Georgia high schools host 24th MEU helos

19 May 2002 | Gunnery Sgt. Mike Dougherty and Staff Sgt. Brenda Varnadore

For the Marines and Sailors of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, it was a break in their rigorous training cycle, but for 15-year-old Robert Durham, it was a dream come true.  Despite his father's 30- year career in the Marine Corps, which took the young Durham to both coasts and overseas, he had never been able to put his hands on an AH-1 Cobra. That was, until the 24th MEU landed two of its helicopters at two Georgia Schools. 

During their pre-deployment Training in an Urban Environment Exercise (TRUEX), the MEU took time out to visit local schools in Macon, Ga.  A CH-46 Sea Knight and an AH-1 Cobra landed on the football fields of two schools identified and selected by area Marine recruiters.  Students, faculty, recruiters and poolees were all thrilled. 

According to future Marine Andrew Clarke, 19, it reinforced his commitment to the Marine Corps.  "This makes me anxious to get through boot camp.  I'm going infantry," he said.   From a different perspective, Bailey Fisher, 8, said the CH-46 looked "like a big frog.  I like that a girl can fly the helicopters," she said. 

The aircrews and recruiters fielded dozens of questions from teachers, students and reporters.  This gave them the opportunity to discuss the MEU's capabilities as well as opportunities in the Marine Corps.   "It really puts the Marine Corps in the minds of people," said Gunnery Sgt. Matt Denardo, a CH-46 aerial observer.  Getting the community involved is important so they can learn that we're real, everyday people, like the neighborhood police officer or firefighter, he said.  

Teachers at both schools were very receptive to the Marines and glad they chose their schools for the visit. "This is great for the school; it's very positive.  America needs to be informed on what the Armed Forces are doing," said Jason Flanders, a math teacher at Westside High School. 

Getting the Marine Corps' story out is particularly important in an area like Macon with a large Air Force presence, according to Staff Sgt. Shayne Watwood, a canvassing recruiter from Recruiting Substation Macon. 

The Air Force's presence is generally helpful toward recruiting, because many of the kids are from Air Force families, but it's important for the Marines to show the colors and let people know what really sets us apart, he said.