Most people don't care to find even one proverbial needle in a haystack. On Thursday, some local high school students had to find three.
About 240 students, members of Junior ROTC programs at nine high schools, participated in a land-navigation exercise at Fort Gordon.
In teams of four to six, the students had to find three "targets" - small white signs, with an identifying number in black - within a heavily forested, â-square-mile area.
Instead of high-tech global positioning systems, the teams were equipped with old-fashioned path-finding tools: a compass, a map and a protractor.
The exercise taught a practical military skill, its administrators said.
"This will pretty much help them identify where they are in relation to everything else going on in the battlefield, which is certainly important to know," said Master Sgt. Leon Harpe of the 73rd Orange Battalion at Fort Gordon.
A team from Harlem High School's Army Junior ROTC Bulldog Battalion didn't seem too worried about their chance of success.
"At Harlem, if anything we're known for doing our maps," senior Adrienne Lee said. "We excel at that part."
"My goal is to get done and get back so we can eat," said senior teammate Carrie Woods, who, similarly to many of the students, was looking forward to lunch in a military mess hall.
But in the field, a team of Hephzibah High and Butler High students was finding the exercise a smidgen harder than anticipated.
"We should be close," Hephzibah sophomore Cecil Simmons said to his teammates as they huddled around their map. "We just crossed right here, and Point One's right there, so we should go a little bit further."
The team found its point a few minutes later, conveniently located at a water cooler.
"You could say that we easily found our point," Hephzibah junior Dominique Henry suggested to a reporter.
"That was not easy," corrected her teammate, Hephzibah junior Mahogany Wilson.
The students have much to gain from spending their free time performing such tasks. If they enlist after graduation, Junior ROTC experience could grant the students a higher starting rank, and the pay and privileges that come with it, their instructors said.
Other benefits include college scholarships and bonuses, and intangible benefits such as leadership skills and self-confidence, instructors said.
"When they go to boot camp or any other training, they obviously will be way ahead of the power curve," said Steve Carpenter, senior Navy instructor at Cross Creek High School and a retired Navy lieutenant commander.
The instructors, who are retired from the military, said they also find rewards in the work.
"I love working with kids," said Noel Cartagena, a retired Army command sergeant major who serves as Army Junior ROTC instructor at the Academy of Richmond County.
"Someone's got to take care of them, because they're good. They just need a little time, care and someone to motivate them and make them feel good."
Reach Brandon Haddock at (706) 823-3409 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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