By Spc. Justin Naylor, 2nd BCT PAO, 1st Cav. Div.October 18, 2010
FORT HOOD, Texas- For many of the students at Haynes High School, an alternative school in Killeen, Texas, a kind smile and helpful word can be just what they need to start on the road to change.
Approximately 20 students from the school spent an hour with Command Sgt. Maj. Kenneth Agueda, 4th Squadon, 9th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, Oct. 13, as he shared his story of growing up on the streets of Puerto Rico and how he turned his life around.
The students at Haynes High School have all been ejected from normal high schools for different infractions and attend this school until the faculty feels they are ready to return to the regular school system.
"Most of these students are at-risk students that feel they have no future," said Johnny James, the principal of Haynes High School. "Seeing and talking to successful people like [Command Sgt. Maj.] Agueda lets them see that it is possible to be successful and there is a future out there if they do the right things to accomplish their goals."
"I want these kids to know that when they find themselves in a place like this and their outside influences aren't there and they don't have any friends, that there are still people out there that care," he said.
During his visit, Agueda related his own troubled experiences of growing up in a tough environment.
Fights were a regular occurrence for Agueda as a youth, and he didn't see much hope for a better future if he stayed where he was.
"A lot of my old friends are now in jail or dead," he explained. "I had to get out of the ghetto."
For Agueda, the military was the perfect way to do just that, but joining wasn't easy.
"I failed the first time I tried to take the test to get in the Army," he said.
After this, Agueda, who barely spoke English at the time, had to go back and take classes to improve his language skills.
But once in, Agueda was off and running.
"I told the recruiter I wanted to do the craziest things," he said.
Since joining, Agueda has gone through airborne, pathfinder and ranger training, along with a number of other schools, and has completed approximately 140 airborne jumps.
"You have to have goals," he said to the students. "You have to look at something and say, 'That's what I want to do.'"
"Figure out what it is that you like and do research," he continued. "Find someone who has already done it and talk to them."
"You have the raw talent that we're [going] to need to make everything happen," he said. "Don't ever give up."
Following his talk, Agueda went around the room and answered questions from the students.
Many of the students showed interest in joining the Army and asked what they had to do to make that happen.
This is the fourth time that Soldiers have visited since the squadron adopted the school two years ago, and the principal has already seen how fruitful these visits can be.
Eleven of the students that were involved in these talks last year have since gone on to join the military, and an additional 14 have gone to college and straightened their lives out, explained James.
"These kid, above all others, have a need for hope and a future," he said. "Most do not have good examples in their lives, but these Army people who give their time just might be the people to open up their eyes that all is not lost."
"We're all busy, but young people face a lot of challenges," said Agueda. "I see it in my ranks. These are like my Soldiers without uniforms."
"If I can help in my way, it is satisfying and fulfilling to me."
Agueda plans to continue his visits to the school, and also hopes to get more Soldiers from his unit involved with the school.
Although the students who were there for this talk must make their own choices and find their own path, having a Soldier to look up to might be just what they need to make that first step in the right direction.