Illinois, Virgin Islands National Guard partner to engage VI youth

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SPRINGFIELD, IL (03/19/2018) (readMedia)-- VIRGIN ISLANDS – St. Croix's youth experienced military life March 10-11 with Recruiters from Illinois, and the Virgin Islands National Guard at the Estate Bethlehem Military Compound, St. Croix, Virgin Islands.

Approximately 48 students and graduates of St. Croix's two public high schools participated in the 'Soldier for a Day' event.

"We're trying to attract youngsters from the high schools to come to the National Guard and join the organization," said Maj. Arthur Hector, the Recruiting & Retention Battalion Commander, Virgin Islands National Guard.

The two Illinois Soldiers hit the ground running and approached local schools with their ideas.

"We went to all the schools and the university and handed out fliers. We wanted to set up stuff they could do while having fun and learning about the National Guard," said Staff Sgt. Mark VanBibber, of Troy, Illinois, assigned to Company M, Recruit Sustainment Program, based in Shiloh, Illinois.

The team sold the idea to the local education community as an opportunity for the youths to play Army for a day, and described some of the activities they would engage in.

"They would get to shoot weapons in the state-of-the-art video game, a million-dollar system," said VanBibber. "Then conduct team-building, because we can't do this without the person on our left and right at the end of the day."

The students began their day with a formation and presentation about the National Guard, followed by warm-ups and a physical training session that included planks, jumping jacks, pushups, squats, mountain climbers and laps around the drill hall at the Lt. Col. Lionel A. Jackson Readiness Center.

"We are focused on putting students through the process that a Soldier goes through on a daily basis. Beginning with the physical fitness portion, coupled with the basic training that we put soldiers through to include the Engagement Skills Trainer 2000," said Hector. "These are the things that we think will attract youngsters into joined the Guard."

The students then split into groups and participated in a team-building exercise and marksmanship training in the EST 2000, a laser-based, indoor weapons training system that simulates pistols, rifles, shotguns, machine guns, antitank weapons and grenade launchers.

VanBibber and 1st Sgt. Chad McDannald, of Sycamore, Illinois, traveled to the Virgin Islands as part of an effort by the National Guard Bureau to boost recruitment nationwide.

"We were hand-selected by the National Guard Bureau to travel around to show our way of recruiting and also what makes Illinois so great at recruiting," said VanBibber.

After the group completed training for the day they were provided light refreshments and gave feedback to the recruiting team. Many of them expressed interest in more training on the EST 2000.

McDannald and Hector spoke of their experiences as students themselves when they joined the Guard.

"The guard helps to pay for your education, it assists in paying college tuition. I think that would be a great asset from a parent's standpoint that would interest younsters into joining the guard," said Hector. "I am a product of that, the Virgin Islands National Guard paid for both my bachelor's and master's degrees so I am a proponent of getting my education paid for by the military," said Hector.

Hector also had a message for those who doubt their capability to succeed in the military.

"You can't get there if you don't try, nothing beats a failure but a try," said Hector.

VanBibber echoed Hector's sentiments regarding his education experience in the military.

"Nawadays, everybody has a degree, but the National Guard helps you show that you are much better than the other person," said VanBibber.

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For high resolution photos, please contact the Illinois National Guard Public Affairs Office at

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