HAVELOCK, N.C. - There are no two better words in grade school than “field trip” – invoking a feeling of freedom for a day out of the classroom with sack lunches in hand.
With that child-like enthusiasm, 28 second and fifth-graders herded onto the flight line at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point Sept. 26.
The elementary school students, from St. Paul Catholic School in nearby New Bern, N.C., visited Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 252 and Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 467.
The visit began with a quick brief in the VMGR-252 ready room, much like the start of an average day for many Marines who work at the squadron.
“Today, you are in the seats of some of the pilots and aircrew that make up Marine aviation,” Lt. Col. Charles Moses told the students, who were seated in the room’s theater-like seats in front of a large flat screen. “We support worldwide operations. You guys know your geography, right?”
Moses, then the commanding officer of the squadron, explained to the students that the ready room is where the aviation process begins with pilots planning and discussing their flight missions.
The students watched a demonstration video of VMGR-252’s KC-130J Hercules four-propeller transport plane, which has shipped cargo and troops for the Marine Corps since the Vietnam era.
Stuffing in some earplugs, the students walked out to the flight line to see the Marine Corps classic for themselves.
“This is what I call real education,” said Bill Rogers, the students’ fifth-grade teacher, who knows a little bit about the military himself as a reserve lieutenant colonel in the Army National Guard. “At this age, when these kids get to see jets, helicopters and Marines, it can really set with them.”
Rogers said he fondly remembers when he was their age he took a field trip and saw the same aircraft, saying, “I want to sit in one of those seats someday,” referring to the signature red mesh seats in the back of the aircraft. “Chances are some of these kids will be sitting in those red seats one day,” he said.
The children’s curiosity was evident as they continually raised their hands to ask questions as Maj. Edward Fergus, a KC-130J pilot, guided them around the aircraft from cockpit to loading ramp.
“I always try to relate it to something a second or fifth-grader would understand,” said Fergus. He explained to the students that the aircraft can function like a gas station in the sky, refueling aircraft with hose lines from massive fuel tanks on the wings and compared the aircraft’s hold to a commercial airliner many of the children have flown on.
“Except there aren’t any cushioned seats or flight attendants,” he said.
Many children were also able to relate on a personal level, getting a chance to see what some of their family members see day in and day out.
“Several of the children have military parents and many of the school’s teachers are military spouses,” said Rogers. “This gives them a sense and appreciation of what their family sees every day.”
Maj. Scott Weinpel, an AH-1W Cobra pilot with HMLA-467, showed the students around the squadron’s attack helicopters. One of the students happened to be his son, Henry.
“Anytime we can give back to the community, that’s what this is about,” said Weinpel. “But to also have Henry out here, it’s great that this is something he can share and talk to his classmates about.”
It is very positive and helpful for them to understand what their military does, because at the end of the day, it is their military, said Fergus.
“It’s all to protect you,” he told the students.