News: Muleskinner Battalion participates in Adopt-A-School program
Story by Sgt. John Couffer
FORT HOOD, Texas – Piece by piece a soldier dons a ‘Scruff McGruff: The Crime Dog’ costume preparing to take part in a presentation during an elementary school’s safety day.
Spc. Rachel Donanthan, a Soldier assigned to the 115th “Muleskinner” Brigade Support Battalion, 1st “Ironhorse” Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, takes part in an Adopt-A-School event during Clear Creek Elementary School’s Safety Day, Feb. 6 here.
According to the School Liaison Office at Fort Hood, the Adopt-A-School Program is a program that routinely contributes military resources and services to schools in order to nurture the intellectual, emotional, social and physical growth of children and to foster good relations in the greater Fort Hood area.
Dayton, Ohio, native, Cheryl Nichols, a school liaison officer, who works in the Rivers Building at Fort Hood, says the AAS program has been in place here for about 10 years.
Nichols explained that when the program was initiated the command teams at the time wanted to foster a community relationship and “bring down the walls” between the military and civilian communities.
Nichols stated, units on Fort Hood have adopted more than 80 schools and Fort Hood’s AAS program covers eight school districts from the city of Killeen to as far as Lampasas and Florence.
As an SLO, Nichols takes requests from schools who wish to be a member of the AAS and pairs them with the most viable unit.
“The school says, ‘here’s what we would like,’ the units says, ‘this is what we can provide,’ then they come to some happy agreement,” Nichols said.
Aside from the tutoring, teaching, coaching and mentoring skills, soldiers voluntarily provide for their adopted school, the school also supports the unit who adopted them.
“If the unit deploys, the school is meant to support the unit; send care packages and letters and that kind of thing,” Nichols says, “So it’s supposed to go both ways, it’s not supposed to be one way.”
Every unit, at the battalion level, has at least one AAS representative or liaison said Brownsville, Texas, native, Maj. Jose Mendez, an information operations officer assigned to the Ironhorse Brigade, and who has been Ironhorse’s AAS liaison for about six months.
Mendez said he facilitates communication between the schools and the units in the brigade. When required, Mendez contacts the school directly to help accomplish the goals of both sides of the relationship.
Although Mendez mostly works behind the scenes, he said he still feels a sense of accomplishment.
Mendez mentioned his favorite AAS event was one in which a unit took some military vehicles for a static display and an elementary school-sized confidence course was set up.
“It’s almost like the kids trying to be a soldier for one day kind of thing,” explained Mendez. “The kids, they had camouflage (paint) on and they enjoyed themselves. I’m sure the other (AAS events) were pretty good, but I think this one really hit the nail on the head.”
La Porte, Texas, native, 1st Lt. Joanne Van Engel, an ordinance officer and an AAS liaison assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company of the Muleskinner Battalion, said soldiers of her unit volunteered to participate in their most recent AAS event which was to aid in Clear Creek Elementary School’s Safety Day presentations.
“We teamed up with Nadya Rodriguez from (Army Community Service),” Van Engel explained. “And we taught pre-school through first grade about; good touch, bad touch, bullying, the importance of knowing your home address and your parents phone number and the importance of not going off with strangers.”
According to Van Engel, Donathan volunteered and was excited to dress up as a crime fighting dog during the presentation and also said every student left the presentation with a police badge sticker and pencil from ACS.
Van Engel said she enjoys giving and volunteering.
“I feel it’s very rewarding to be part of a unit that cares so much about our community, and it’s also very personally fulfilling as a way for me to give back to the community.” Van Engel said.
Nichols said such programs and relationships are mutually beneficial to the military and civilian communities.
“I just think that anytime we can incorporate the community and the military installation, no matter what military installation it is, and we can build those bridges and build those partnerships, it’s a win-win for everybody,” Nichols concluded.
If you want to know more about the Adopt-A-School program contact the School Liaison Office located in the Rivers Building at Fort Hood or go to http://pao.hood.army.mil/adopt.a.school.aspx.