command. He stated the command heavily relies on engineers, scientists and technicians to continue the mission every day.

Each September, FLL releases a challenge based on a real-world scientific topic. Each challenge within the competition revolves around that theme. This year's theme is called "Hydro Dynamics" and its purpose is to improve the way people find, transport, use and/or dispose of water.

The day-long event consisted of a morning and afternoon session. During the morning session, students presented their projects, where they had identified a solution to a problem they wanted to solve. The afternoon session was the Robot Match. During the match, the students programed their autonomous robot to score points on a themed mission table for 2.5 minutes.

"When the students are on the mission tables, they can choose to challenge any of the 18 different missions," said Christina Bryant, recruitment/outreach program manager and FLL coordinator at ATEC. "The goal is to try to get as many points as you can, while completing the missions successfully."

During both sessions, volunteers from Team APG and UMBC judged each team's project, the robots, and how well each team incorporated the FLL core values. The core values are inspiration, teamwork and gracious professionalism.

Alex Lacaze, a team member of the Super Technical Underground Design Society, also known as STUDS, said this was his team's second year participating in the FLL event.

"One of my favorite things to see during the event is the other team's robots and the different mission routes they decide to take," said Lacaze.

Not only did Lacaze and his team advance to the UMBC state championship, but they also received the Champions award. This award goes to the team who is the strongest in all of the categories combined: the embodiment of the FLL vision. It measures how the children inspire others in science, technology and engineering, while demonstrating the FLL core values.

Lacaze stated he wants to continue mentoring the children younger than him, just like his older brother did when he was in FLL. That will help pursue his dream of following in his father's footsteps.

Charlton concluded the event by asking the students water-related questions to see if they could guess the answer. To no one's surprise, the students guessed them all.

Charlton recognized and thanked the 90 volunteers from Team APG, along with the parents and coaches of the teams participating in the event. "Without all of you, none of this would have happened."

Teams STUDS, the Golden Frogs, the Super Boltz and Totally Clogged Pipes advanced to the Maryland State Championships.

FIRST has many competitions including the Junior FLL, FLL, the FIRST Tech Challenge and the FIRST Robotics. To learn more about the FIRST program and the competitions, visit http://firstlegoleague.org/.