U.S. Army entices NCHS students with career exploration vehicle

Army Lt. Sun Tonglin, left, and Second Lt. Brian Tims adjust protective gear for students to wear as part of a demonstration of military equipment. Nathan Wilson

Nathan Wilson
The U.S. Army deployed a state of the art military vehicle to Natchitoches Central High School Thursday, Dec. 22.
Unlike tanks or Humvees, the AS4 is not a battlefield vehicle, but an educational tool offering interactive demonstrations of military equipment and information about army career opportunities. It is part of the U.S. Army’s Mobile Exhibit Company (MEC), a collection of semis and other trucks equipped with simulated military gear to give the public an idea of the technology and roles relevant used by army personnel. Army public affairs specialist Adam Garlington describes the mission of the MEC. “It gives the students a glimpse into the life of a soldier and it gives them some hands-on experience with different Army technologies and it’s just a fun way for them to meet the local services and learn about the army,” he says.

Though every vehicle in the MEC is equipped to provide information about 150 Army career paths, each is uniquely outfitted to portray different facets of military technology. “They have aviation, they have STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), they have medical. They have a whole bunch of different types of trailers,” says Garlington. “It’s kind of broken down job specific.”
Garlington describes what NCHS students encounter in the AS4 vehicle. “It will have one of the EOD (explosive ordinance disposal) robots; the kids will be able to drive that around, see how it operates (and) operate it themselves. It has a night vision station where they can experience that,” he says. “It has army laser technology… a shooting simulator, so showing a few different things that soldiers use.”
Staff Sergeant Tiffany Gourdon is an army recruiter based in Natchitoches. She describes the event at NCHS as an opportunity for students to see careers in the military from a different perspective. “It’s used as a fun way to show them some of the things they could experience in the army,” she says.
As an NCHS graduate, Gourdon is able to relate to the students at Natchitoches Central once they begin talking, and the AS4 exhibit facilitates those conversations. “It’s an icebreaker, a huge icebreaker, is a way to look at it,” she says. “Sometimes the kids at school, they’re kind of nervous to walk up to a table or talk to us at a career fair, but if they’re standing in line waiting to go through this truck, it gives us an opportunity to engage them.”
Gourdon believes the Army offers more benefits than people realize. “Sometimes the army actually allows you to choose where to go for your first duty station. They had Germany as an option, Italy was listed, Alaska (and) Hawaii… I have a guy who’s graduating from Central next year. He already signed on, and he’s going to Hawaii for his first duty station and he’s getting a sweet bonus.” she says. “We’re jealous when we see these sweet bonuses these kids are getting.”

The AS4 van arrived at Natchitoches Central High School. It seemed to highlight the new school aesthetical upgraded school sign. The AS4 mobile exhibit vehicle performs demonstrations of the life of a soldier roughly 300 days each year and travels to the 48 contiguous states.

Army recruiter Lequante’ Hunt says he values the mechanical experience he gained in the army and now uses it to reach students who want hands-on training. From left are Cadet Staff Sgt. Jiquerius Dorsey, Cadet Private Alayla Bradford, Cadet Private Te’niahh Dauzart, Staff Sgt. Lequante’ Hunt and Sgt. 1st Class Warren Martinez.

While the AS4 exhibit offers a glimpse of military life, Gourdon believes the best opportunity for students to determine how the Army fits into their plans is to talk to a recruiter. “We’re hoping to spread the message,” she says. “We tell them our story (and) why we joined.” She emphasizes that the Army and the Army Reserve offer more options than people realize. “If they’re interested in seeing the world, join the Army. The Army will pay for you to get out there,” she suggests. “A lot of people, they don’t want to leave, so that’s when we tell them about joining the reserve, and they can use their Army experience to build their resume and give back to the community with their experience.”
Cadet Private Alayla Bradford and Cadet Private Te’niahh Dauzart explore careers in the U.S. Army with peers from Natchitoches Central High School.

The U.S. Army maintains a recruiting station at 101 Jefferson St. It can be reached at 318-357-8469 for more information.