(Editor's note: Only first names of the youth from Arrowhead Ranch were used for this article per the program's policy.)

ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL, Ill. -- Members of the Army Sustainment Command headquarters staff and the Rock Island Arsenal Fire Department met with residents of the Arrowhead Ranch Oct. 24-25 to share their message of making good choices to succeed in life.

Arrowhead Ranch is a private, not for profit, non-sectarian treatment facility positioned on 225 acres serving at-risk youth aged 12-21. Operating since 1945, it is located in a rural setting just outside of Coal Valley, Ill., only a few miles from the Quad Cities where RIA is located.

Arrowhead's mission is to motivate youth-at-risk to become productive and responsible people by providing high-quality counseling, education, and social services to youth and their families, according to its website. Currently, Arrowhead is licensed to serve 50. It opened its doors to females in 2004.

"Everybody needs guidance," Col. Scott Lofreddo, ASC chief of staff, told Arrowhead youth during a luncheon at the fire department. "We make choices that affect the rest of our lives."

Lofreddo was one of many people that the Arrowhead youth got to meet, hear that person's views on life, and conduct a question-and-answer session. The RIA coordinator for this visit and previous visits during the past couple of years was Pat Behr, fire inspector, who served as a liaison for this event.

He and several members of the fire department took the youth to department's outdoor training area to learn what firefighters do and the skills needed in rescuing those trapped in a burning house or in an overturned vehicle.

"I'm sweating like a pig. This firefighter stuff is hard," said Kyle of Arrowhead. "I'd rather be a policeman."

Kyle's sentiments were shared by most of the group Oct. 24 after they donned firefighter's gear -- about 15 pounds -- and then went through a multi-story building in the dark looking for mannequins to rescue. This was followed by maneuvering through cylindrical blocks of concrete outside joined together to form a tunnel to simulate entrapment.

"All I can say is I'm really hot," said Bruce after walking through the building that reeked of burnt materials.

Additionally, the Arrrowhead youth carried in teams of two a mannequin weighing 175 pounds after it was removed from a vehicle using hydraulic rescue tools following a make-believe accident.

Behr also showed them training areas for rappelling and roof climbing.

"It's a very noble profession," Behr told the teenagers, a firefighter of 35 years. "You're there [on duty] all the time, 24 hours at a time; sometimes longer when there is a fire."

The day's events started in a basement classroom of the ASC headquarters. A video was shown first to familiarize the visitors with what it means to be "Army Strong."

Following this, several Soldiers spoke for several minutes each on life and how the Army allowed them to realize their full potential.

"I too was an at-risk, underprivileged youth," shared Col. Regina Draper, chief of ASC Intelligence and Security.

Draper said success was about taking the "hard right versus the easy wrong."

She added that despite growing up in the "ghettos of South Phoenix," she believed in herself. "Where I came from had nothing to do with where I was going," Draper said.

Another ASC officer, Maj. Brent Irish, Mobility Division, Distribution Management Center, said he was a lousy high school student and that it took him seven years to graduate from college.

Irish told a story of his unit and an Iraqi girl who suffered an infection from a shattered leg. His unit's Soldiers volunteered their much-coveted off-duty time to keep watch over her during her recovery from numerous surgeries.

Our Soldiers "fight wars and take care of people," he said. When the girl was released a couple of months later, her father held Irish's hands and through an interpreter, said he was very grateful for the Army's medical care and concern for his daughter.

Capt. Marsha Reveal, ASC Surgeon's Office, and who also served as a liaison for the visit, told the youth that she loves the Army because of all the things it offers.

"I was an adrenaline junkie," Reveal said, adding that she liked "anything that would spark a little fear in me … I like aggression in a positive way."

You are the "captain of your fate; the master of your soul," she said.

Reveal is ASC's Combined Federal Campaign representative for 2012. Arrowhead Ranch is listed as a CFC organization eligible for donations from the federal workforce.

"You're very young. Things are not always what they seem," said Maj. Aaron Helms, Plans and Operations section, Installation Logistics Directorate.

He cleverly illustrated this with some common mechanic's acronyms, eventually explaining what they mean, ending with asking what "P-E-P-S-I" stands for? No one knew, as he explained it was the famous soft drink, drawing laughter.

Helms referenced his parents, explaining they didn't have much education. "You will have opportunities you never dreamed of if you join the Army," Helms said of the service's educational, career, and promotional programs.

"First and foremost, you have to respect and like yourself," he said. "Don't let anybody tell you what you can and cannot accomplish in life."

In the end, Helms said life boils down to this: "Every day of your life you will suffer the pain of discipline or the pain of regret."

Adding on the importance of education was Sgt. 1st Class Jay Denton, Distribution Management Center and ASC's Noncommissioned Officer of the Year for 2012.

Despite 16 years in the Army, with four more to go prior to retirement, Denton said he just started going to college.

"I wish I would've started earlier," he said. "Educating yourself is very important."

Whether it's trade school, or a two-year or four-year degree, Denton said education is the key to success.

"It's taken me a long time to realize you've got to get an education."

During the luncheon, Lofreddo discussed a number of topics, giving examples of his life to illustrate the importance of having mentors, making good choices through values, and acquiring an education to succeed in life.

The ASC chief of staff asked three things of the Arrowhead youth:

0 Find a mentor
0 Stay in school and understand that education is the key to success
0 Follow some values and get in with the right crowd -- people who are successful

During a question-and-answer session, Lofreddo said it was a book about Vietnam involving the Army that greatly influenced him to join.

Lofreddo said it was the author's great stories, it was the author's photo in his Army dress uniform that sold him. "'That guy's cool. I want to be him,'" Lofreddo told himself.

"I challenged myself -- I used the vehicle of the Army to better myself," he said.

He also said in a response to a question that the greatest pleasure now for him in the Army is being a leader.

One Arrowhead resident said he wanted to go into the Army's Special Forces but said he can't handle authority.

"I talk to everybody with dignity and respect," Lofreddo said. "You can still lead people without making them feel small."

Lofreddo closed by emphasizing for the youth to get a high school education and don't do anything to add to a possible record.

"Don't do it again -- we all make mistakes," Lofreddo said. "We're here by the grace of God."

According to Emily Caras, an education assistant with Arrowhead Ranch who accompanied the youth to RIA, field trips like this help them see how others cope under stressful conditions.

Caras said coming to RIA to hear the Soldiers' stories was "very motivational to hear inspiring stories" and offers the Arrowhead youth hope. And by associating with the firefighters, it gives the youth "an idea of what they could be or what the firemen go through" under stressful conditions.

The Arrowhead youth also said the day's visit was worthwhile.

"It shows that you can change even if you're in a bad predicament … not to give up," said Jaden of the Soldiers' personal stories.

Asked based on the day's events if he prefers being a Soldier versus a firefighter, Jaden said "I'd be a Soldier. It's a lot of work [being a firefighter] than what you think."

"I like the things they do," said Dakota of Soldiering, explaining he has relatives that have and are serving in the Army.

"I thought they were pretty cool. It was a little hard, but a little bit cool," he said of the firefighting profession.

"I enjoyed it. It was new,'" said Bruce. "I didn't know it was so heavy" being a firefighter.

"They inspired me a little bit. It's not over from here. I want to be an electrician," to carry on a tradition in his family, Bruce said. "When I'm at home, I do electrical stuff."

The field trip concluded with the youth touring the Joint Manufacturing and Technology Center.

To learn more on the Arrowhead Ranch program, go to http://www.arrowheadranchinc.com/ or call (309) 799-7044.