By Don Branum
Vermont National Guard Public Affairs
“Who wants to be first on the grader?” 1st Sgt. Mike Morin asked a group of visiting students from the Center for Technology, Essex. Behind him sat the grader in question, a 20-ton vehicle with a single blade used to create flat surfaces. In front of him stood 17 high school juniors and seniors, none of whom seemed excited about the idea of volunteering first.
“No volunteers?” the construction operations noncommissioned officer asked when he spotted one of the students, Natalie Kedzierski, looking away, trying not to stand out. A few minutes later, Morin was standing in the cab with Kedzierski at the controls, learning how to move the massive rig.
CTE has partnered with the Vermont National Guard for years to offer students hands-on vocational training, but this visit marked the first chance for an entire classroom of students to attend, said Sarah Knight, a work-based learning coordinator with the school.
“Our programs pretty nicely match up,” she said. “We have a heavy equipment operation program and a natural resources program … this gives the students a chance to operate real-world equipment.”
The COVID-19 pandemic prevented school visits in 2020, said 1st Sgt. Tony Fletcher, the range operations NCO in charge for the Garrison Support Command. This year, the Guard sought to start the event back up. “We reached out to CTE and said we were interested in doing a career day,” he said. “Instead of one big career day, we decided to break it up into different specialties, and the school asked for heavy equipment and welding.”
Fletcher said future career day events may include automotive skills and a medical professional technology day with medics from C Detachment, 186th Brigade Support Battalion, along with events with other units from across the state. “The goal is one career day a month,” he said. “We’re going to take the momentum from this and pass it on to other bases.”
After a rough start, Kedzierski got the hang of the grader. “It was fun to learn the controls and how to use it,” she said.
If the students enjoyed the field trip, the NCOs felt the same. “Thanks for giving us an opportunity to get out of the office,” Fletcher said as the students prepared to depart.
Sgt. 1st Class Courtney Weisert, NCO in charge of the Recruiting and Retention Battalion’s Team Central, asked the students for feedback once they had a chance to reflect on the visit. “Let us know what we did well, what we can do better next time, and what we can do in the future,” she said.
Students at CTE come from local high schools and can attend for one to three years, Knight said. In addition to visits like this, students hear from guest speakers and get placed in career work experiences with the Guard or other organizations.