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GAMER Day exposes at-risk students to today's Air Force

  • Published
  • By Sean Bowlin
  • 12th Flying Training Wing Public Affairs

Sometimes, all it takes for an at-risk teen to turn his life around is exposure to a new path.

That new path is often an exciting career where positive role models are emulated, performance is rewarded with greater responsibility and "being cool" doesn't involve breaking the law or making a host of bad decisions.

That positive Air Force career opportunity is one that 150 Fox Technical High School ninth and tenth-grade students from inner-city San Antonio saw Sept. 11 at Randolph under the auspices of the Giving Americans Motivational Education for the Real world program.

GAMER is the brainchild of former Air Force cardiologist Dr. Eli Whitney, said Maj. Joel Neeb, 560th Flying Training Squadron flight examiner and an F-15C Eagle pilot.

Major Neeb explained Whitney's theory behind GAMER is about how at-risk students need motivation, focus and career goals between the ages of 14 to 19, when they make critical decisions about actions which will affect the rest of their lives. He added Whitney said he believed giving them real-world, up-close exposure to careers often motivates students to make the right decisions for their future.

Major Neeb told the students if he hadn't stopped running with the party crowd in high school and making bad decisions, he wouldn't have gotten the opportunity to attend and graduate from the U.S. Air Force Academy and fly.

"At the academy, I was still having fun," he said. "I was still having a great time. But, we had boundaries."

The major then showed students gathered in the base theater the documentary "Operation Red Flag," portraying an international air combat exercise held at Nellis AFB, Nev. The movie showed a cross-section of different Air Force pilots and support personnel doing their jobs in an intense, simulated war. The jobs ranged from maintaining aircraft to attacking targets or dog fighting.

After the movie ended and the lights came on, Major Neeb asked the students, "Doesn't this seem like something that'd be cool to do for a living?"

Many students said, "yeah!" and nodded their heads.

From the base theater, students were bused to Hangar 5, where they met with another F-15 pilot, a C-17 pilot and a base firefighter.

The students, who listened intently to the pilots speak about their Air Force flying experiences and the goals they had to set and reach to get there, also saw the firefighter quickly don firefighting gear and tell them what it was like as an enlisted member in the Air Force.

One of the students, sophomore Daizia McGhee, said the morning's positive exposure to the Air Force reinforced her career goal, which is to be a military lawyer.

"That way, I can serve my country, have fun and be a lawyer at the same time," she said.

An educator accompanying the GAMER students said the morning at Randolph provided them good human examples, which they seldom see.

"It's different than listening to ex-gang members who are doing community service," said Arthur Hogenauer, Fox Technical High School math teacher. "A lot of these students lack positive role models. Plus, it's good for them to get out of their neighborhood."

A San Antonio Independent School District administrator accompanying the GAMER students said the day at Randolph illustrated a behind-the-scenes glimpse of military career paths. He added it alerted them to the fact that if they want an Air Force career, they'd better start preparing for one.

"This is showing them that they'd better focus their energies now," said David Udovich, San Antonio Independent School District director of secondary initiatives, "and that their actions now will dictate their opportunities two to three years from now. It also tells them that better jobs come with being responsible."

Kathleen Mora, a Fox Technical High School freshman, said the day with the GAMER program at Randolph made her want to stay in high school and go on to college.

"It challenged me to want to be like the people here," she said, pointing at the Airmen she'd just listened to and watched in Hangar 5. "They're successful people."