EGG HARBOR CITY — Inside a semi-truck parked outside Cedar Creek High School, students had a chance to fly an Apache helicopter, dispose of live ordnance or parachute with the Golden Knights.

“The goal behind this is to connect America’s people with America’s Army,” said Sgt. 1st Class Andrew Kelley, whose mission it is to educate the Lower 48 with one of six Army Adventure assets.

The semi is loaded with several hands-on and interactive virtual reality systems that simulate what members of the Army may experience.

Kelley is stationed in Fort Knox, Kentucky, and since January has traveled to San Antonio, Texas; Sarasota, Florida; and Chicago and now is touring South Jersey with the Army Adventure Semi.

The Army recruiting tool provides an informal place for students to connect with members of the military, ask questions, seek advice and get an idea of what being in the military is all about.

“Don’t come up with your own plan without talking to people, because it might be the wrong plan,” Kelley told the freshman physics students inside the 16-foot-wide, 53-foot-long trailer.

He said the local recruiting office can be part of the students’ network to help them post-high school, but they shouldn’t wait until 12th grade to get an idea of what their future holds.

Kelley said the average age of enlisted personnel in the Army is 26.

“It’s a young man’s game. That’s why we’re always talking to younger people,” he said.

Enlisting in the Army doesn’t have to be a person’s first stop out of high school, Kelley said. Cedar Creek Supervisor of Math and Science Kelly Slingerland, who arranged Tuesday’s visit, is a veteran who first finished her bachelor’s degree in education.

“It was 2006 when I joined, so it was a few years after 9/11,” Slingerland said. “For me, there were just a lot of things going on. I just wanted to serve my country.”

Slingerland joined the Army Reserves. For a year, she went to basic training in Missouri and then job training in Texas. She came home and continued serving once a month in Pennsylvania while teaching in Keansburg and North Brunswick and earning her supervisor’s certificate.

Slingerland came to the Greater Egg Harbor Regional High School District this school year.

“I think that even if you go to college and you want to pursue something in science or math, and you don’t necessarily want to work at a company or corporation, maybe government work is something you would be interested in,” she said. “I wasn’t somebody that they were looking to run a mission to capture someone, but the military offers a lot of different avenues for people.”

On Tuesday, Staff Sgt. Jordan Hume and Staff Sgt. Hugo Rodriguez shared the different reasons they joined the Army. Hume said he joined after earning a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. Rodriguez said he wanted to travel the world, but now the Army is paying for him to earn his bachelor’s degree at Penn State.

“Education is important in the Army,” Kelley said. “You’re not going to see your next rank without a degree.”

The Army is not for everyone, Kelley said, with eight out of 10 people disqualified from joining due to the entry exam, law violations or medical exclusions.

“I get pushback from parents to students to educators,” he said, many of whom are afraid of sending their children to war. “It’s a legitimate concern. We’ve been at war for a number of years now and the world’s a volatile place. I’m honest.”

But he also invites parents and educators to learn more about being in the military and the benefits it can provide.

“You grow from being in the Army,” he said.

Contact: 609-272-7251 CLowe@pressofac.com

Twitter @clairelowe

I began covering South Jersey in 2008 after graduating from Rowan University with a degree in journalism. I joined The Press in 2015. In 2013, I was awarded a NJPA award for feature writing as a reporter for The Current of Hamilton Township.