Briana Ford, director of Military Student Services within Western Carolina University’s Educational Outreach, was nominated and selected as one of 15 military-related educators from the region to attend an exclusive Army Educator Tour program held in April at Fort Benning, Georgia.
Ford’s passion and skills for supporting and assisting military veterans, active duty and reserves, as well as military dependent students at WCU, qualified her for the unique opportunity.
“The purpose of the tour was to inform those working in education about career opportunities with the Army and the different pathways available to students interested in joining the Army,” Ford said. “The program also gives participants a hands-on experience with military training and culture.”
Nominees for the Army Educator program are chosen from local high schools, universities and community colleges by recruiters they work closely with. Ford was able to experience hands-on learning, meet with current recruits and attend trainings on various topics related to careers, military culture and support for military students. She said the training will assist her in cultivating connections with WCU military-affiliated students because it will help her understand her students’ military experiences and the backgrounds they come, something she greatly values.
The experiences at Fort Benning showed Ford and the other participants what jobs are like in the Army for some of the students who previously or currently are in the military, providing her with a more in-depth understanding and appreciation of their experiences.
Some activities included using the Army firearm simulator and the tank simulators.
“The technology used to train the soldiers is impressive,” Ford said. “I am amazed at how realistic all the simulation training areas are. One of my favorite experiences was the tank simulators. You do not really understand how small the space is until you experience it firsthand.”
Ford said attending the Rangers in Action presentation was also impressive and seeing the results of Ranger training up close was memorable.
“I have a greater appreciation of their discipline and abilities,” Ford said. “From seeing the maneuver called an Australian repel where soldiers face downward as they walk and repel down a wall, to a multiple-person extraction with a Blackhawk helicopter … every demonstration exemplified the skills every Ranger possesses. I am thankful for all our citizens who volunteer to serve in the military.”
Ford was able to meet with new recruits and learn about their experiences firsthand. “Having lunch with some recruits in basic training was a wonderful encounter,” she said. “Hearing about their reasons for joining the military and learning about their experience so far was enlightening. I enjoyed the conversations with them while we had lunch in the mess hall.”
As a military mother herself, Ford adds a personal touch to serving students through providing a compassionate and caring presence to the student experience.
Carolyn Callaghan, executive director of Educational Outreach, said “Briana is more than deserving of this honor to be an Army Educator Tour attendee. She is always thinking of new ways to engage our military population, ensuring all legal guidelines are followed for military benefits, and serving as a leader in military education on WCU’s campus leading Green Zone trainings and serving as an advocate for this population. Not only is she a leader on Western’s campus, but also in the UNC System. Others in the same position as Briana will call on her for her for assistance due to her expert knowledge and years of experience. We are excited she was nominated and able to attend this special opportunity for military educators.”
Applying what Ford learned through her experience will benefit her as she serves veterans on the WCU campus and through distance learning.
Military Student Services at WCU currently serves 190 veterans - including 96 active duty, reserves and National Guard students, and 596 dependents of military veterans. In addition to the Military Student Services staff, there is also the Veteran Resource Center on the 2nd floor of the Hinds University Center which provides a study space and a place where resources for veterans and military students can visit, such as the veteran affairs representative and other relevant representatives. Veterans, dependents, families and the community can learn more about Military Student Services at WCU by visiting military.wcu.edu.