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Army outreach program gives students opportunity to fly aircraft simulator

Hundreds of Pioneer Valley High School students were able to take flight on Thursday.

For several hours, members of the United States Army were on hand interacting with the students at a mobile aviation outreach program.

“We have our national exhibit,” said Sgt. 1st Class Alfredo Araiza. “This is our aviation national exhibit. We travel around the country and show people a different side of the Army, especially the aviation part of it.”

Inside the the exhibit’s the 18-wheel semi-truck trailer, students were able to test their skills on three flight simulators, as well as a pair of virtual reality goggles, which simulate parachuting with the famed U.S. Army Golden Knights.

“It’s great that we have an asset like this that can come and give them some really good information and generate some excitement,” said Staff Sgt. Matthew Zaragoza. “It’s a good opportunity for kids to get their hands-on and check out some cool Army gadgets.”

Judging from the reaction of the students, the exhibit was a huge success.

“It was awesome,” said senior Alejandro Lara. “The virtual reality was really cool and I want to parachute now.”

“It went pretty good,” said senior Edgar Zacarias. “At first, I didn’t know what I was doing. I never flown a helicopter, but that simulator kind of gives that effect of how it’s going to be.”

Students of all grades were able to attend the program through a sign-up basis.

Those who attended were able to speak with active Army members about a potential career in the military.

“Our main purpose is to educate them on some of the opportunities that are available,” Zaragoza said.

Araiza agreed, noting the how time spent in the Army may open many educational doors in the future.

“The Army has tons of educational opportunities that we have,” said Araiza. “We get free while you’re in, college when you get out. All the things that we do count for college credits, so there are tons of opportunities to advance yourself.”

While many of the students will not pursue a military career, taking some time in the exhibit did allow them a greater appreciation and perspective of those who do.

“It makes you think about the people that are actually doing it in real life,” said Zacarias. “How you’re just in a simulator and you can try again, but they don’t get a second try.”

“I definitely respect them more than what I already had because of this that they brought here and it actually gave me a real good insight on what they do on a daily basis, which is not easy,” Lara said.

The Army exhibit spent time earlier this week at Santa Maria High School. It was unable to visit Righetti High School due to ongoing construction.

On Friday, it will visit Cabrillo High School before heading north to Washington.

Araia said the truck travels to dozens of states and is able to connect with thousands of students annually.

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