NEEDHAM, Mass. (April 3, 2012) -- One day, you're a seventh-grader. The next day, you're a Soldier -- well, temporarily, that is.

Students at Monsignor James J. Haddad Middle School were beginning to study the Civil War when their gymnasium was invaded March 30 by six Soldiers from the nearby Natick Soldier Systems Center, who brought history to life for a few hours.

The seventh-graders "enlisted" in the Union and Confederate armies, donning blue and gray caps that contrasted with normal school uniforms that included sweaters, tan slacks and plaid skirts. They carried broom handles as simulated "weapons" and were put through a drill and ceremony competition by the NSSC Soldiers.

"We are honored to have them here today," Bobbie Flynn, seventh-grade religion/social studies teacher, told the students of the Soldiers. "We will be on our best behavior."

Natick Command Sgt. Maj. Brian Warren saw to that. Warren jumped right in and gave the youngsters a little taste of Army life.

"We're going to have some fun today, but the Army is serious business," Warren told them. "Watch the Soldiers. Soldiers always pay attention to detail. You've got to always be thinking, thinking about what it is you're supposed to be doing. You protect the country. You all are representing that."

When the students came up short of expectations, Warren and the other Soldier-instructors had them drop to the gym floor for pushups, a tradition in this program, which was established at the school more than a dozen years ago.

"It's so funny, because they do talk about it -- 'I wonder how many pushups I'm going to be doing this year?'" Flynn said. "For the boys, it seems to be a game."

Perhaps, but the boys and girls also seemed to be serious about absorbing what the Soldiers were teaching them. During the competition, the students' numbers were whittled from 60 to just five winners, who battled gamely to the end. In recognition of their hard work, the instructors gave them combat patches and one set of airborne jump wings.

"They really take to and appreciate the (Soldiers) coming and talking to them," Flynn said. "They really love having this opportunity. Every year, Natick has provided for us, and I'm very, very grateful."

As Flynn noted, the visit kicked off the school's cross-curricular treatment of the Civil War. The seventh-grade class will travel May 9 to Gettysburg and later re-enact "Pickett's Charge" at a park near the school.

"The kids love this part," said Flynn of the Natick Soldiers' visit. "They know that this is a big part of seventh grade. It's almost like a rite of initiation, I think, for them. It's something that they look forward to and enjoy doing."