For many students, summer break means sleeping in and filling days with leisure activities. But for one group of local students, it means less sleeping in and more thinking more about future success.
Ten rising ninth graders with North Augusta Chamber of Commerce's Junior Leadership Academy (JLA) spent half a day at Fort Gordon on July 11.
In its inaugural year, JLA is a program that helps create promising futures for students through teaching leadership skills, exposure to various career fields and mentoring.
"We want to show them what's out there that they may not be aware of that they can do with the different talents that they have," said Terra Carroll, president and CEO of the academy.
While developing JLA's curriculum, Carroll said she wanted Fort Gordon to be the first place students got to visit as part of their CSRA community orientation, so she reached out to Sgt. Maj. Charlie Bryant Jr., Fort Gordon garrison's former command sergeant major, and asked if he would be willing to host and mentor students on team-building, setting goals and developing a plan to achieve those goals.
"I know the importance of [Fort Gordon] in our community and a lot of kids don't have access to it or an understanding of what happens here unless they're part of a military family," Carroll said. "And what better place for them to learn about teamwork than in the military?"
Fortunate for Carroll, Bryant knows the importance, too, and fully supported her request.
"I think it's great to show the community what we're all about at this young age so as they go through high school, it gives them an option to consider," Bryant said.
Students began their day at with some disc golf action at the Fort Gordon Disc Golf Course then met with Soldiers for a barracks tour where they received insight on daily life as a Soldier-trainee. Following the barracks tour, students fired simulated weapons at the Engagement Skills Trainer 2000 and met with Bryant in a classroom. Bryant shared personal experiences as a seasoned Soldier while encouraging students to ask questions about military life and career paths.
Bryant said his main goal was to make students aware that they have many options after they graduate high school.
"The military is a great option for a lot of people," Bryant said. "This was a chance to show them how Soldiers live, where they eat, some of the fun things they do, what's on the installation … Everything that you can do downtown, you can pretty much do on base, and most of them had no clue."
"A lot of these young kids don't understand that there are careers in the military aside from being a Soldier that just goes to combat," Carroll added.
Sherry Kong, 14, was one of those kids. Prior to JLA, Kong had no clue of what was behind Fort Gordon's gates. Now she does.
"I have experienced things that I never thought I would before like the simulator gun and when they talked about leaders and how they should care … all the discipline and how organized the military is and the care -- that really stood out to me," Kong said.
An aspiring businesswoman in the financial field, Kong said is vision for the future is slightly different than it was before visiting Fort Gordon.
"I am actually thinking if there are any business and financial things in the military, maybe I'd be interested," Kong said.
Reiterating the importance of partnerships such as the one between JLA and Fort Gordon, Bryant said tours such as these are essential to the community.
"I think we should be doing stuff like this on a regular basis to showcase the military that way when it comes to our recruitment numbers across the nation, it's going to help," Bryant said. "The more people know what the military is all about, the more apt they'll be to want to serve their country."