By Tim Hipps, IMCOM Public AffairsJanuary 12, 2012
SAN ANTONIO (Army News Service, Jan. 11, 2012) -- The U.S. Army generated more than a million recruiting leads during the past 15 years from the "Army Strong Zone," a sea of interactive displays and exhibits adjacent to the Alamodome during football bowl games.
"This is the 15th year," said Lt. Col. David Walker, the U.S. Army Accessions Support Brigade S3 who served as operations officer for the Army Strong Zone during 2012 U.S. Army All-American Bowl Week. "It started at the Alamo Bowl. More than a million leads have been generated -- interactions with qualified youth that have been interested in possibly entering in a career with the armed forces. The numbers are pretty staggering over the years."
In the current economy, however, recruiters are not seriously challenged to meet their numbers. Prospects are all but banging down doors for an opportunity to join the military. The emphasis of the Army Strong Zone, therefore, has evolved.
"This is not a recruiting event," Walker said. "This is a demonstration of changing the perception of the Army and showing that it has moved from the kinetic to a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) environment and it shows the ability for the Army to interact with the local community and the nation, hence connecting our people with our Army."
"We are here to connect America's people with America's Army," he said. "That may sound cliché, but that's exactly what we're doing. We are providing an opportunity for the youth -- the future leaders of our nation -- and providing them an opportunity to engage Soldiers and hear Soldier stories."
Three Soldier-Olympians held court at the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program tent, where folks received autographed baseball cards from Olympic bobsled silver medalist Sgt. Shauna Rohbock, world champion Greco-Roman heavyweight wrestler Sgt. 1st Class Dremiel Byers and rapid-fire pistol Olympic finalist Sgt. 1st Class Keith Sanderson.
"I think it's a tremendous honor for parents to be down here to support their kids and I think it's great that the Army is doing something like this to give back to the community," said Byers, a 2008 Olympian and the only American who has won gold, silver and bronze medals at the World Wrestling Championships. "And get the exposure we need to always replenish our forces. I think it's good for everybody. It's a win-win situation."
The U.S. Army All-American Bowl not only provides a national platform for All-Americans to showcase their extraordinary talents, but it also highlights the strengths and accomplishments of Soldiers and the diverse options and opportunities available to Americans through Army service.
The Army Strong Zone provides visitors an opportunity to experience the diverse roles of 1Soldiers who are making a difference in the world each day. Through unmatched training and experiences, enhanced by cutting-edge technology, the Army prepares young Americans for a variety of careers and opportunities. The Army has more than 150 different career paths, more than any branch of the U.S. military.
"There is always more that can be done, and I think that's always going to be a constant struggle," Byers said. "Advertisement is a huge industry, so we're always going to have to keep our name out there and make sure the people know about us and what we offer in the Army -- just our movement. That's an ongoing thing."
"A lot of kids get to see us and see what the Army does," he continued. "It's not just beans and bullets. There are so many programs the Army has that people don't get to know about until they come to something like this, so I think it's great that we're doing this. I'm fortunate to be a part of it."
Byers, who wrestles at 264.5-pounds, also was honored to tangle with one of the finest from the Army's finest -- a canine from the Delta Company 701st Military Police Battalion's Dog Training School at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas.
"Man, it came at me hard," Byers said of Kim, a Belgian Malinois that tried to take a bite out of the heavyweight wrestler. "That's been on my bucket list for a long time. I've always wanted to do that. I'm aware of that breed. That type of dog is really smart and they're great working dogs. That's cool that I got to do that. I'm just glad the suit fit."
Staff Sgt. Matthew Davis said about 300 dogs complete the school annually. They travel around the country giving demonstrations to adoring fans.
"People don't understand the level of aggressiveness that any dog can bring," he said. "The people love it. They like to see the patrol work. They like to see the bite work. And, of course, they always want to try to pet the dog, so we always try to bring a few friendly ones to get petted. We're a highly desired job right now with everything going on downrange and overseas."
"These dogs are trained in narcotics detection, explosives detection, or patrol certified," Davis continued. "My program trains with German Shepherds, Dutch Shepherds and Belgian Malinois mostly they've got basically the best things that we need to combine to make a good dog -- a high level of intelligence, an excellent ability to search, and that aggressive nature that we might need in the events of any kind of patrol or police work."
Rohbock, a silver medalist in two-woman bobsled with teammate Valerie Fleming at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy, was amazed by the turnout at the Army Strong Zone on the eve of the 12th annual U.S. Army All-American Bowl.
"I've been to a lot of events but this is as many people as I've seen at an Army event," said Rohbock, who won a silver medal at the 2011 World Bobsled Championships in Konigssee, Germany, and remains in WCAP as a coach with thoughts of competing again at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
A rock-climbing wall was one of the most popular participatory events at the Army Strong Zone.
"That was super awesome," said Gracie Ann Gonzalez, 22, who studies sign language interpretation at South Texas College in Austin, after she conquered the most difficult side of the wall. "I loved it. I loved the challenge. I learned today that there is a linguist job with the Army that I am going to look into and see if it's something I would like to do. Rock climbing is the best thing I've ever done in my life. If you don't have a chance to do it, you need to find a way to get it done because it is so much fun. Go Army!"
Walker also was responsible for overseeing other pre-game festivities, such as VIPs participating in tandem jumps with the U.S. Army Golden Knights Skydiving Team and shotgun demonstrations by Olympians from the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit.
"We also engage with Centers of Influence," Walker explained the Army lingo for VIPs, which consist of academic, civic and community leaders from across America who are invited to the week of festivities. "The intent is to give them a better understanding of the Army to allow them to engage their own students, their own youth, hence carrying the Army message into their local communities."
Walker was most proud to introduce the U.S. Army STEM Experience, a fast-moving scenario where participants' knowledge and problem-solving abilities are put to the test inside a truck. The year is 2032 and the world faces unique challenges tied to environmental disaster and continued political strife. A fresh perspective is needed to meet the latest challenge: a terrorist attack on a chemical plant in Europe.
Inside the Army STEM Experience, the mission lies in the hands of the beholder. To believe it, one must experience it.
"The STEM vehicle that was inaugurated this morning at 8 o'clock -- Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics -- is our focal point for the Strong Zone," Walker said. "It's leveraging technology and providing an opportunity to demonstrate military careers to those types of students.
"It's brand new. We just cut the tape on it this morning. This truck has not been seen before, except in our parking lot. It is the end of a yearlong partnership between RDECOM and Army Accessions Command, who have combined efforts and resources to realize this end state. And the vehicle will be going to Los Angeles immediately following this event."
All in all, the Army Strong Zone is designed to deliver a message to America.
"What we have here today is a demonstration of how we have moved from a kinetic force to a more diverse and intellectual force leveraging technology and leveraging robotics," said Walker, who applauded the Army's Research, Development and Engineering Command for its contributions. It is leveraging technology in order to better demonstrate the advances and the opportunities for a STEM diverse community."
Although recruiters need less help filling a downsized force, Walker said the U.S. Army All-American Bowl and Army Strong Zone will continue.
"We're already making preparations for improving on this year's performance and looking forward to engaging the San Antonio community at next year's All-American Bowl 2013," said Walker, adding that that game's centerpiece is the yearlong presentation and interaction between the Army and local communities with the selections and awarding of jerseys, plaques, etc. "The game is a reflection of yearlong hard work and dedication by the military and Army community partnership."