News: Robots roll through Pontotoc schools
Story by Sgt. Donna Hickman
PONTOTOC, Miss. - Moms and the military synchronized a school visit of working robots. First Army provided students and the Pontotoc, Miss., community a hands-on introduction in robotics. American Gold Star Mother Donna Bagwell wanted the youth in her community to be motivated to apply themselves towards the growing career opportunities in technology.
American Gold Star Mothers Inc., is an organization of mothers who have lost a son or daughter in the service of the U.S. military.
“Our organization’s goal here was to get some of these young students interested in the robotics program because there are so many opportunities in medicine and factories,” said Bagwell.
Command Sgt. Maj. Milton C. Elliott, commandant of First Army Training at CSJFTC, in Camp Shelby, Miss., and trainers from First Army’s Robotic System Joint Project in Detroit worked together to support the American Gold Star Mother’s goal. Elliott stressed to students the career opportunities available in the automotive and medical industries.
First Army presented three types of robots to the community: the Talon, the Fastac, and the Mini-EOD. “These robots are designed to find Improvised Explosive Devices insurgents may hide,” said Master Sgt. Terry Walker, operations chief with RSJP, who worked with such robots while serving in Afghanistan. Walker also explained to the students how robots are used in agriculture and for performing surgeries.
While the visiting robots have infrared cameras enabling them night-time surveillance without detection and are all used for explosive ordinance disposal, they each have their unique abilities. For example, “The Talon can drag up to 200 pounds,” said civilian Department of Defense trainer with the RSJP, Jim Drysdale. He explained this capability could keep personnel safe while pulling an injured service member to safety. The Talon is also used to moved rocks out of the way, open car doors and “look” into cars for weapons.
North Pontotoc School seventh grader John Ross Turner asked and answered questions about the robots’ capabilities before volunteering to be the first one to operate the Fastac robot. The Fastac is named for its ability to travel just over five miles per hour—fast for a robot, says Drysdale’s counterpart, Dana Yowchuang. The Fastac is operated by PlayStation controls, making it user friendly, said Elliott. When it was time for John Ross to turn over the controls to another student, he said “I want to build and operate robots—it’s cool!”
The 30 pound Mini-EOD robot can be carried in a rucksack, and can be used in dismounted operations. Pontotoc students took turns trying on the “ocular device,” a monitor attached to special glasses, used for keeping an eye on the Mini-EOD’s location and findings.
Enthusiastic responses were exactly what members of American Gold Star Mothers Inc., Bagwell and Wilma Allen, were hoping for.
Bagwell’s son, Lucas Tucker, was serving with the Marines when he was killed in Iraq. Allen of Stonewall, is also a member of the AGSM organization. Allen’s son, Robert “Shane” Pugh, was killed in Iraq while serving as a medic for the Mississippi Army National Guard. Allen and Bagwell continue to honor their sons by staying engaged in supportive activities. Both moms assisted in setting up the displays for presentation, took photos and brought coffee for the trainers.
First Army’s three visiting RSJP trainers train military service members. Because of Bagwell, this hands-on robotics demonstration for school kids was a first.
“The use of robots will save other people’s sons and daughters,” said Allen.
Brittany Goodwin, Coach John Harlow’s eighth grade student at North Pontotoc School looks forward to a future in saving lives. Brittany said she wants a career in surgical robotics: “I think it would be a blessing to actually help the heroes of our country.”