Army mentors: Senior leaders mentor local students with STEM

Brig. Gen. Jonathan Woodson, deputy commanding general for the 3rd Medical Command (Deployment Support) speaks to JROTC cadets from local high schools during the 32nd annual BEYA conference on Friday in Washington, D.C. (Photos by Joe Lacdan)

By Joe Lacdan. Army News Service

As the Army shifts its attention toward a new type of adversary, senior Army leaders know the importance that science, technology, engineering and math will play.

After the Army hosted the Stars and Stripes mentoring program at the 32nd annual Black Engineer of the Year Awards STEM conference from Feb. 8 to Saturday, Army staff in the STEM career fields were honored for their accomplishments.

Soldiers and civilians in the tech and science-related career fields will play a crucial role in the nation’s defense as the military prepares for near-peer enemies, senior Army leaders told students. They said Soldiers in tech career fields will be called upon more than ever as U.S. forces prepare for a different type of war, fought in large-scale combat operations and in cyberspace.

“We’re at an inflection point in the Army right now,” said Gen. James McConville, Army vice chief of staff, at the BEYA awards dinner. “We’re changing. Over the last 16 years we’ve been fighting a low-tech enemy in a counter-insurgency fight. But that’s not the future we see. The future we see is, technology is going to play a [role] in the United States Army.

“The Soldier will always be the centerpiece of what we do. But we’re looking for great engineers, great mathematicians, scientists … to give our Soldiers the equipment they need.”

Lt. Gen. Gwen Bingham, assistant chief of staff for Installation Management, speaks with high school students during a mentoring session at the 32nd annual BEYA conference on Friday in Washington, D.C. About 140 Army senior leaders mentored 350 students during the Stars and Stripes mentoring program.

Army Mentors

About 150 senior military leaders from each service took part in this year’s mentorship program involving 350 students in Virginia, Maryland and the Washington metro area. Army leaders included Lt. Gen. Gwen Bingham, assistant chief of staff for Installation Management.

Each leader spent 25 minutes speaking to groups of precollege students about the benefits of military service and STEM career fields.

“Our presence is very important in also letting our younger generation know that we do care about their future,” said Brig. Gen. Bertram Providence, Regional Health Command Pacific commander. “The opportunity that I see when I mentor is helping them understand what it takes to be successful, understanding the importance of grit, which is perseverance and determination.”

Brig. Gen. Lapthe Flora, assistant adjutant general of Virginia, said it was important to relate to students. While the students come from a diverse range of backgrounds, some come from lower-income communities.

Flora said he tried to show the students that success in military service can be reached regardless of what obstacles life presents them.

Flora, a South Vietnamese immigrant, immigrated to the United States at 16, penniless and unable to understand English. More than 37 years later, he has risen to the rank of brigadier general in the National Guard and is a senior engineer with a defense contractor.

“I try to share with them [that] success is about the effort that you put forward in life,” Flora said. “It’s not your natural ability. It doesn’t matter if you’re poor or if you live in the ghetto.”

While the mentors featured a variety of active-duty, Guard, Reserve and retired leaders, Bertram said it was important for the Army’s senior leaders to interact with civilian students.

“A lot of the students that come in, they don’t exactly know what they want to do,” said Brig Gen. Wayne Black, assistant adjunct general for the Indiana National Guard. “But some of them just have worries about what the military is all about and what opportunities are available in the military.

“I just try to let them know how I enjoyed my pursuit of my career and professional growth in the military.”

Brig. Gen. Lapthe Flora, assistant adjutant general of the Virginia National Guard, talks to local high school students on Friday in Washington, D.C., about his immigration from South Vietnam to the United States.

Soldiers Earn Honors

A panel of judges honored African-Americans and minority students for their professional and academic achievements. In addition, several Army personnel were honored for their contributions to technology.

  • Maj. Gen. Cedric Winds, commander of Research, Development and Engineering Command, was recognized for leading RDECOM’s production of technology solutions for Soldiers on the battlefield.
  • James Cooke, director of Test and Evaluation Command at Aberdeen Proving Ground, was recognized for both his civilian and military contributions. The command is responsible for the experimental testing and independent evaluations of assigned systems. The West Point graduate also spent 25 years as an Army infantry officer.
  • Army engineer Kevin Kirkwood was recognized as Modern Day Technology Leader for work as a chief engineer at the Communication-Electronics, Research and Development Engineering Center, also at Aberdeen.
  • Sgt. 1st Class Kevin Lindquist, a platoon sergeant from Fort Sam Houston, Texas, was recognized for his work supporting equal opportunities.
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