WASHINGTON (March 16, 2010) -- Two National Guard officers helped give 104 high school juniors and seniors a glimpse of the workings of government that included meetings with the president and a Supreme Court justice last week.

"The level of access that we got this week is unparalleled," said Capt. Jamie Davis, a National Guard Bureau public affairs officer, who served as military mentor for the students. "We got to meet the president; we were up on the eighth floor of the State Department; we got to spend an hour with a Supreme Court justice. These students have a real good grasp of the magnitude of this and the fact that they have access that most people will never see in their lifetime."

The U.S. Senate Youth Program, established in 1962 by a U.S. Senate Resolution, is a unique educational experience for outstanding high school students interested in pursuing careers in public service, according to www.ussenateyouth.org.

The 104 high school students represented each of the states, the District of Columbia and the Department of Defense Education Activity. The program gave them a glimpse of the inner workings of the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government.

"Our job is to be a liaison with the military," said Air Force Maj. Otis Hooper, a pilot with the D.C. Air National Guard's 201st Airlift Squadron based at Joint Base Andrews Naval Air Facility, Md. "I was impressed by the intelligence of these young students. They all are extremely passionate. They have the initiative to really make a difference."

The kids also met with an ambassador and several senators and representatives during their week-long visit to the national capital region.

Each state and territory has its own selection process, but most of the visitors had written essays, been interviewed and demonstrated merit through school and extracurricular performance.

If the intent of the Senate Youth Program is in part to inspire young people to consider government service careers, it succeeded.

"There were a couple of females that thought that military service was something that was out of their reach," Davis said. "... [the experience] gave them a sense that, 'Hey, I can do this too.'"

Davis said two young female students asked about Reserve Officer Training Corps programs and about joining the National Guard.

"They're surprised to know that you can be in the military as well as be a civilian," Hooper said.

Davis said he was struck by the intelligence and drive of the students and how well 104 people from widely divergent backgrounds got along.

"If I was looking at the future of America based on what I saw here, I would say the future's very bright," he said. "These are rock stars in their communities - just a brilliant group of kids."

The kids weren't the only ones to benefit from the program.

"Their enthusiasm is contagious," Hooper said. "They really have excited me and energized me to get back out there and really apply myself, because these youths are depending on our service."

In addition to the capital visit, each delegate receives a $5,000 college scholarship for undergraduate studies, with encouragement to pursue coursework in history and political science.

(Staff Sgt. Jim Greenhill writes for the National Guard Bureau.)