WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Jan. 11, 2011) -- Trey Swift did not need a whiz-bang Army robotics show at Sam Houston High School to convince him to pursue a military career.

Computer engineers from the U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research Development and Engineering Center, however, may have swayed scores of other San Antonio teenagers to consider Army service.

TARDEC and Army Research, Development and Engineering Command personnel staged science, technology, engineering, and math, or STEM demonstrations in nine San Antonio high schools, Jan. 3-5.

The demonstrations were part of the pre-game festivities for the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, an East vs. West All-Star football game for high school seniors played Jan. 8, at the Alamodome in San Antonio.

Swift, a member of the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps who studies and competes in robotics, has his military future mapped out.

"I want to be an aeronautical engineer, so that's dealing with robotics a little bit, as in manufacturing parts for the aircraft - because that's a big robot if you think about it," said Swift, a 17-year-old junior who said he joined JROTC "just to get my education out of the way and paid for first."

"And I've always thought about trying to help make prosthetics for the wounded that need hip replacements and stuff," Swift said. "You need robotics skills for that. And other things, like commercial products."

Poised beyond his years, Swift said he was forced to grow up fast because his mother died when he was in the sixth grade. His grades improved from Cs and Ds to straight As while he went from washing cars to working the rides at an amusement park - all between the ages of 12 and 15.

"I just realized what my mom wanted from me. At the age of 12, I started to grow up," Swift said, who is considering three different colleges: his hometown's Trinity University, Auburn and Georgia Tech. "I want to do something good with my life and have a career, so the military is going to help me out. I have a good head on my shoulders. If I retire from the military, I will have benefits, and also have mostly a guaranteed job out in the civilian world."

TARDEC's robotics demonstration inspired third-year JROTC student Eva Perez, who also plans a military career as an officer.

"I didn't know we were going to get to play with the robots," Perez said. "That was really fun."

Junior Emily Quinonez, 17, is also in her third year of JROTC.

"I learned today that there's more than what meets the eye about the Army than most people realize," Quinonez said. "I'm not a big military person, but I actually think it would be pretty cool. As I grow up, I'm starting to realize that there are more things in the Army that most people don't have."

Ancydra Gilbert, a 16-year-old JROTC student, wants to follow in the military footsteps of her grandfather, uncle, and to honor her brother, who was killed in Iraq at 28 years old.

"JROTC gives me the training that I need to go into the Army," Gilbert said. "I want to go into the medical field and become an emergency room doctor. This presentation helped me out to see what else I can do with the Army. I thought the robots were very entertaining. I really enjoyed it."

Across town at Karen Wagner High School Jan. 4, JROTC cadets learned about Meals, Ready to Eat (MREs) and the importance of nutrition for troops in the field from RDECOM personnel. The school is named after a lieutenant colonel who died at the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2011.

Brandon Williams, a senior with four years of JROTC experience, said he was born an Army brat and always thought he would join the military. Bucking the trend of his retired Army parents, he already has enlisted in the Marine Corps.

"I learned that there is a lot more going into the MREs than I thought," Williams said. "I always thought of food as just food. I didn't think about how it kept our bodies at a good performance level so we can handle ourselves in the field and everywhere else."

Cadet Lt. Col. Brianna Gonzales said she cherishes her four years in JROTC training.

"There's not one thing, it's everything about it," she explained. "Everybody in here is one big family. Not always happy, not always sad, just a normal family. We all get along very well.

"I do have an Army scholarship on the way to either Texas A&M or St. Mary's, which is right down the street," she added. "I haven't made up my mind. It's a toss-up right now."

Gonzales was one of the first students to jump at the opportunity to taste an MRE.

"It was the best three-year-old food I ever had," she said with a smile.

Retired Maj. David Crocker, the high school's JROTC instructor, said that the program does more than prepare students for the military.

"It's just a way of influencing kids in a positive manner and the mission is to motivate them to be adults and good citizens," Crocker said. "We do that through a number of different ways. Obviously, we teach them the Army values of leadership, respect, selfless service, honor and integrity - we teach them so they get an opportunity to demonstrate that in everything they do.

"Everything we do teaches them how to function as a leader... They are to be an example in the school and the community, and that brings credibility to the program," he said.