Florida Airmen Skype with Georgia middle school students
By Susan A. Romano, AFTAC Public Affairs
/ Published May 10, 2018
PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- Two Airmen from the Air Force Technical Applications Center here chatted with students from a Georgia middle school via Skype April 25 to discuss how science, technology, engineering and math are used by members of the military.
Tech. Sgt. BreAnne Groth, a satellite operations system analyst, and Staff Sgt. Jordan Peterson, an AFTAC web developer, video conferenced with 6th graders from Daniell Middle School in Marietta, Ga., and took questions from the inquisitive teens on a wide range of topics.
The request for Air Force support came through the Defense Visual Information Distribution Service. DVIDS is a visual imagery distribution hub operated by the Defense Media Activity that gives customers the opportunity to connect with servicemembers across the globe.
Peterson was first to connect with Ms. Leigh Anna Engkaninan’s advanced reading class, and the students jumped right in with their well-developed questions.
“What does a web developer do for the Air Force?” “Have you read any books that have really helped you with your job?” “Have you developed any games?” “Has it always been your dream to be in the Air Force?” “Do you like your career?”
Peterson answered as many questions as time would allow, providing succinct, easy-to-understand responses, while simultaneously relaying the Air Force story to the impressionable young adults.
“When I was asked to participate in this event, I couldn’t pass it up,” said Peterson. “Over the last few years, I’ve found that I take tremendous pride and enjoyment in cultivating the minds of the next generation. But I was a bit saddened to hear that some of them are experiencing a bit of negativity directed at them at such a crucial point in their development. So to reassure them, I explained that those who succeed in the daunting task of overcoming negativity and pushing through their frustrations will likely become their generation’s most adaptive leaders.”
Groth was next in the line-up to field well-thought-out questions from a new team of advanced readers.
“What is the process of detecting nuclear explosions?” “Have you ever found anything nuclear in space?” “What obstacles have you faced as a woman in the Air Force?” “Has becoming a technical sergeant always been a dream of yours?” “Have you ever had a moment when you just wanted to quit because it was too hard?”
Groth eagerly responded.
“I’ve used online video chat to keep in touch with family and friends who live far away, but this was my first time using it to connect with school kids,” said Groth. “The most intriguing question I got was, ‘If you could go back and talk to your old self, what would you say?’ It thought that was an incredibly profound question! Being involved in programs like this gives us the chance to illustrate the fact that there is a real person behind every uniform – one who can smile and laugh while also working hard to get the Air Force mission accomplished.”
Establishing a video chat connection is no easy feat in a facility that goes to great lengths to protect its national security interests. AFTAC is the Department of Defense’s sole nuclear treaty monitoring center and much of its mission takes place within the walls of its sensitive compartmented information facility, or SCIF.
Despite those hurdles, two skilled Airmen from AFTAC’s 709th Cyberspace Squadron worked diligently to set up a signal between the center and the school. James Griffieth and Staff Sgt. Dali Ramos spent several hours wiring, audio checking and testing the connectivity to ensure a strong signal was established, while also ensuring all operations security measures were in place.
“AFTAC has a robust video teleconference system within our building, but those are typically used for secure communications,” said Ramos. “Due to the nature of our mission, the center doesn’t permit external electronic devices like tablets, cell phones or personal hot spots. So for this event, we needed to come up with a workable solution to connect our Airmen with the students. Griff and I were able to do that using existing equipment and the approval of our physical security experts.”
Griffieth added, “It took a lot of work and ingenuity, but after seeing the looks on the kids’ faces when they connected with Sergeant Groth and Sergeant Peterson, it was definitely worth the effort!”
Daniell Middle School’s teacher seemed quite pleased with how her advanced readers conducted themselves during the video chat.
“As an educator, I think this is an invaluable learning opportunity,” Engkaninan said. “The students were intrigued at how (the Airmen) use STEM in their jobs. They still had many questions they didn’t have time to ask like ‘Do you have wear your uniform all the time, and are there different uniforms for different occasions?’ They really had fun speaking with the troops and I already have 11 students interested in learning more about joining the Air Force. I hope we can do this again in the future.”
Engkaninan said the students were also very surprised at how much they seemed to love their jobs. It’s a message that resonated with AFTAC’s web developer.
“These kids are leaps-and-bounds ahead of where I was in middle school,” said Peterson. “I could have never asked the level of questions these students asked me. They’re intelligent, have a strong understanding of web development and information technology, and also have a grasp on how important education can be to succeed in a national defense of cyber security field.”
He continued, “This generation is built around the concept of ever-advancing technology, and they’re adaptive to the effects it has on the way society works. They move forward while accepting, integrating and innovating the advancements around them. I think we should all lend an experienced hand to the future leaders of our country.”