By Phil Manson, First Army PAOMay 29, 2009
Teaching the Army values of Duty, Honor, Integrity, Selfless Service and more, five First Army NCOs and more than 60 fifth-graders from W. A. Fountain Elementary School, First Army's partner in education school, enjoyed a morning discussing what traits make good leaders and good citizens May 20.
Organized by Gayle Johnson, First Army community relations officer, the leadership conference gave the students a chance to learn, and reinforce, those positive traits that will serve them well not only in middle school, but throughout their lives.
"The purpose of this conference is to introduce leadership skills based on values - the seven Army values - to students who are headed for middle school and a very different environment from elementary school," Johnson said. "We want to send young leaders to their new school and, based on the response and participation of the students, I'd say we were a success. I attribute our success to the outstanding NCOs who led the conference. Those Soldiers live the Army values and taught what they live to students in a creative way that kept the students' attention."
Dr. Valerie Bennett, an honors class physics teacher at the Westminster School in Atlanta and an acquaintance of Johnson's, kicked off the conference by telling the students "the world is waiting for you to make a difference."
"As leaders, you have to step up and find solutions, so put in that extra study time now," said Bennett. "Leaders also find people to help them solve problems."
Sgt. Maj. Shawn Doucette, First Army Operations, Plans and Training sergeant major, and Sgt. 1st Class Pablo Rivera-Lopez, counter-improvised explosive device NCO for First Army, followed Bennett. Both stated that the Army values they live by are not only for Soldiers, but can benefit anyone throughout their lives.
"You need to apply the Army values to your personal life," said Doucette. "Those values can be summed up by the phrase 'Do the right thing even when no one is looking.'"
Rivera-Lopez asked the students to give an example of doing the right thing.
"Doing your homework and checking it to make sure it's right," said David Pereyra, a fifth-grader in Joel Boyce's class.
"Exactly!" said Doucette. "Doing your homework and checking it is exactly what we do before we go out on a mission. In the Army, we call them pre-combat checks and pre-combat inspections. We check our equipment, weapons and vehicles before every mission to ensure everything works and is where it should be."
It wasn't all serious discussions with Doucette and Rivera-Lopez.
The NCOs brought a complete set of "battle rattle," the body armor, pads, helmet, eye protection and ammo/cargo harness Soldiers wear when they are in a combat zone.
"I didn't know it was so heavy," said Jamari Stewart as he wore the interceptor body armor vest, Kevlar helmet, goggles and gloves.
"Now, imagine wearing all that gear and going on patrol in 120-degree temperatures." Rivera-Lopez said.
After a short break where refreshments were served, the female NCOs took the stage. Sgt. 1st Class Maritza Diaz, enlisted strength management noncommissioned officer in charge for G-1; Sgt. 1st Class Gail Bermudez, G-1 mobilization NCO; and Staff Sgt. Sonja Blue, First Army Augmentation Detachment human resources NCO, performed two skits about personal courage and integrity. In the first skit, Blue was picking on Diaz and took a book from her. Bermudez witnessed the bad behavior and stepped forward to intervene on Diaz' behalf.
Students were asked how Bermudez showed personal courage.
"She stopped the other lady from picking on her (Diaz)," said Cedric Logan.
"And is it hard, sometimes to step forward and stop someone from picking on another person," Bermudez said.
"Yes, it is," Logan said.
"As leaders, aren't we supposed to do the right thing' Aren't we supposed to show personal courage when we see something that is not right'" Bermudez asked.
"Yes," said the entire class.
In the second skit, Bermudez caught Diaz stealing from Blue's book bag. When confronted by Bermudez, Diaz said she was trying to get back at Blue for picking on her.
"Is that how we should handle this situation' Do two wrongs ever make a right," Bermudez asked'
"No," said the class in unison.
"You have to stand up for yourself and what you know to be right," said Bermudez. "When I was younger, my friends sometimes wanted to do things that I didn't think were right. I told them I wouldn't do those things. I stood up for myself - I respected myself and my values. I lost a few folks I thought were friends, but they weren't really friends if they couldn't support me in my decision."
After the conference, the NCOs were asked about working with the students.
"I feel like I was able to make a strong and positive impact on those very young, impressionable minds," Bermudez said. "I do believe that the time I shared with them truly will make a great difference in the choices they make in life. To see the smiles on their faces and to see that they were actually listening to me makes me feel really good."
"As a former teacher, I love to interact with children in general. But, when you're able to grab their attention and reach them it is truly priceless," Blue said. "We have to keep in mind that we are all have a responsibility to the kids in our community, so whether it's volunteering at the schools, mentoring or just letting the kids vent a little, we all have to take into consideration that being a positive influence could really change a child's life."
Added Sgt. Maj. Doucette; "helping kids today understand the importance of learning the basic skills in school will greatly enhance their chances of success."
The Army didn't invent its seven core values, but the Soldiers who visited Fountain Elementary School live them every day, and, the NCOs hope the students will practice those values as they matriculate through school and go out into the world.