WATERVLIET ARSENAL, N.Y. (Nov. 30, 2011) -- They came, they saw, and we all learned. To many of the Watervliet Arsenal workforce, a visit by 13 high school students from the Sullivan County Board of Cooperative Education Services this month was probably perceived as being a one-way proposition -- in essence, they would be doing all the learning. But as some in the Arsenal workforce found out, the students' visit challenged them, too.

It seemed strange to some at the Arsenal to see teenagers without a cell phone or iPod in their hands for three hours. After all, many in the workforce have teenage kids at home and know how tough it is to engage their kids for just a few minutes without a continuous flow of texting. The teens call it multitasking. Suffice it to say that parents have a different view.

These Sullivan County students were different. Maybe it was because they are currently taking courses in technical education, such as machining, and therefore, had a vested interest to learn about manufacturing. Or, maybe they were just being polite. But for whatever reason, these students came ready to learn and because they did so, they challenged those who had to translate the complexities of machining, while making the information interesting.

John Zayhowski, who is the Arsenal's Apprenticeship Program Supervisor, led the students from one end of the Arsenal to the other end. In the course of the tour, the students saw where 155mm howitzer pre-formed tubes are heated to 2,000 degrees and then sent through a rotary forge; where the historic Arsenal began its big gun factory in the late 1880s; and to where mortar tubes are machined.

Zayhowski's portion of the tour was scheduled for about 60 minutes, but the students blew through that time and stayed with Zayhowski for more than an hour and a half. What a sight it was to see as the students peppered Zayhowski with questions at every point of the tour, some of which almost stumped this machining guru.

Not that Zayhowski should have been surprised by the volume and substance of questions given that these were students who have a machining background, but rarely have tours garnered the high level of interest as shown by these students. It was a challenging tour, but a refreshing one.

Once the students had nearly drained Zayhowski's voice, the students were off to see Dan Baker, an engineer with Benét Laboratories. Benét Labs is the Army's premier large caliber weapon research, design, and prototype developer.

Baker transitioned the students from the hard skills of machining to the high-tech application of the Stereolithography Lab where computer-generated, 3-D modeling is achieved. Baker explained how Benét Labs uses this technology for medical and weapon applications.

Some of the students quickly picked up on the value of this technology by saying that the process of building 3-D prototypes out of resin must save the Army a lot of money because prototype parts can be manufactured overnight without any machining.

No tour would be complete without a quick stop in the Arsenal's museum.

Arsenal Museum Curator Bob Pfeil completed the tour by walking the students through the Arsenal's history of gun making, as well as through military life since the 1700s. Many students showed a lot of interest in the older gun systems from the 1700s and 1800s, challenging Pfeil's recollection. But Pfeil survived this final volley of questions and bid the students farewell.

As the students departed, some of us wondered if the students' Precision Machining Technology Instructor Michael Mullally had collected all cell phones and iPods prior to the students' arrival. Because for three hours, not one student answered emails, calls, or texts -- nor did they show any signs of withdrawal.