St. Charles Herald-Guide

Military careers provide structure, teach skills used in local industry

Kyle Barnett - November 18, 2012

As students in the JROTC class at Hahnville High School went through morning drills, Flight Commander Cameron Guidry led the class in a number of maneuvers.

"Right face!" Guidry said.

The class turned in unison to the right.

Air Force JROTC instructor Capt. Valerie Smith said for all of its military-like bearing, the class is more about teaching students community service than pushing them towards a career in the military.

"Thatís not our aim. Our aim is to have them be better citizens," Smith said.

As part of that community service effort, the students devote their Friday night during the football season to working the concession stands at the football games as well as engaging in activities in the community.

"These guys do plenty of community service," Smith said. "We want them to be a better person. A better citizen for St. Charles Parish and for the world at large."

Smith, who is a 20-year veteran and retired from the Air Force reserves in 2008, said the overall goal of the program is to provide a good basis for young adults who are about to start their lives outside of school .

"What I like to think about is we are giving them tools to put in their toolbox," Smith said. "Some of the tools they may use and some of the tools they may not, but the things such as respect, having a good attitude, preventing violence and having a positive attitude, those are things youíll use regardless of where you go."

Out of 182 cadets Smith has taught over the past two years, she said eight have joined the military.

"Some of these kids are college bound, some are military bound and some are workforce bound," Smith said. "There are a couple of things you can do to supplement that. If you know that you are workforce bound and you want to go to college, but you donít have that scholarship, reserve or active duty may be an answer for you."

Luling-native Brandon Plaisance is a graduate of the HHS class of 2003 who decided to make a career out of the military.

Plaisance, who has been in the Army for the past nine years, said his choice to pursue a life in the military has been very rewarding.

"I think most of what I have learned is to work hard and that nothing is going to be given to you. Youíve got to work for what youíve got," Plaisance said. "Keep your head down and keep pushing through."

Plaisance said he wanted to join the military from a young age.

"Mostly I just wanted to do something in service for my country," Plaisance said. "I always wanted to be in the military since I was small. It seemed like the right thing to do."

Although he is now stationed at Fort Bragg, N.C., Plaisance made his way into both Afghanistan and Iraq for a combined one and half years. He worked as a truck driver in combat zones, which is one of the highest casualty positions in those wars.

After being in a war zone, Plaisance said his thoughts about the military changed.

"As a child you see all the movies and stuff and you think it is going to be like you see in the movies. Then once you get in you realize it is not a movie," Plaisance said. "What you see when you are there you know itís not fake, itís the real thing – itís real peopleís lives."

Plaisance said after being in a war zone he has a better understanding of his profession.

"I appreciate the people who have done it before me more. All of the veterans, all of the people who have served before me and seeing what I have gone through and knowing they have gone through the same thing or worse," Plaisance said. "I think it just makes me appreciate everything I have more."

He said he hopes to stay in the military as long as he can, but is now enrolled in college courses through the G.I. Bill. Although he does not know what he will get a degree in, he said increasing his education is something he feels he needs to do.

For those thinking about military careers, Plaisance said there are a lot of benefits.

"I think it will help them grow," Plaisance said. "For the kind of person who wants to be able to help people who canít help themselves, itís a great opportunity to do that."

Similarly, Jake Matis, a 2006 HHS graduate, said his five years in the military helped prepare him for life.

"I would recommend the military to anyone coming out of high school," Matis said. "I learned a lot during my military career between discipline and being mentally and physically ready for pretty much any situation. I had a wonderful time. I worked with a lot of great people."

Matis joined the Marine Corps after graduating from high school and became a measurement and equipment diagnostic technician.

He now works at Bunge where he said he has put a lot of what he learned in the military to use.

"They taught me how to repair and calibrate electronics, which Iím doing. I also learned how to read schematics and give reports on everything, documentation," Maris said. "I learned how to be a good leader."

Matis said the only downside to his time in the military was that he had originally planned on making a career out of it, but after five years there were not as many opportunities to reenlist.

"I tried to reenlist, but with the war coming to an end they were pretty much laying off a lot of people - the military was downsizing," Matis said. "So it was hard to stay in. I may try to get back into it, but Iím not sure."

He said he is grateful that he was able to learn the skills in the military that led to the job he has now.

"I really like what Iím doing. I love working with my hands and everyday is something new," Matis said.