By Spc. Samantha J. Whitehead
105th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
Every good chef knows the way to enhance a fine dining experience is to whet the appetite with a small taste of what is to come.
Cadets from the Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps at Lee’s Summit, Missouri, high school had their appetites for military life whetted March 26 by experiencing the excitement of a live-fire exercise at Fort Riley.
The experience was the result of a partnership between the school and the Kansas Army National Guard. Cadets in the program are planning to join various branches of the military, not just the Air Force, said retired Air Force Col. Rick Milligan, the senior instructor for the JROTC at Lee’s Summit High School.
“Seeing the equipment fire is a rare opportunity that most civilians will never get the chance to see,” said Milligan. “For those [cadets] who will go into the military, I think this validates what they’re trying to do as they explore different options and branches.”
The cadets started the day by learning about Bradley Fighting Vehicles with Soldiers of Company C, 2nd Combined Arms Battalion, 137th Infantry Regiment, Wichita, at Fort Riley’s Digital Multi-Purpose Range on the Douthit Gunnery Complex. From there, they moved to a demolition range to get an up-close view of M1 Abrams tanks with Soldiers assigned to Companies A and B, 2-137th. The exercise included two live-fires, which the cadets watched from two different observation points.
The partnership between the Lee’s Summit JROTC and the Kansas Guard began through a chance meeting between program cadets and the executive officer of the 2-137th at a 2017 Veterans Day event in Overland Park, said Army Capt. Tyler Wamsley, commander, Company B.
“We had one of our company’s tanks on static display,” said Wamsley. “The cadets met my XO (executive officer), and he passed off a business card and they took it back to their cadre, who reached out to us and we were able to facilitate them coming out today.”
Lee’s Summit, located nearly two and a half hours from Fort Riley, isn’t near any military installations, and limits the cadets’ exposure to military equipment, training and lifestyle, said Milligan.
“Anytime we can get [cadets] out and actually see the culture and equipment that these men and women have the opportunity to manage and operate, that goes a long way,” said Milligan. “You just can’t teach that in the classroom.”
While only about a third of the program’s cadets were able to attend the event, the exposure to a military environment helps with recruiting efforts at the school, said Cadet Col. Anthony Hudson, student commander of the program.
“To the other cadets who couldn’t come, and even other kids in our school, we’ll take video and photos back and use them as recruiting tools,” said Hudson. “It’s a really good experience to get out here and be able to see what we could be doing in two or three years.”
Wamsley said the partnership also helps in recruiting for the Guard through hands-on, in-person experiences for the cadets.
“We can ‘sell’ a tank just by people looking at it,” said Wamsley, “but the experience — the significantly emotional event of seeing a tank live-fire, hearing a tank live-fire, feeling that shockwave– that’s the selling point that we can’t replicate anywhere else.”