FORT SILL, Okla. (March 7, 2019) -- The Oklahoma City Recruiting Battalion sponsored an Education Tour at Fort Sill for about a dozen teachers, counselors, and school administrators to learn about the Army.

The civilians from Tulsa and OKC experienced the Army as trainees, Feb. 26-27, as they performed the new Army Combat Fitness Test, slept in barracks, and ate at dining facilities with trainees, all while under the charge of drill sergeants from 1st Battalion, 40th Field Artillery. The educators also learned about the three main missions here: field artillery, air defense artillery, and basic combat training.

The purpose of the tour was to inform the educators, who teach, mentor, and counsel high school students and young adults, what the Army is like, and about its opportunities, said Lt. Col. John Garcia, OKC Recruiting Battalion commander. The recruiting battalion sponsored a similar tour here in December.

The program is already paying dividends for the Army, Garcia said.

"In February, we had the highest recruiting month that we've had in over seven years," Garcia said. "So we're definitely seeing the benefits of the tour."

He added that another tour is already planned for the spring.

Amber Osei, OKC Recruiting Battalion public affairs specialist, said she wanted the visitors to become knowledgeable about the Army and its programs, and maybe correct any misconceptions they had.

There are more jobs in the Army than just infantry; and these influencers should know about those numerous other opportunities so they can tell their students, Osei said.

The visitors had a full schedule of events that included watching a 155mm Paladin self-propelled howitzer live fire, and trying out the ADA virtual Stinger dome, said Capt. Thomas Cunningham, FCoE Futures Operations officer, who coordinated the events.

"I wanted them to know that across the Army we are professionals, and that we form a family," Cunningham said. "We invite their students to join to become successful in their lives, not just the Army."

Other events included going through medical training lanes, and dining with Brig. Gen. Brian Gibson, Air Defense Artillery School commandant and chief of ADA. The group was supposed to go through the Teamwork Development Course Feb. 27, which trainees do early in BCT; however, that was canceled because the weather was too cold.

Jan Bell, Tulsa Technology Center career specialist, said she has been working with the Army the past couple years because she is an Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test specialist.

"What I didn't have (before this visit) was the sense of family and community," she said. "There is something for everyone here no matter what your challenges and struggles are. The Army can help you overcome and succeed.

"Another thing I'm going to take back to the students I speak with, whether they are high school or adult, is the leadership training, the life skills training, the multiple advantages of being in the military," Bell said.

During the tour, Debbie Waken, Tulsa Technology Center, Lemley Campus counselor, was reunited with her former student Pvt. William Carey. The private, who graduated from Tulsa Tech in April 2018, is an Advanced Individual Training student here in the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense missile course.

Carey spoke to the group about his decision to enlist in the Army, about BCT and his current training. He said the Army was a great opportunity to use his pre-engineering skills learned at Tulsa Tech. He'll graduate AIT April 22, then go to South Korea.

Waken said Carey made a good decision to go into the Army.

"It was so good to see him, and that he's progressing and being successful," she said.

Maj. Gen. Wilson A. Shoffner, FCoE and Fort Sill commanding general, spoke at length with the educators at 1-40th FA Headquarters about leadership, Army benefits, and he answered their questions.

He cited Dean Smith's book, "The Carolina Way: Lessons From a Life in Coaching."

Smith had his players adhere to a standard, and not performance against somebody else, and how that can be such an effective way of training, Shoffner said.

"In the artillery, that's exactly what we do," he said. "We have drills to fire the howitzer, we have drills to do the computations, we have drills to observe the fires," he said.

Shoffner also spoke about some of the benefits of the Army including medical care; the GI Bill, and the allure of living in Germany.

Shoffner told the group that they are always welcome at Fort Sill, and he encouraged them to attend a BCT graduation.

Lt. Col. Ralph Heaton, 1-40th FA commander, also addressed the group.

He said the Army understands that a military career is not for everyone, but he cited examples of how the Army can get a person on track for a career.

One of his trainees had been homeless, living under a bridge for three months. She visited a recruiter and 10 weeks later, she immediately had a steady job, health care and could invest in a thrift savings plan in two months.

"All those benefits are a life changer," he said.

Continuing, Heaton said that he has seen many young Soldiers in the military intelligence field leave the Army as E-4s, and take the skills they learned to go and work for defense contractors.

"They're walking into jobs at $150,000 a year, and still contributing to the fight," he said.

Afterward, the visitors were presented certificates of appreciation from Shoffner and Garcia for their participation.

Waken said she was so glad she visited the post.

"I will be a much better influencer and advocate for the Army for my students," she said.