FORT LEE, Va. – Soldiers from Fort Lee and the world-renowned Golden Knights Parachute Team supported the comeback of Richmond Recruiting Battalion Educator Tours last week.
Halted since 2019 due to COVID, the reinstated showcase of Army life included static displays of military equipment, roundtable discussions with currently serving Soldiers, a tour of the University of Richmond led by recently commissioned ROTC graduates, and a tandem jump with the Knights.
Among the 60 participants were local area school district leaders, principals and teachers; Department of Education superintendents from West Virginia and Virginia; and a state delegate for the commonwealth. Supporters from Fort Lee included then Chief of Transportation Col. Frederick Crist (who has since departed for a new command assignment in South Korea) and representatives of the Quartermaster and Ordnance Schools and the 508th Transportation Training Detachment
Featured speaker Brig. Gen. Steve Hayden, deputy commanding general of the U.S. Army Reserve’s 80th Training Command, emphasized the value of the program. “Educators are one of the single-biggest influencers of young people,” he said. “(The tours) provide a huge opportunity to meet with key educators and explain to them the opportunities that students they mentor on a daily basis can find within the Army and Army Reserves.”
Students pursuing careers in any of the STEM fields – science, technology, electronics and mathematics – are particularly attractive candidates for Army service. Taking steps to ensure those sorts of individuals are at least considering the potential benefits of a military career also is a desired outcome.
“The Army remains focused on recruiting and retaining high-quality personnel who are tactically and technically trained and ready to operate cutting-edge systems,” reads an overview slide about the educator tours. “STEM is the foundation of many careers, to include engineering, aviation, space operations, computer information technology, signal/cyberspace, robotics and medicine.”
It is more important than ever to “reconnect educators with their military,” emphasized Carrie Poore, chief of advertising and public affairs for Richmond Recruiting Battalion. “COVID forced many of our recruiters out of their schools, and we are now reintroducing ourselves to many of these educators … telling Army stories and dispelling any false narratives. Additionally, the involvement of the Golden Knights allowed us to showcase what is best about service members, which is passion for what they do.”
Maj. Cody Dupree, commander of the 508th TTD, described his unit’s support of the program as a “great opportunity for the U.S. Army, and more specifically multi-functional logisticians, to demonstrate unique and effective capabilities to professionals that further the education of our civilian population.”
Four members of his unit were on the ground to demonstrate and provide information on the Palletized Load System. Other static displays included the mobile Outpost food truck provided by the Joint Culinary Center of Excellence, robotics and protective gear specific to Explosive Ordnance Disposal, 3D printing for part manufacturing at the Ordnance School; and parachute rigger and virtual reality training system demos from the Quartermaster School.
“We exhibited non-combat related technology that translates to mission accomplishment on the battlefield while also strengthening relationships between the military and the local community,” Dupree summarized.
On the final day of the tour, participants had nothing but praise for what they experienced. Katrina Callsen, an Albemarle County Public School board member, said she “loves the wide range of opportunities” the Army is able to provide.
“The career bonuses, the education, the technical training – all of it really appeals to me,” she said, “and I’m glad I found out more about it so I can share it with others.”
Caroline Bertrand, a career counselor specialist at West Albemarle High School, said she looks forward to sharing the things she has learned with her students.
“It has inspired me to stay in contact with our military community and develop additional opportunities for mentorship and, perhaps, volunteering for STEM-related activities like the robotics club,” she shared. “I really appreciate the Army doing this for us, and I’m grateful to the Golden Knights for letting us jump with them.”