ost of the students in Seymour High School’s Project Lead the Way engineering classes hadn’t given much thought to a career in the military.
Until the U.S. Army showed up this week to demonstrate how robots and engineering are used to save lives in combat.
On Tuesday, Staff Sgt. Terrance Cobb and Sgt. Michael Mercer from the Counter Explosives Hazards Center at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri spent the day in the classroom, talking with students about what it’s like to be a combat engineer. They also showed off some of their “toys,” much to the interest and enthusiasm of their audience.
The presentations, which included an opportunity for students to operate actual military robots, was part of the Total Army Involvement in Recruitment program. TAIR is designed to bring the daily life of soldiers and the Army experience to schools in local recruiting areas.
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The presenters discussed their training and highlighted the skills they have acquired in their duties serving their country as combat engineers.
Sophomore Joseph Sarmiento said the program was eye-opening, and it gave him another career option to keep in mind.
“I thought it was pretty cool, and I wish they would’ve shown us more,” he said.
At one point, Sarmiento took over the controls of a Talon, a remotely operated robot designed for missions ranging from reconnaissance to combat. The soldiers explained how the machine is used to help locate, disarm and dispose of explosives and can pull injured soldiers to safety.
Cobb even pretended to be injured on the battlefield, allowing Sarmiento to maneuver the Talon to rescue him.
“The coolest part had to be where I got to drag him across the room,” Sarmiento said.
Besides the Talon, students also got to operate a Minehound, which is a metal detector and ground penetrating radar unit. Minehounds are used to locate explosives, weapon caches and anything else that might be buried.
In one way, operating the equipment is similar to playing video games, because they both require advanced hand/eye coordination and technical skills.
Sarmiento said enlisting in the military had been an idea he has considered but he is even more interested in now.
“I’d always seen it as another option if it needed to be,” he said. “They talked about the things they did like route clearance and demolition, and those sound like things I would like doing.”
Mercer also talked about benefits of joining the military, including having his college and health care paid for by the Army, the opportunity to travel around the world and the camaraderie of his fellow soldiers.
Senior Lacey Warner called the presentation “cool” and said he was surprised by how easy it was to operate the robots.
He got to maneuver the Talon to locate, identify and retrieve a suspicious objects, colored golf balls, sitting on matching colored wooden blocks, with one out of place.
“I personally like driving the robot, but it would have been better if maybe the object was outside around a corner,” he said, which would have made it more challenging.
Warren said joining the military doesn’t seem so far-fetched.
“I’ve been tossing up the idea of being in the military for many years now,” he said.
But if he were to join, he doesn’t think he wants to be a combat engineer because there are other areas he’s more interested in, he added.
Project Lead the Way teacher Bob Sexton said he was impressed by the Army’s technology and glad the students had the opportunity to see how engineering is used in real-life situations.
“The Army is able to bring in this level of robots that we don’t have access to in the classroom,” Sexton said. “The kids are completely engaged. They’re learning and having fun at the same time, which is what we want.”
Besides the technology, Sexton said, the presentations also showed students another side of the military that they don’t see on TV.
“This is giving them another perspective of the military,” he said. “They are doing their job with robots — no weapons and no guns.”
Sophomore Maxwell Vonderwell said he too has thought about enlisting and was even more inclined to learn about the military after the robotics presentation.
“I really loved the robot and the metal detector because that stuff is really cool,” he said. “I’ve always been interested in the military.”
Vonderwell said he knew that engineering was available in the Army but didn’t know exactly what combat engineering would be.
“I always thought it was more or less building things,” he said, “but I’ve learned now that it’s more than that.”