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Hawthorne Elementary students meet the Coast Guard

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

Forty-three male, third-through-fifth-graders at Hawthorne Elementary School got a crash course in saving lives, the importance of focusing on school, and doing crunches, when they met four members of the U.S. Coast Guard on Wednesday.

The youngsters are part of Hawthorne's after-school Males and Mentors group, more commonly referred to as "M&Ms," and the junior version of the group for third-graders, known as "Peanuts."

During the hour-and-a-half presentation, the coast guardsmen -- representatives of the Coast Guard's recruiting office in Decatur -- showed the children a promotional video for the service branch, answered questions about what it's like to be on a boat, what the officers' ranks are, and what kind of physical training they have to endure.

The coast guardsmen also urged the students to work hard in school, equating a bad grade on a test to losing a football game. "What happens if you're playing football, and your team loses?" asked Officer Trainee Quentin Long. "You're going to be upset. You're going to be angry about it. You're going to want to do better the next time. You've got to take that same approach to your grades.

"If you don't get the grade you want on a test," he said, "you've got to be upset about it. You want to push yourself to do better on the next test."

Long, and fellow Officer Trainees Eric Johnson and Rameik Johnson, visited the school with their recruiter, Petty Officer 1st Class Maurice Hawkins.

According to its web site's, the Coast Guard is the maritime, law-enforcement military service that deals with coastal security; drug-and-migrant interdiction; navigational aid; search-and-rescue missions, and marine safety.

The appearance of coast guardsmen at an elementary school to talk about the service is not that common, however, Hawkins said.

He more commonly focuses on high schools, where students are approaching the age when they can enlist in the military. Hawkins said Hawthorne Assistant Principal Marcus Jackson, the sponsor of M&Ms, is a friend of his, though, and had been asking him to speak to the youths.

"He had told me about M&Ms, but I couldn't make it out here before now, because of scheduling," Hawkins said. "I just couldn't make my schedule work out right away. As soon as I had an opening in my schedule, though, I decided to come down here and speak to the kids."

Jackson said he asked Hawkins to speak to kids about the Coast Guard because, "I thought it would inspire them to see the United States Coast Guard as a possible career option when they grow up ... I heard a few of the guys say, as they were leaving, 'I want to join the Coast Guard some day.' "

The three officer trainees Hawkins brought with him are all college students, and they will attend the Coast Guard's Officer Training School after they graduate from college. Long is scheduled to graduate from Clayton State University and Officer Trainee Eric Johnson is scheduled to graduate from Morehouse College in May 2010, while Officer Trainee Rameik Johnson is scheduled to graduate from Morehouse in May 2011.

"They were able to tell the students how you simply can't avoid being educated," Jackson said.

After talking to the M&Ms, and Peanuts, about school, the coast guardsmen talked to the youths about physical fitness, before taking them to the school's gymnasium to do pushups and crunches.

"If you're out of shape and get tired quickly, you're not going to be very effective in whatever you do," Officer Trainee Eric Johnson said.

Fifth-grader Jamonne Williams, 10, said that although his dream is to be a professional football player some day, he would be open to considering a career in the Coast Guard as well. "I liked how they taught us about discipline," Williams said. "What I liked about the Coast Guard is the part about them saving lives. I'm interested in the excitement of saving a person's life."

Third-grader Charles Shreve, 9, said that he wants to be a professional basketball player, but he, too, would also consider a career in the Coast Guard, as an alternative, "so I can save people, so people will stay alive, and they won't die."

Another fifth-grader, Quentin Bussie, 10, said he liked the Coast Guard promotional video, and doing push-ups with the coast guardsmen. "I liked the presentation because they showed what life in the Coast Guard is like," he said.