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Face of Defense: Volunteer Soldiers Mentor Texas School Students

By Michael Novogradac, U.S. Army Operational Test Command

FLORENCE, Texas, Sept. 22, 2016 — Two soldiers who volunteer for III Corps and Fort Hood's Adopt-A-School program visited Florence Middle School here Sept. 9. 

Army Master Sgt. Earnest L. Vance, U.S. Army Operational Test Command's Test Technology Directorate noncommissioned officer in charge, and Army Sgt. Jacob D. Wilson, command group NCOIC, walked into Monica L. Mitchell's 8th-grade Earth science class, just in time to see student Blayne Smith do a show-and-tell of his ball python, Killer.

A second-year teacher after changing careers, Mitchell said she appreciates the presence of the soldier-mentors in her classroom.

Appreciates Soldiers’ Assistance

"I struggled a little bit last year as a first-time teacher, and they came into one of my more difficult classes," she said. "They instill a level of discipline that raises expectations. Having these guys out here, it just boosts the kids' self-esteem and boosts their expectations of what they can be in the world."

Another teacher who concentrates on math for grades 6 through 8, said the Adopt-A-School program with OTC works out just right.

"I had a student who didn't have very good handwriting," explained Carol Nolan, "and I was told, 'You won't ever be able to read his handwriting.'”

"[Sergeant] Vance didn't take that," she continued. "He was like -- 'No, sir! You can write this more neatly.'”

According to Nolan -- sure enough -- Vance's mentoring and encouragement vastly improved the students’ handwriting.

"They're able to see a need and spot it," Nolan said of the soldier-mentors. "They don't have any fear to just jump in and start helping. And, any time you can make a connection with a student on a subject or share a mutual experience, they will trust you. The students share a mutual respect with the soldiers."

Helping Students

Wilson said, "I see these kids struggling, and a lot of these kids, we can relate to. We've been there -- going through school and taking it for granted. I came from a small town and was on the football team, so teachers just naturally slid me by, and nobody ever told me, 'Hey, school matters. You need to focus on this.'"

Wilson said not knowing how to focus hurt him in the long run.

"When I got to the college level, I was behind. I was struggling," he said. "Then I started partying. Then it got to the point where I had nothing but withdrawals and incompletes on my transcript, so that's when I left. And because I was on an ROTC scholarship, it was either pay back the money the Army spent on me, or enlist."

"So, that's how I got in the Army," Wilson said. "I wasn't pushed at an early age. There's nothing wrong with my life today, but if I would have focused and buckled down, who knows what my life would be today?"

Wilson also volunteers as a fireman and with the Big Brother program.

Vance said just showing up every two weeks is a routine that's necessary for him, and the kids.

"We engage them every two weeks, and we let them know we're coming back," he said. "And, we try to hold them accountable for certain tasks."

Holding the students accountable can be as simple as looking through their backpack for homework they're missing, then showing them how to become and remain organized.

"To show up every two weeks also keeps us accountable," Wilson said. "If we didn't see results, we probably wouldn't do it. They're getting something out of it and we're getting something out of it."

Distribution channels: Military