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Camdenton's Horizons students get taste of Army at Fort Leonard Wood
Camdenton's Horizons students get taste of Army at Fort Leonard Wood

Missouri National Guard Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Marr helps Camdenton Horizons high school student Nathan Del Rosario aim a M-249 Squad Automatic Weapon on the Engagement Skills Trainer 2000 weapons simulator, while Andy Brizendine watches.
FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. (April 9, 2010) — High school students got to see military life firsthand during a recent field trip to the state's lone active-Army post.

Camdenton alternative educator Paul Schaefer organized the trip for the 17 Horizons Laker Educational Center students, along with Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Marr, a Missouri Guard recruiter covering the Camdenton area.

Schaefer, who retired as a Sergeant 1st Class in the Missouri Army National Guard, said he hopes the experience opened future options his students weren't aware of.

"Most high school students have no idea what military life, whether it be training or duty station, is like," said Schaefer, who last served with the 140th Regiment Missouri Regional Training Institute on post. "They do not know the difference between active, reserve or National Guard. They also do not know what opportunities are available to them or what kind of living they can make."

Being a member of the Guard brought a lot of fond memories for Schaefer, which came with many opportunities.

"The Missouri National Guard was a great part time job and learning experience," he said. "I got to see lots of great places and make great friends across the country."

Marr said he hopes the students saw the vast options the military offers.

"A lot of them think the military is just fighting and constant combat operations," he said. "They need to see that the military offers careers that they can use in the real world, as well."

And in the Missouri Guard, Marr said, the students have the opportunity to simultaneously be a benefit to the civilian and military communities.

"They need to realize that in the Guard, it's one weekend a month, so that the job skill they get from the Missouri Army National Guard, they can use five days a week," he said. "While they'll be marketable in the civilian world, they'll also be an asset to the military."

Marr said the educational benefits are vast, which allows students the chance to use the Guard as a vehicle to earn degrees while not falling deep into debt with student loans.

The Guard can also be a boost for those looking to go to work right away.

"A lot of these guys here in the Horizons program are career oriented, because they are already helping their family out a lot," Marr said. "That's why they are in this program, because some of them are paying the bills at home. So when they get out of high school, they are ready to start that career and that's who we're looking for."

During the tour, students visited soldiers from Company A of the 31st Engineer Battalion, who were training on a bayonet course; got hands on with machine guns on the engagement Skills Trainer 2000, a weapons simulator; toured the 787th Military Police Battalion Headquarters' classrooms and living areas; dined like soldiers in a mess hall; and took a tour of the post's engineer heavy equipment training site.

Senior Dominick Deandrea of Camdenton said the experience has him thinking about his future options.

"I'm definitely looking at the military now — it's opened up a lot of options," said Deandrea, who hopes to some day earn a bachelor's degree in business or his masters of business administration. "There were a lot of things I didn't know about, like the different benefits — housing options, medical benefits and all that stuff."

What sparked Deandrea's interest was the training the soldiers receive. "You don't really go anywhere else and have training like this," he said.

While talking with drill sergeants, the students learned about the sacrifices soldiers make, like being away from their Family and friends.

"Getting sent off to other duty stations is in the back of my mind right now," Deandrea said. "It's always a risk knowing that you could be sent off at any moment. But sometimes that's what you've got to do."

Another sacrifice Deandrea know he'd have to make is shortening his shoulder-length hair.

"I know that's going to have to come along with joining the military, but that's no big deal when it comes down to the main point of what your joining for," he said.

Junior Philipo Sebastian of Camdenton said he most enjoyed seeing how the recruits were trained on the bayonet course.

"I've always been interested in the military," Sebastian said. "My dad, Frank, was in the Army."

The physical requirements of the military are what appeals to Sebastian.

"I'm more of a physically fit person than I am a brain," Sebastian said. "I'm planning on going into the infantry. The physical fitness portions seems easier to me. Running, push-ups, pull-ups, those come easy to me.

"I've always been a video game fanatic, so shooting at people in the infantry seems like the right thing to do," he said.

Not surprisingly, Sebastian's favorite part of the tour was the chance to test fire an M-240B and M-2 .50 caliber machine guns, as well as the M-249 squad automatic weapon, on the weapons simulator. Students learned to shoot at moving and static targets.

"That saves so much money," he said. "Instead of coming out and shooting off live rounds, you can go inside a building and it teaches you how to deal with the recoil, shoot, work on your sight and aim."

Freshman Cody Warnock, of Camdenton, said he had heard some about military life — mostly negative — but saw a lot of positive things about it during the tour.

"I really enjoyed it," he said. "I never really wanted to join, but now I'm actually considering it after I graduate. I like all the cool stuff we've seen. I'd like to serve the country and enjoy the benefits."

Warnock was impressed by the bayonet training.

"I liked the training dummies and their tactics they demonstrated with the bayonets," Warnock said.

But what he liked most, Warnock admitted, was lunch in the dining facility.

"It's nice, big and friendly," Warnock said of the facility.

Marr said the school has been taking students to the post for four years now, and he looks forward to beginning the planning process for next year's trip.

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