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By Chris Frost
Oxnard-- Teens looking for a great future found tremendous choices, Friday, April 23, as Oxnard High School hosted its Armed Forces Career Day and provided attendees with lots of great information.
Students got the chance to interact with Army technology and speak with experienced guidance counselors about the great careers and benefits waiting for them in the Armed Forces.
The event was hosted by the Jr ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corp) and the Oxnard U.S. Army Station at Oxnard High School. The military personnel attending had the opportunity to ask, "What's Your Warrior?"
Master Sergeant Jeremy Gomez retired from the Air Force and spent his time at bases across the United States.
"The bottom line is that we're always trying to take care of the kids," he said. "Our cadets are in Junior Air Force ROTC. We brought all the law enforcement in the local area, and all the branches for recruiting, Army, Navy, Air Force, and the Marines, and they have their displays here."
Gomez wants the students to know the other opportunities they have after high school.
"They have so many opportunities in the armed forces and law enforcement," he said.
Gomez and Lieutenant Colonel Abraham Quinteros teach Jr. ROTC.
"Jr. ROTC's mission is to develop the students at Oxnard High to be better citizens in the local community," Gomez said. "I happened to be a recruiter when I was on active duty, so I can speak on that process. When you're talking about recruitment and putting someone in the service, it's a matter of speaking to them, do the pre-qualifications, ask them specific questions to see if they are potentially qualified, then we bring them into the office and complete the process."
Gomez said the Armed Forces are in his blood, and he was in the Jr. ROTC for all four years at Temecula Valley High School.
"I'm retired Air Force for 20 plus years," he said. "I leaned towards coming back to the community and teach. It's the stuff that I know."
He said there are many things that teens can do as they prepare to become an adult.
"I advise them to do their research, and that's why we have events like this," he said. "We're bringing all the other branches of the service and law enforcement to them as another avenue for them to do their research."
One of the Armed Forces branches is training, he said, and to make sure every soldier can do their job well.
"We all have the educational benefits," he said. "I have a Masters in Business Administration (MBA), and it was completely covered by the military. We all have the opportunity to go to college, just like a civilian student would."
Students at Oxnard High School are welcome to become part of the program.
"They can speak to their counselor, the Colonel, or myself," Gonzales said. "We will make the adjustment to make sure they're in our class. Myself and the Colonel are like their counselors and mentors."
Cadet Captain Keyshawn Glover is a senior at Oxnard High School, and he chose the ROTC because he wanted to do something different while he is going to school.
"Rather than just going through classes," he said. "I knew I wasn't going to join a sport, and I wanted to do something that is going to improve myself after high school and be a better person."
He feels attached to the Air Force.
"I did a lot of research and found that it was a good fit for me," Glover said. "I want to be in criminal justice, and they have their criminal justice careers, so I thought it would be a good fit for me."
Cadet Lieutenant Colonel Ruby Rivera initially joined the Key Club and cheerleaders, but she didn't feel like she belonged.
"I was shy and mousey coming into this, but I wanted to improve my speaking skills, get louder and be more confident with myself," she said. "They also offer a lot of leadership and volunteer opportunities. We help the community a lot. It gives you a lot of benefits if you chose to go into the military. I am serving as the Corps program, so I am the head of the entire ROTC program this year."
Rivera said if a teen is on the fence about joining ROTC, she says to go for it, and they won't regret their choice!
"It will improve your confidence and teach you leadership skills to be able to go out into the real world, put on a brave face and take on almost anything," she said. "We're like a big family, and we're around them every day."
California National Guard Sergeant Young Lee said kids can serve in the military and stay at home.
"In the National Guard, you have more opportunities to pursue college quicker than active duty," he said. "In active duty, you have to go, do your time, and then do college. In the National Guard, since we're doing part-time, you can immediately start your college education. If you have any financial issues and can't pay for college, we have scholarships to any of the Cal State Universities and all the UCs. If your reason for not going to college is financial reasons, we have the money for it."
He served in active duty, the reserve, and the National Guard.
"When I was young, I wanted to get away from home," he said. "When I did that, I missed home."
He loves being a positive role model for the kids.
"When I was in High School, I never saw a recruiter," he said. "I didn't know there was a scholarship for me. I had to rely on UCLA to see if they were going to give me a scholarship or not. The military says we'll give you a scholarship as long as you are accepted to a university; we'll give you a four-year scholarship."
