Twenty-one students from five colleges in Central Texas took part in a Career Exploration Day at Fort Hood Jan. 7 with the Army unit responsible for testing all new and modernized equipment.

A short briefing began the day-long event, with an up-close look at a Gray Eagle unmanned aircraft system, M1A2 Abrams tank, Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle, and then climaxing with some small arms hands-on training at Fort Hood’s Warrior Training Center.

At the center, students manned a simulated gun truck in a convoy down the streets Baghdad and a shoot house full of bad guys and hostages.

Paired with 11 U.S. Army Operational Test Command mentors, some students left the event considering a career as an Army civilian employee.

“I’d love to work somewhere like this, doing the testing and the analysis,” Melanie Peavy, a student at Texas A&M University in College Station, said. “I learned a lot about testing and I’m actually super excited. You get to see all of the work that’s put into it, but you also get to make sure it’s going to work for the military in the field and it’s going to perform the way they designed it to,” continued the future aerospace engineer.

“They’re fighting for us,” said Peavy. “I’m not over there fighting, but if I was, I would want something that works.”

One OTC mentor with nearly 20 years in operational testing said he talked with students about how their degree paths can open up opportunities to work at OTC or the Army.

“They ask a lot of questions about opportunities in the Army and how things work,” Bill McKiernan, a senior test plans manager in OTC’s Maneuver Test Directorate, said.

“I hope they get an appreciation for service to their nation,” he continued. “It’s a valuable service that we do that contributes to defending the nation and freedom around the world. It’s not about the money, it’s about job satisfaction. It’s a great place to work. It’s a great place to serve.”

Most students heard about OTC’s Career Orientation Day by receiving an email through their school’s career center.

“I have always been a history buff and always been interested in the military side of things,” Brent Smith, a junior studying electrical engineering at Texas A&M University in College Station, said.

“So it’s really awesome to see the Grey Eagle and the M1 Abrams Tank – you know, things you always see on TV, and to actually be able to see them in real life, how they operate and to see the engineering side of it. You get to think about, ‘OK. How can we improve this? What kind of data and analytics do we look at to improve this system to save lives?’”

Smith said, “I would love to be a civilian engineer working on these types of projects. It would be a great opportunity for me because I’ve always had a passion for these types of things.”

OTC Deputy Commander and Chief of Staff Col. Fred Snyder told the students the Army could use their youth and knowledge.

“The way the world works today, the work force we have is extremely skilled, but we need some new brain power and new energy for the future,” he said. “We must invest now to test for the future, and ladies and gentlemen, you are the future.”

Snyder presented the students the idea of how their fields of study could be applied in support of the military and government.

A tanker himself, he talked about how the M1 Abrams tank was first tested in 1980, and is still used today.

“That M1 right there, dating all the way back to 1980. We still use that tank today with several upgrades, making it more lethal than it has ever been, and every one of those upgrades have been tested by OTC,” he explained. “As you get ready to graduate,” he said, “I want you to think about this. Do you want to go and work for an organization that has a real mission, has a real purpose, has a modest and consistent paycheck, where you add value to the organization, or do you want to graduate and chase money for an unreliable paycheck? A lot of young folks today have the education, but only see dollar signs, and wonder why they are miserable all the time, or why they are unemployed.”

OTC actively recruits from some of the top area colleges and universities and is looking for science technology, engineering and mathematics talent, to diversify the future workforce.

Students from Texas A&M University in College Station, University of Texas in San Antonio, University of Mary Hardin-Baylor in Belton, Texas A&M University-Central Texas in Killeen and University of Texas in Austin attended the event.

For job postings in the world of operational testing go to USAJOBS.gov and search for “ATEC.”