Brig. Gen. Jason Kelly, Fort Jackson commander, speaks to the Houston educator group during the Houston Educator Tour, June 21. (Courtesy)

Houston, we have an ed tour

By Emily Hileman, Fort Jackson Public Affairs

Fifty years after Defense Secretary Melvin R. Laird announced and President Richard Nixon officialized the all-volunteer force, the Army has diligently worked to prove the benefits and value of serving in the Army. One of the many ways of showing the benefits is through Army Education Tours.

Educator Tours offer teachers, counselors, juvenile probation officers, business owners and other civic leaders an opportunity to directly influence students and young adults’ decision to join the Army.

“You take a teacher, educator, counselor, or other influential person in a teen’s life and they don’t have anyone around them affiliated with the service and now they get a first-hand account,” Dr. Dywaine Robinson, education specialist with the Houston Recruiting Battalion said. “… It’s an invaluable tool to have educators go on a military installation and see training, structure, and the learning environment.”

Attendees are offered a day with trainees to talk about their experience and why they chose to serve, a day with permanent party Soldiers to discuss the benefits of service, why they’ve stayed in and they’re also able to see different areas that positively impact the quality of life of Soldiers such as dining facilities, the Exchange, medical centers and even living spaces.

“They have a chance to see what Basic Combat Training living spaces look like as well as Advanced Individual Training when they go to Fort Jackson,” Robinson said. “What they realized is AIT barracks look just like a college dorm. Two people, sharing a common space and bathroom, but they have their own individual sleeping space. It looks the same as a college campus.”

Seeing various aspects of the military lifestyle and living situations gives educators without military knowledge or experience the understanding that the military is a great post-high school option for students who may not be prepared, mentally or financially, for the typical university experience.

“The educator tour now puts the educator in a position to see that students who enlist are not just military ready,” Robinson said. “But, the benefits that the military provides them will allow them to go to school debt free and also, if they choose to use their time wisely, they can even walk away with multiple certifications depending on their military occupational specialty.”

Robinson places most of his focus on taking tours where Training and Doctrine Command organizations are to show educators just how similar military training schools and community colleges are. “You go to Fort Gregg-Adams and they teach logistics, Fort Leonard Wood teaches hands-on skills like carpentry and plumbing, Fort Story trains and teaches Army musicians,” Robinson said. “There’s a lot of posts that teach Army careers that your average person doesn’t even know exists.”

Emily Shine, a high school counselor at Katy Paetow High School in Katy, Texas, attended the Houston area Educator Tour, June 20-22.

“Even though I’ve experienced the military life, there’s so much I learned,” Shine said. “One thing was the positivity and encouragement between trainees. Even if another trainee was working on an individual task, the others worked as a team to help and encourage that one individual.”

Shine’s husband, a Navy veteran, has shared many of his boot camp stories with her, but she said, “It’s been a while since my husband was in the military and there have been some great, positive changes since then.”

As an educator, Shine was impressed by the Future Soldier Preparatory Course, a course designed for individuals with a desire to serve in the Army to overcome academic and physical fitness barriers that would have previously disqualified them from service.

“That was eye-opening,” Shine said. “Because there are students that just need that little extra help to get them through. As an educator, that was really impressive to me.”

She was also impressed by the holistic health approach and the Master Resiliency Training experts she encountered while at Fort Jackson.

“I wanted to bring the MRT training back to my school and do it here,” she said.

“Another great thing is educators have a chance to engage service members,” Robinson said. “Every Soldier has an Army story and to hear those stories is meaningful. A lot of what my educators were told resonated with them because they have students that are coming from the same situations.”

The impact and importance of educator tours is not lost on Brig. Gen. Jason E. Kelly, Fort Jackson commander, either.

“You have these educators and influencers that are able to see how we make American Soldiers,” Kelly said. “They’re able to see caring leaders, caring drill sergeants … and they’re able to see the opportunities presented to them here and what tomorrow could bring.”

“This tour made me feel good about recommending the military to my students,” Shine said. “It gives me peace of mind knowing they’re going in, they’ll be trained and they’ll have that positive experience that I saw.”

Educator tours aren’t just for teachers and counselors. “I want to reach people that impact others,” Robinson said. “It’s not always educators. Sometimes it’s a business owner, someone in the juvenile justice system or someone from job corps. We say ‘educator tour,’ because we focus on educators, but it’s really an education tour.”