Staff Sergeant Lash Larue originally went into active duty, and he missed home the moment he left.
"When my contract ended, it was either I get out of the Army completely or transition into the California National Guard," he said. "I transitioned into the National Guard, went to Cal State Northridge for four years, got my degree, and completely fell in love with the National Guard, so I went into active Guard Reserve and became a recruiter."
Candidates had to qualify, he said, but he always open to kids who want to listen.
"I don't handpick them," he said. "Whoever wants to serve have benefits and make their family proud," he said. I always wanted to serve in the military and wear the uniform."
Navy Chief Keith Berry said his branch of the service offers the most opportunities for a high school student.
"You have the Marines, which is primarily ground combat infantry," he said. "In the Air Force, their specialty is aviation, and in the Navy, you have all those opportunities within one branch. We are a jack of all trades and a master of all."
Berry said the Navy and Marines are a tradition in his family.
"My grandfather was in the Navy; my father was in the Marine Corps, and I chose Navy because of the options I had available," he said.
A student interested in the Navy, he said, the first step is to get to know someone.
"We have an incredible amount we can offer with not just a job, a career," he said. "It's a lifestyle with benefits and education. What's most important to us is that it's a good fit for the young man or lady."
Contract Campus Supervisor Lucy Cartegena was working and keeping the kids moving forward.
"This is an event to teach you about different options in life," she said. "This is important because if you're low-income, you don't always have the access and resources to take advantage of learning other skills. Not everybody is made for college. If you want to become a doctor, but you can't afford it, you can go through the military."
Staff Sergeant Jose Cruz is from Ventura, and growing up, he didn't know what he wanted to do.
"I used the Marine Corps to my benefit and do a trade job," he said. "I chose aviation mechanic because that's one of the things I love to do. I think a lot of people need to go out there, do a job, tinker a little bit, and find themselves in the career path they want to get into."
Corporal Stephanie Soto is new and still learning.
"I got here about a month ago," she said. "I'm in charge of the marketing, and it's not something I can be trained in prior," she said. "I'm in the process of learning, but I do have some background and education."
She loves the Marines.
"I heard it was a big challenge, and that's something that I needed to do," she said. "I wasn't happy where I was in life before."
Army Staff Sergeant Jon Pew will be recruiting for the next couple of years, but he is primarily a CH47 Flight Engineer.
"I'm a mechanic, and I fly," he said. "I wanted to help the kids. I remember being younger and not knowing what to do with my life. Knowing that I can be here, give advice, and give help to those who need it, that my motivating factor to want to come here. To help other people."
He values home-centered family and called it his support line, but his Army family is just as important.
"On my last deployment, I made some of the best friends I've ever had," he said. "If I needed them today, I can call them, and they'd be on the way. If they needed me, they can call me and say, hey Jon, I need $100 because I'm short on rent or food, and I'd send it to them tomorrow. You create those kinds of relationships where you trust each other, and you put your lives in each other's hands. Those kinds of things make a difference for you forever."
Step one with a student, he said, is developing trust.
"Most people look at military recruiters in general like a used car salesman and tell you whatever you want to hear," he said. "That's not what we're here for, and I don't make any more money or get promoted faster if they join the Army. The only reward I get out of this is if I can help other people."
Officer Ivan Sanchez with the Oxnard Police Department said people who come from the military are used to structure and serving under authority.
"They're used to operating in a paramilitary environment," he said. "The local police academy operates on a paramilitary structure. The transition from the military to the police academy isn't a harsh transition."
Tech Sergeant Anthony Campisi was guiding attendees using the VR Headset System.
"This is the first time we're getting to use it," he said. "You can sit there with the virtual reality goggles on pretending like your fighting a fighter jet. It's quite immersive and fun."
He loves the event and admitted that because of Covid-19, he hadn't seen too many people in person.
"It's safe," he said. "We're outside, and masks are required. It's nice talking to people and getting our presence out here, so people know we're here."
He said all Air Force training is accredited, putting them a leg up on the other branches.
"It's regionally accredited through the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools," Campisi said. "All of our training is done through the Community College of the Air Force. When you enlist, you're joining the Air Force, but you're joining the college as well."