Natick, Mass. -- The Natick Soldier Systems Center (NSSC) is one of the largest employers in Natick, MA, but to many in the community it's a secret place behind the fence.

"I grew up in Natick and didn't know what they did at the labs," said Officer Dylan Punch of the Natick Police Department. "I learned a lot about what happens at the labs and I know the kids did."

The 37 students of the Natick Junior Police Academy became Soldiers for a day as part of their camp experience.

They learned how Meals, Ready to Eat (MRE) are developed based on calories and weight restrictions, determined aircraft and glide ratios used in performing air drop missions and hydration and water filtration requirements that could be used during missions.

The Soldier for a Day program is a Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) initiative funded and developed under the Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center's (NSRDEC) 2017 Bootstrap Program and has been expanded and further developed.

"The program offered students an interesting and fun way to learn about NSRDEC and become engaged in STEM at an early age," said Peggy Auerbach, a textile technologist with NSRDEC.

The students also went through a Soldier's physical training session and learned about the personal protective equipment for Soldiers, to include body armor, helmet and ruck sack.

"The students made decisions on what to wear and carry while keeping in mind what impact these decision would have on their "Soldier" load," said Auerbach. "The kids seemed shocked at how heavy the vest with ballistic plates really is and enjoyed tasting some of the food that Soldiers eat when forward deployed."

The junior police academy gives the students an overall introduction to law enforcement as a possible career.

"The fastest route to become a police officer is by joining the military," said Punch. "Veterans have hiring preference and the transition from the military to law enforcement is much easier than coming off of the street. It is what I did when I joined the force."

It wouldn't be a day around the Army without picking up some acronyms. By the time the students left NSSC, they completely understood what PT, MRE and PPE meant and how it impacts the Soldier.