Students and guides pose for a photo before Candidate Fitness Testing at Fort Belvoir's Graves Gym, Oct. 1.

Fort Belvoir high school recruiting event reveals Army GEMS

Pat Locke is a force of nature, in addition to being a retired Army Major and West Point graduate. For several years, Locke has coordinated with numerous experts and Army supporters to encourage local students to consider Reserve Officer Training Corps and West Point as a pathway to officership as well as a smart career move.

During a round of Candidate Fitness Assessments at Fort Belvoir’s Graves Gym, there was furious activity in all directions, as high school students were being videotaped to verify their assessment performance, as a vital step to application into ROTC and the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. To be apply, students must do a basketball throw, pull-ups, a shuttle run, modified sit-ups, push ups and a one mile run.

The walls of the Gym were taped with numerous printed pages, each one holding a QR code and details of internship opportunities that await interested students. Locke said each program – some of them paid - could provide a crucial experience and addition to any student wanting to stand out.

Pat Locke speaks to a parent about Army internships at Graves Gym, Oct. 1.

“To have this internship experience under your belt, while you’re still in high school, lets you build a resume in important ways. I don’t know if the students get that, but I think the parents do,” Locke said, adding that several of these programs are not fully utilized, with more openings than applicants.

“I think part of the problem that the Army has with recruiting is that parents and influencers don’t always know what is available. We’re trying to do a better job of advertising and making sure that parents know what’s available to their kids.

One paid internship is called Gains and Education of Math and Science, (GEMS). These programs are designed to excite students in STEM and encourage their pursuit of STEM careers. These are paid internships that are underutilized for rising ninth and 10th graders. There are apprenticeships in blockchain, cybersecurity, biotech, nanotechnology, AI machine learning, robotics and more.  

The importance of recruiting outreach was evident by the impressive team of volunteers that Locke has relied on; physical fitness experts from Fort Belvoir Community Hospital; volunteer officers from The Army Aviation Battalion; and COL Joe Funderburk, PhD, who is currently special assistant to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Locke said is transitioning out to work at the White House.

“You have a lot of people that are trying to give back to their community and trying to help overcome some of the recruiting deficits that we faced during COVID,” Locke said.

Zosia Ridley throws a basketball during Candidate Fitness Assessment

Zosia Ridley, from South County High School in Lorton, said she will be an officer.

“I’m applying to West Point, while I’m also doing ROTC,” Ridley said. “I came out today to get both my Candidate and Physical Fitness Assessments completed.”

Scott Barlow, a parent, came down from West Springfield with his family to observe the day’s activities.

“I’ve always been interested in West Point,” said Barlow. “My son, who is a freshman, wanted to know more and we came here to get as much information as possible. I've learned so much from the people that are here through the process. It's been well worth it.”

His son, Winston, attending West Springfield High School, said he’s always wanted to join the military.

“I've been in a JROTC program. I've been running and doing push-ups, sit ups, whatever I can do, and after seeing what they’re doing this morning, I know what to expect,” said the younger Barlow, adding that after observing the performance of the seniors that morning, he said he’s going to have to start training a little harder.

Locke said many students are content to just graduate and get a job, but she stressed what a life-changing event ROTC or Military Academy training could provide.

“Yes, you can just go get a job, but we can pay you in the Army, and you can still go to school for free,” said Locke. “How is this a bad plan?”

For more information about Army Education Outreach Programs and DoD STEM opportunities, see

Paul Lara, Fort Belvoir Public Affairs