FORT BELVOIR, Va. (Army News Service, March 14, 2008) -- The ArmyAca,!a,,cs Rapid Equipping Force has renewed its partnership with Washington, D.C.Aca,!a,,cs, Ballou Senior High School to support a team of students as they gear up to participate in the annual FIRST Regional Robotics Competition.

During the event, the Ballou High School team will compete against more than 60 others to design and build a robot that picks up a 40-inch ball and navigates around a track both autonomously and under radio control. The 2008 Chesapeake FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics Competition is scheduled March 13-15 at the United States Naval Academy Halsey Field House, Annapolis, Md.

Scientists and engineers from the Rapid Equipping Force have mentored the students since the kick-off event in January. Since then, REF personnel, most of whom specialize in science and math related career fields, have visited the school routinely to coach the students as they prepared for the robotics competition.

This year, the REF mentored students and provided technical assistance in designing the team's robot, optimizing system components and fabricating and installing critical parts. They additionally helped students test and debug the robot's subsystems, build a test track for preliminary testing, and conduct final troubleshooting prior to shipment.

Aca,!A"This is a worthwhile partnership,Aca,!A? said Col. Greg Tubbs, director of the Rapid Equipping Force. Aca,!A"I remember how my life changed as a young man when someone from the Army told me that there was no limit to what I could accomplish, and I believed them. Today, I have two masters degrees. WeAca,!a,,cd like to be that positive influence for these studentsAca,!a,,c lives."

Dave Simon, an REF analyst who presented a seminar on mechanical engineering at Ballou, said experiences such as the FIRST Regional Robotics Competition are beneficial both to mentors and students.

Aca,!A"Working with these kids is a rewarding experience,Aca,!A? he said. Aca,!A"These competitions are important because they teach these kids about both engineering and teamwork.Aca,!A?

Ballou is one of six D.C.-area high schools participating in the competition. The school's robotics club is now in its 20th year. It was the first school in D.C. to participate in the FIRST competition, and has competed every year since 2001.

Members of the Ballou team include advisor Dr. Chris Grimm; co-captains Carlton Bailey and Latrice Miller; and teammates Kenneth Clayton, Stanley Jones, Donald Thomas, Dennis Bailey, Antonio Buie, Andre Tatum, Jacob Patterson and Darrell Jackson

The team is positive about its prospects at this yearAca,!a,,cs competition, Bailey said.

Aca,!A"I think weAca,!a,,cre going to do better this year,Aca,!A? he said. Aca,!A"We got further along this year than ever before.Aca,!A?

The Ballou Robotics Team plans to compete in two other competitions this spring that will challenge them to build a remotely operated underwater vehicle, and pair of robots that work in tandem to score points during a tournament.

Worldwide, over 1,300 teams are competing in the 2008 FIRST. Selected teams in the United States will advance from this weekAca,!a,,cs regional competitions to compete at the national level in AtlantaAca,!a,,cs Georgia Dome this April.

The FIRST organization strives to inspire students to heighten their interest in science and technology. Founded almost 18 years ago, the goal of FIRST is to inspire students to be future scientists, engineers, researchers and technicians.

The Rapid Equipping Force, headquartered at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, is changing the way the Army supports its deployed units and Soldiers worldwide. The REF works in partnership with industry, academia, and military leaders to support Soldier needs as quickly as possible. The organization responds to immediate needs in the field and provides readily employable solutions to enhance lethality and survivability. Using commercial and government off the shelf developmental technologies, the REF enables the Army to remain ahead of an adaptive enemy and save Soldiers' lives.