ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. - Two Aberdeen Proving Ground taekwondo students recently won first place at regional and world competitions.

Hannah Secrist, 9, a green belt, received first place in weapons at the Mass America Sport Martial Arts League World Games, a taekwondo competition held in Boston, Mass., Jan. 29.

Secrist, who is aspiring to earn the purple belt while taking classes at APG, said that she was very surprised and excited to earn first place.

"Taekwondo is my favorite sport; I want to do it as much as possible," she said. "I have met a lot of friends here and I really enjoy helping the kids in the Tiny Tigers Taekwondo program; they love me."

At the Gaithersburg Champion Karate Invitational Feb. 6, Leah Jones, 9, a yellow belt with green stripe, took first place in sparring and weapons and third in regular forms.

Secrist took first in weapons, second in forms and third in sparring in her category.

"When they called my name, I felt like I was going to cry, I was really excited," said Jones, who has been practicing taekwondo for a year and a half. "During competition I was nervous but it felt so good to see my parents and coaches cheering me on."

Both students take taekwondo twice a week at the Aberdeen Proving Ground North Youth Center through Child Youth and School Services' SKIES Unlimited Program, taught by Sean Williams, head instructor for Unity Taekwondo School of Martial Arts.

Williams said he is proud of his student's dedication.

"They represented the military community, Team APG, very well. They really held their own," he said. "I care about my students and I want them to put forth their best effort, not just in taekwondo, but also at school and at home."

Williams said he thinks that taekwondo is a positive outlet for military children who might be dealing with the stress of a deployed parent or recent move.

"Studying taekwondo helped me deal with stress when I was going through a difficult time as a teenager," he said. "I want to encourage my students to deal with stress in a positive way."

Secrist's mother, Johna Minnich, said she encouraged her daughter to participate in taekwondo to meet new friends after they moved to the area.

"She was very upset about moving so we wanted her to find an activity that would take her mind off of it," Minnich said. "Not too long after I noticed a change in her behavior. She developed confidence and met new friends. She also has developed leadership skills from instructing the other children and it keeps her active," she said. "I think the program is great, it teaches children respect and keeps them out of trouble."

For more information about the SKIES taekwondo program, contact Stacie Umbarger, SKIES director. E-mail stacie.umbarger1@us.army.mil or call 410-278-4589. Visit http://www.apgmwr.com/family/youth_skies.html for information on SKIES Unlimited.