REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- What's the best branch of the military? The JROTC students at Sparkman High School were asked this by AMCOM Command Sgt. Maj. Ricky Yates, the speaker at their Career Day on Nov. 30. He got the expected resounding reply of "Army!" Then he corrected them.

"No. It's one team. It's not just about the Army, it's about all the branches of the services -- the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, the Marines and the Coast Guard," Yates said. "You can serve your country as a servicemember or even as a government employee civilian."

Yates was there to tell the students about the many career paths available to them in the military. So he encouraged them to look at all the websites, not just the Army's, and he invited representatives from all the local recruiters as well as a government employee civilian to attend the career day and help him answer students' questions. He will be doing this again at several other JROTC Career Days at area high schools in the upcoming months.

One of the most important messages he wants to get across to the students is to get an education. He wants them to become aware and take advantage of the many ROTC programs where some or all of their education is paid for by the government.

"Take your opportunities where they are. If the government can give you an education, then let it give you an education. Whether it's Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines or Coast Guard, it's pretty much paid for, so get an education," he said.

He explained that students need a college education if they want to pursue their goals and attain leadership positions in the military. He told the students about his daughter-in-law enlisting and then going to classes at night and on the weekends for four years because she wanted to be a lieutenant. He said it wasn't easy and that's why students should take advantage of the education system now instead of waiting until later.

After asking how many students were Alabama fans and how many were Auburn fans, he admitted that even though he is an Alabama fan he thinks that both schools are good ones.

Then he asked if there were any LSU fans in the room. Some good-natured ribbing of the lone LSU fan in the room followed, but Yates then reiterated that students should take advantage of the good schools around them including UAH, Calhoun Community College, and even LSU. He also mentioned West Point, the Naval Academy and the Air Force Academy.

"Look into what's best for your future. You have your goals -- you know what education you need -- don't ever let anyone or anything push you away from them," he said.

Finally, he commented that the JROTC students should appreciate their teachers because they have a difficult job, especially if their teachers have some students who do not want to learn. He suggested that the students try to encourage their fellow students.

"Please learn every day and thank your teachers every day. They're trying to teach you to be good citizens," he concluded.