FORT HOOD, Texas - The Austin Police Department Office of Community Liaison Youth Leadership Program partnered, yet again, with the installation to put on a camp for youth here July 26-28.
Christian Mendoza, assistant coordinator for the event with Austin PD, said the program has partnered with Fort Hood for approximately five years and he believes it’s important for the kids to see exactly what career opportunities the military offers them.
“I think it is important for our youth to see how things work in the military in order for them to see the numerous jobs available to them within the military,” he said. “Furthermore, expose them to the opportunities that exist after their 1st, 5th, 10th or 20th year serving.”
Staff Sgt. Nathan Akridge, 89th Military Police Brigade, showed the kids around the installation, beyond just MP facilities.
“I think the kids enjoyed getting to see some of the careers that both the military and civilian sector offer and the equipment that’s used for that particular job,” he said. “They had a chance to tour the air traffic control tower, try out the helicopter simulators, explore Military Police equipment and hear, first-hand from our Soldiers and civilians, about what Fort Hood, the Army and the world offers.”
Mendoza believes the kids had a more enriching experience being here, in person.
“This did not only allow them to ask them questions related to their respective field, but also witness the culture, linguistic and race diversity at Fort Hood,” he said. “Especially since this was the first time visiting a military base for some of them.”
He added, “Our youth are continuously exposed to what social media and cultural norms are emphasizing regarding the military, so it was great for them to first-hand hear and directly ask questions to self-educate and clarify. We are thankful for the strong partnership between Fort Hood and the APD OCL Youth Leadership Program.”
Akridge was also glad to have them at the Great Place in person, so they could experience not only the diversity in careers, but the people as well.
“It is important for them to see Fort Hood and our facilities because it gives them a view of the Army and the world. We have an incredibly diverse team in the Army, with people from all walks of life and many different nations coming together for a common goal,” he said. “It is a great experience for the kids to meet our team, see what it takes to make the Army function on a daily basis and to also get some one-on-one time with a Soldier.”
Esmeralda Benitez, 17, and Darien Diaz-Ochoa, 14, participated in the three-day camp and both learned a whole lot about the military.
“It opens up your eyes and you can see that it’s not really as easy, as you think it is, to join the military,” Benitez said. “You have to do so many things before you actually are able to do what you actually want to do.”
“The military is a lot more complicated than it (looks). It’s not just like, alright your strapped in a boat and now you’re off to war,” Diaz-Ochoa said. “They do a lot more stuff. They have a bunch of things from so many careers.”
The kids were put to the test on the Veteran’s Field obstacle course and Benitez and Diaz-Ochoa both found the monkey bars to be the most challenging.
“The fact that they were spinning, (and you’re) trying to grab on (made it challenging),” Diaz-Ochoa said.
Akridge said the visit was designed to challenge the kids mentally and physically to allow them to build up their confidence in themselves, their peers and their mentors.
“I think for some of the youth the biggest challenge was believing in themselves and trusting their ability to accomplish a task they may not have been comfortable with,” Akridge said. “I really enjoyed watching the kids conquer their fear on the confidence course. Many of them told me, ‘I can’t do it.’ After they finished a portion, they were afraid of, I asked, ‘What couldn’t you do?’ It was awesome to see them smile and say, ‘What I just did.’”
He was grateful to the 3rd Cavalry Regiment., 1st Cavalry Division, 89th MPs and Soldiers civilians and organizations across post for all of the help he received from them.
“The camp wouldn’t have been successful without them stepping up to the plate,” he said.
“I hope these young men and women got a chance to see the career opportunities that are out there for them in the world. I know for a fact that many of them gained a good bit of confidence following our camp and the challenges we presented them,” he concluded. “I hope they take the knowledge and confidence they received here and apply it in their lives. They are tomorrow’s leaders and can accomplish their goals if they believe in themselves.”
Benitez had one big takeaway from her experience.
“The military is a big family," she said, "and I know if I joined, I’d be in good hands.”