Eleven educators from seven Omaha-area schools climbed aboard two Nebraska Army National Guard UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters and flew from Millard Air Field in Omaha to the Lincoln Air National Guard Base, Feb. 11, to participate in a learning event designed to increase awareness of the Nebraska Army National Guard.
“The purpose of this educator flight is to develop centers of influence with area high schools by informing educators about the National Guard and how we can partner with them in education,” said Lt. Col. William Prusia, commander of the Nebraska Army National Guard Recruiting and Retention Battalion.
He said the Nebraska National Guard has done orientation flights with coaches during the Nebraska Coaches Association Coaches Clinic, but said he believes it is the first time briefings were presented following the flight.
Maj. Kristen Augé, executive officer for the Nebraska National Guard’s RRB, said this particular effort was designed to build relationships and partnerships with Nebraska educators so they can be an added resource in schools to identify students who are suited for the National Guard.
The participating Omaha educators spent the morning listening to a series of presentations by Nebraska Army National Guard leaders who highlighted the benefits offered to Guard members including education and health benefits, and the variety of career opportunities.
Brig. Gen. Kevin Lyons, Nebraska Army National Guard land component commander and an educator himself, spoke about how the National Guard had prepared him to be an education administrator. “The leadership skills I learned in my military training helped me bring a more strategic mindset to education administration,” Lyons said.
In addition to member benefits, National Guard presenters discussed programs offered to Nebraska Public Schools free of charge. These include well-known programs like the Junior Officer Training Corp (ROTC) and other lesser-known school programs such as the Help Everyone Achieve Respect (HEAR) and You Can programs. According to Prusia, both HEAR and You Can programs are designed to educate potential Guard members, but also teach important life skills to students who may not be interested in joining the military.
HEAR was developed in partnership with nationally renowned subject matter experts at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and University of Nebraska-Lincoln. The program helps students explore the topic of bullying in relation to the National Guard’s core values and teaches ways to minimize bullying by strengthening respectful behavior in their schools.
The You Can program includes award-winning, dialogue-driven programs for more than 30 issues relevant to young adults including subjects such as leadership, paying for college, diversity, communication and substance abuse avoidance.
For many of the educators in attendance, this was their first real exposure to the National Guard.
“I knew very little,” said Greg Tiemann, principal at Millard West High School who said the new relationship is mutually beneficial. Tiemann said he recently talked to recruiters and became more interested in the programs as a result. “We are trying to instill some of the leadership and climate of anti-bulling within our school and the Guard is helping us tremendously by setting up that [HEAR] program for us.”
“They are coming to us and we really appreciate that,” he added.
“It’s a two-way street,” said Irene Urendowski, a teacher at the Integrated Learning Program School. By incorporating these programs into Omaha schools, she said she hopes to build a relationship between students and the Nebraska Army National Guard. “The Guard programs can teach us all to become better citizens.”
Brittany Strong, a teacher in the Native Indigenous Center to Education Program at Bryan, Benson and North High Schools, admitted she did not know much about the programs offered by the Guard prior to the event, but now said she sees them as a tool for upward mobility.
“A lot of my students come from homes where they don’t have a lot of opportunities and the Guard is a tool I can use to help them get out of the situation they are in,” she said.
After a morning of presentations, participants took a break for lunch where they had the opportunity to talk with members of the National Guard. Educator Flight participants were also asked to fill out evaluation forms measuring the usefulness of the day’s events. Nearly all of them said they would share the benefits of the National Guard with their students.
Following lunch, each participant was presented with a framed photo of the group in front of a Nebraska Army National Guard UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter and given backpacks filled with useful information to share with their colleagues and students. They were then taken back to the flight line where they climbed aboard two helicopters and flown back to Omaha.
The effectiveness of this first education flight event cannot be immediately realized, but Lt. Col. Prusia said he expects this event, and more like it, to increase the number of National Guard applicants because of an increased presence in high school classrooms.