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Looking For Future Leaders In Technology

Tampa's MacDill Air Force Base put on an impressive show of skill and threw in a bit of fun for some 1200 school students who visited the base this month to check out military careers linked to science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

“Never before in our nation’s history have we depended more on technology and the application of technology to win – not only in the air – but in space and in cyber space,” said MacDill Commander Col. April Vogel. “You know our mission is to fly, fight and win. So, we need to create people who can do that. And there are some amazing young minds here today which is why this is so special.”

Set up throughout a cavernous aircraft hangar were dozens of demonstrations and hands-on experiences. The teenagers could climb inside an aircraft cockpit, try on helmets and protective body gear or check out robots and rifles.

Monroe Middle School teacher Bradley Watson from Tampa had his students operating mini-drones.

Retired Master Sergeant Kevin Gunter brought 42 cadets from the Dunnellon High School Air Force Junior ROTC.

“We went over to where they pack the parachutes, the para commandos that jump into Raymond James Stadium,” Gunter said. “They got to get into a virtual simulator to see what it’s like to jump.”

The purpose of all the cool demos and in fact, the entire STEM day event was to connect kids to the science involved behind the military careers. And no one seemed to make that connection better than Air Force Technical Sergeant Steven Barber.

Dozens of students swarmed around Barber, who is the lead on MacDill’s SWAT Team, as he explained the successful approach to using a battering ram.

A student tries his hand using a 40 pound battering ram to break through a steel door.
Credit Bobbie O'Brien / WUSF Public Media
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A student tries his hand using a 40 pound battering ram to break through a steel door.

“The science comes from knowing how to use your entire body and learning to hit it flush. It’s all about leverage,” Barber said.

With the correct stance and leverage, a middle school student has as much chance of breaking down the black steel “practice door” as an 18-year-old JROTC cadet.

“There’s a fun side to it too, ‘Hey, I’m going to beat in a door,’” said Col. Pat Miller, a civil engineer and the support group commander for MacDill’s 6th Air Mobility Wing. “Really, it’s getting them to think ‘How’s this working?’ ‘Why can me, a 7-year-old, an 8-year-old, a 12-year-old pick this 40-pound object up and bust through that steel door?’ And maybe that sparks the curiosity side of the kids.”

A Coast Guard helicopter was one of the aircraft students got to explore during STEM Day at MacDill AFB.
Credit Bobbie O'Brien / WUSF Public Media
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A Coast Guard helicopter was one of the aircraft students got to explore during STEM Day at MacDill AFB.

One didn’t have to look beyond a Coast Guard helicopter parked on the tarmac to see the effectiveness of such events. That’s where Coast Guard helicopter pilot Justin Neal was supervising students as they climbed into the cockpit to take “selfies” with their cell phones.

“As a young child, I once sat in a helicopter and now I fly it,” Neal said.

Neal then posed for a new photograph with Middleton High School senior Carlos Martinez, a cadet Lt. Colonel with the Junior ROTC.

Martinez has already signed up for active-duty Air Force with plans on becoming an aircraft mechanic.

“The Air Force, they’re more focused on the education which is what I want and I want to be able to get my degrees and be able to finish and come out of the military with everything that I have,” Martinez said.

Copyright 2021 WUSF Public Media - WUSF 89.7. To see more, visit WUSF Public Media - WUSF 89.7.

Coast Guard pilot Justin Neal supervises students as they climb into the cockpit to take "selfies."
Bobbie O'Brien / WUSF Public Media
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Coast Guard pilot Justin Neal supervises students as they climb into the cockpit to take "selfies."
Center is MacDill AFB Commander Col. April Vogel posing with two cadets. Paula Hough and Don Lloyd, from Alonso High School Army JROTC during STEM Day.
Bobbie O'Brien / WUSF Public Media
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Center is MacDill AFB Commander Col. April Vogel posing with two cadets. Paula Hough and Don Lloyd, from Alonso High School Army JROTC during STEM Day.
Junior ROTC cadets try out tactical gear set up at MacDill's STEM Day event.
Bobbie O'Brien / WUSF Public Media
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Junior ROTC cadets try out tactical gear set up at MacDill's STEM Day event.
MacDill TSgt. Steven Barber oversees students trying out their skill with a 40 pound battering ram.
Bobbie O'Brien / WUSF Public Media
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MacDill TSgt. Steven Barber oversees students trying out their skill with a 40 pound battering ram.
TSgt. Steven Barber offers tips on stance and aim to successfully break through the practice steel door.
Bobbie O'Brien / WUSF Public Media
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TSgt. Steven Barber offers tips on stance and aim to successfully break through the practice steel door.
There was no shortage of volunteers willing to pick up the 40 pound battering ram and try breaking down a steel door.
Bobbie O'Brien / WUSF Public Media
/
There was no shortage of volunteers willing to pick up the 40 pound battering ram and try breaking down a steel door.
Col. Pat Miller is a licensed civil engineer with a masters' degree and the support group commander for MacDill's 6th Air Mobility Wing.
Bobbie O'Brien / WUSF Public Media
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Col. Pat Miller is a licensed civil engineer with a masters' degree and the support group commander for MacDill's 6th Air Mobility Wing.
Retired MSgt. Kevin Gunter with three of his cadets from the Dunnellon High School Air Force Junior ROTC. Cadets left to right: Maggie Barde, Isabella Pierro and Natasha Pierro, twins.
Bobbie O'Brien / WUSF Public Media
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Retired MSgt. Kevin Gunter with three of his cadets from the Dunnellon High School Air Force Junior ROTC. Cadets left to right: Maggie Barde, Isabella Pierro and Natasha Pierro, twins.
The longest line was still for a free slice of pizza.
Bobbie O'Brien / WUSF Public Media
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The longest line was still for a free slice of pizza.
MacDill Airman Christian Espada assisted students trying on field gear like combat helmets.
Bobbie O'Brien / WUSF Public Media
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MacDill Airman Christian Espada assisted students trying on field gear like combat helmets.
Students try on the protective vests minus the armor, which makes them so heavy.
Bobbie O'Brien / WUSF Public Media
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Students try on the protective vests minus the armor, which makes them so heavy.
One of the aircraft students got to explore during STEM Day at MacDill Air Force Base.
Bobbie O'Brien / WUSF Public Media
/
One of the aircraft students got to explore during STEM Day at MacDill Air Force Base.

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