By Johnny Jackson
Angela Taylor climbed the rock wall with a quiet confidence that she would be able to reach the top with moderate effort.
The fatigue-clad teenager was one among more than 650 high school students from across Georgia in attendance at the U.S. Army Motorsports Education Outreach Program (AMEO) event at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Friday.
The AMEO event, which featured a physical, obstacle course, was held in conjunction with activities leading up to the Atlanta Motor Speedway's marquee attraction this weekend, NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series Pep Boys Auto 500.
The event attempts to promote continued higher learning among the state's youths, who may or may not choose careers in the military, said Staff Sgt. Donte Jones, a career drill sergeant at Fort Sill, Okla.
"We're bringing the kids out to have a good time," Jones said. "And we're talking strictly about education and how it goes hand-in-hand with the military. The Army promotes education not only to have smarter soldiers, but smarter Americans."
During the event, students heard from military and community leaders who spoke to them about the benefits of continuing their education beyond high school, even as some pursue careers in the military.
"I joined mainly to serve and benefit from all that the Army offers," said Army Sgt. Joshua Bisson, a recruiter stationed in McDonough. "I get to travel and do things I wouldn't be able to do otherwise." Bisson, a native of Utah, said he has been able to travel and attend school while he serves in the military. He said he is currently pursuing a degree in history education from Troy University.
Angela Taylor, a senior at Ola High School in McDonough, who graduated from Army basic training this summer, said she hopes to do just as Bisson is doing. "My goals are to go to college to major in bio-chemistry at Georgia State University," said Taylor. "Later on, maybe, I'd like to make a career of it in the military. I want to serve."
She and others at the event heard from Sgt. Jones, Atlanta Motor Speedway President Ed Clark, and special guest, NASCAR team owner and driver, Tony Stewart, whose team is sponsored by the Army.
"The U.S. Army has been one of the best sponsors involved in the sport," Clark said. "And NASCAR is a great medium for the Army to promote and recruit the types of people they want. I think education is important," he said. "I'm here to stress that they need to continue on to get an education. The Army offers an opportunity for people to get an education they may not be able to afford otherwise."
Clark said he continues to use lessons learned from his college education as president and CEO of the Atlanta Motor Speedway. He graduated from Virginia Tech with a degree in horticultural science. "No matter what you do in life, education is something you can take with you," he added.
Some students attended the event to learn what the Army is about, and how they can start careers by serving in the military. Morgan Manders, an Ola High School senior, said she plans to attend Kennesaw State University next fall in order to pursue a degree in accounting.
Manders was excited about her future, but wanted to attend the AMEO event to see what opportunities exist in the Army for her to continue her education after high school.
"It gets them out of the classroom and allows them to see the real world," said Lt. Col. Thomas Graves, a JROTC instructor at Mt. Zion High School in Jonesboro.
Graves added that there are aspects in the working world that students may not realize, right away, require an education, and, maybe, even military-style physical training.
"You've got to be an engineer, if you want to be around cars," he continued. "And you've got to be in shape to do it, too."
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