A Close-Up Look at Military Operations
It is one thing to learn about the work of military canines or how massive the back end of a C-17 cargo plane is or to watch a video of an improvised explosive device being detected and defused while sitting in the classroom. It is a whole different experience to get on base, watch the dogs in action in person, sit in the back of the C-17or visit the military units from which these jobs occur.
That is what ROTC cadets from the Air Force-based program at Eagle River High School had just that opportunity on Sept. 30 courtesy of a VIP-styled field trip visiting several key units on JBER (Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson).
No, they didn’t get to see an IED defused, but they did get to walk across the IED familiarization training field on Fort Richardson where buzzers sound off when one steps on a simulated IED.
And, as it turns out, they found out via personal experience interacting with active duty military, that their ROTC instructors – both honorably retired from decades of service – are giving them the straight scoop on what it means to serve their country.
“Something you learn and are trained to do in JROTC is to pay attention to detail. On the field trip, I realized just how important this is for each and every individual job in the military,” Cadet Airman Riley Sheldon said. “It was apparent how important is to the Airmen and NCOs (non-commissioned officers) to help others and to serve their country and how important it is for us to start developing good habits early.”
Habits like making sure one thoroughly cleans up the hangar deck after a group of high school students have MREs for lunch.
“Hey guys,” shouted Bill McNew, the ERHS ROTC instructor and retired chief master sergeant. “It is very important that we pick up all of our trash and don’t leave anything on this floor. Any little, small piece of trash that gets sucked up into the engine of one of the C-17s can cause a tremendous amount of damage.”
Within seconds of McNew speaking, the ROTC cadets were shoving bits of paper and the leftovers from MREs (Meal, Ready-to-Eat) the students were given for lunch.
Yum, yum, a couple of the ROTC cadets commented while trying to figure out how to make the water-reactive self-heaters in today’s modern MRE work.
“Okay, guys, here is what you do,” McNew said as he demonstrated putting the meal pouch in the bag containing the flameless heater. “Then you pour water until it is between these lines. And then let it heat up.” The flameless heater is a relatively new addition to the feeding of deployed military personnel. It is a water-activated exothermic chemical heater that contains finely powdered magnesium metal, alloyed with a small amount of iron and table salt. Water activates the chemicals making the flameless heater capable of raising the temperature of an eight-ounce entrée by 100 degrees Fahrenheit within twelve minutes.
The cadets thought the science was cool, but seemed a bit more interested in a student lunch-time ritual: the trading of what Mom might have packed in their lunch or in this case, what came in their MRE.
Cheese tortellini with marinara sauce was traded for the vegetarian chili with beans. Those not finding chicken with rice to their palate could switch with cadets receiving the beef stew or the pinto bean stew.
The full meals come with a snack such as mixed nuts or M&Ms.
McNew wasn’t about to trade the snack that came in his MRE: Skittles.
His love for the brightly-colored candy is well known.
“It was funny that Chief (as the cadets call him) got Skittles,” Kristen Brightbill, a cadet airman first class, said. Lunch in the C-17 hangar was the second best part of the field trip for Brightbill. “I love seeing the inside of the C-17.”
That is where the cadets and their chaperones headed after making a complete sweep of the hangar deck.
The jump seats on each side of the cargo plane’s spacious interior were ready for the cadets to fill. Several of them strapped in before listening to a presentation on the capabilities of the C-17 and seeing cell phone pictures – preapproved by military personnel – of actual loads that were taken by the Air Force loadmasters responsible for their safe secure.
Earlier in the day, the two busloads of cadets had visited the canine unit. The canines were put through their various drills and demonstrated their abilities to detect and protect.
“That is what impressed me the most on the field trip,” Korin Mack, a senior airman said. “I enjoyed watching their obedience to their trainer when given a command as well as how quickly they responded to threats present.”
Just like any other member of the military, the canine unit lived up to the ideal of always being ready to defend and protect, the cadets said.
They ended their day with a trip to the post dining hall and an overnight lock-in on base to “de-brief” from their experience and re-cap what they learned. It seemed McNew’s goal of giving the cadets – some whom may be headed for the military post high school graduation and many others for whom the field trip was an opportunity to gain greater appreciation for the armed forces before pursuing their non-military careers – the chance to get up close and personnel with the equipment and people that are today’s military was achieved.
“For some of these kids, this may be the only chance they have to see this,” McNew said. “And the only chance they have to gain the kind of appreciation that comes from going on this type of field trip.”
One of the cadets echoed that thought.
“I thought the interactive part of the field trip were the most interesting and influential to me personally,” Cadet Staff Sergeant Austin Strain said. “I will remember what I learned at combat training and at the IED detection.”
Learn more about the ROTC program at ERHS online at