By Kari Hawkins, USAG RedstoneNovember 16, 2010
REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- "Where's the button'"
Sitting at the driver's console inside a HIMARS vehicle, all cadet Arienna McElroy could see around her were buttons.
And she wanted to know which button would start the engine.
But Staff Sgt. Ashly Bolton wasn't saying.
"What color is it'" McElroy asked.
Then she found it -- the red swirly one to her right.
So, she pushed the button.
And nothing happened.
"There's a secret switch I flip so there's no power on for that very reason," Bolton told McElroy.
As a JROTC cadet from Walker High School in Jasper, McElroy doesn't yet have the skills to drive a High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, even if she had Bolton by her side. Bolton, a Multiple Launch Rocket System repairer instructor with the 59th Ordnance Brigade, not only knows how to drive HIMARS, she also knows how to repair it.
But McElroy is already making plans for her HIMARS career.
"This is going to be my ride to school," she told fellow cadet Shelynda Hewitt.
A HIMARS really can't be McElroy's ride to school, but it can be the vehicle that drives her into a great career offering leadership opportunities, job skills development, high education, good pay, travel and adventure. And then there's the "cool hardware" that gives Soldiers some pretty awesome firing and flying power.
Those are the kinds of things that appeal to most JROTC cadets, and they were all on display at Team Redstone's JROTC Day on Thursday at the Redstone Airfield.
"Today, you will be exposed to and you will see some of the opportunities you would have if you come into the federal government," Garrison commander Col. John Hamilton told about 250 cadets who participated in the event.
"Today can really open your mind to the opportunities offered to you after graduation. I am only here because of JROTC. I needed another elective in high school, so I took JROTC. I learned very, very quickly that the Army was for me. The Army is looking for those who want to lead, who want to serve their nation and who are committed to something larger than themselves ... This nation is looking for folks just like you to serve."
For some in the audience, Hamilton's opening comments reinforced a decision they had already made. Cadet Patrick Nichols, a senior at Albertville High School, has committed to join the Marines after graduation through the delayed entry program.
"I had to take the (Marine) combat fitness test three times before I passed. The first two times I passed out. I feel a lot stronger than I used to be," he said. "JROTC finally opened my eyes, and changed me and everyone's opinion of me for the better. And I finally realized that everyone I know and all the people I meet are all pretty proud of what I am doing with JROTC and the Marines."
JROTC Day gave cadets the opportunity to see the importance of the work being done at Redstone Arsenal and the value of its organizations, facilities and work force in defending the nation. Besides Walker and Albertville high schools, other cadet programs from Sparkman, Butler, Austin, Buckhorn, Sheffield, Gadsden City and Russellville high schools also participated in the event.
The cadets moved from station to station at the airfield, getting a chance to "see, touch and feel" the Raven unmanned aerial system; Air Warrior equipment; Chinook, Black Hawk and Apache helicopters; SLAMRAAM; HIMARS; Avenger; TOW; Explosive Ordnance robots; trainers for the Avenger, TOW and Javelin; a flight simulator; Future Soldier video game; and emergency police and firefighting capabilities.
For many of the cadets, understanding the hardware and how it operates came pretty easily, thanks to instructors from the 59th Ordnance Brigade.
At the TOW launching vehicle, Buckhorn High cadet Tyler Arenz was teaching fellow cadet Austin Neppel how to maneuver the TOW's aiming capabilities.
"I love this. It's so cool. But it's hard to get in there with this uniform on," said Neppel, who struggled with his Class As as he worked through the inside of the TOW vehicle.
Nearby, Buckhorn cadet Cecelia Cole was asking Sgt. 1st Class Jeremy Conner of the 59th what it takes to drive a TOW vehicle.
"It looks fun and exciting," Cole said. "I'd be the superwoman of the day if I could drive that."
Over at the Chinook helicopter, Bobby Rhue, a flight engineer for the Program Executive Office for Aviation, had a group of Gadsden City cadets in the belly of the aircraft.
"How many of you play videogames'' he asked. "Well, this is one big, giant videogame. It's run by a computer console. It can do a lot of stuff, like track lightning storms 25 miles away."
Cadet Brandon Goss of Walker High School hopes to one day have his Army career closely connected to the Chinook. But he doesn't want to be flying it from the cockpit.
"I want to be a mechanic," he said. "If I get to jump out of one, that's cool, too."
Inside the high bay area, cadets from Austin High School were challenging each other on a Future Soldier trainer. Cadet Jillian Salas had played one trainer three times, getting the highest marksmanship score. But cadet Matthew Yearber, who had his unit's second highest score on its rifle team, hoped to beat her.
"I like shooting. I like guns," Jillian said. "I'm shooting very well. I'm better than most of the guys."
"It's all about the competition," Matthew added.
The day's activities kept the cadets busy and occupied. And for their chaperones and JROTC leaders, it was a day filled with mentor moments.
"It's wonderful to see the kids smiling," said retired Col. Terry Thomas, a JROTC instructor from Albertville High School, as he straightened the beret of one of his cadets.
"It's a real success. It's great to watch the kids get all excited about this stuff. They're learning, and that's what it's all about."