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Teen Learns He Can Serve Without Joining Military

By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 7, 2005 – Sixteen-year-old Travon A. Turner always dreamed of working for the Defense Department as an engineer, creating nonlethal weapons for the military. But he thought that dream would never become reality because he didn't want to serve in the armed forces.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Air Force Col. James J. Campbell (right) chats with 16-year-old Californian Travon A. Turner about civilian jobs in the Defense Department. Turner didn't know that DoD hired civilian employees; he thought everyone in DoD is in the military. Photo by Rudi Williams

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Turner didn't know DoD had civilian employees until he heard Air Force Col. James J. "JJ" Campbell talking about the civilian work force in remarks during "Viva Technology Day," at the 17th annual conference of the Hispanic Engineer National Achievement Awards Corporation.

With the theme, "A Future Powered by Imagination," HENAAC and DoD sponsored the Viva Technology Day event that brought together more than 300 middle school and high school students from Los Angeles and Orange County, Calif., for a day of fun and learning. Students participated in challenges and heard from engineers and scientists from the DoD, Army, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard.

After the Viva Technology program, the participants were guests at DoD's second annual recognition luncheon, which highlighted Hispanic Heritage Month. The student teams were recognized for their first-, second- and third-place projects.

Turner was waiting for Campbell when he left the stage after serving as master of ceremonies during the recognition luncheon. The teenager wanted to hear more about working for DoD as a civilian employee.

"That young gentleman asked me a question, which a lot of people don't know the answer to," said Campbell, the senior military equal opportunity adviser in the Office of the Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness. "He didn't realize that DoD isn't just military. We have thousands of civilian jobs: scientists, engineers and a whole bunch of other jobs. We need to let the communities know that if the military is not their way of life, you can still serve the Defense Department and your country by working as a civilian."

Campbell said he's going to e-mail the teenager links to Web sites that show him what the DoD civilian network is like.

Turner, a junior at Washington Preparatory High School in Los Angeles, said he'd always been interested in weapons and saw a show on the Discovery Channel about how weapons are created, which fascinated him. "But I'm more into technology, like technology they use for satellites and global positioning and stuff like that," he said.

"I'm not interested in weapons for killing people, I'm interested in nonlethal defense weapons, such as weapons that can shut down cars," Turner said. "I want to invent the types of weapons that will protect the United States and other countries without killing people."

Turner said he works with the Junior ROTC program at his high school, but he isn't a member.

He said the Viva Technology event was fun because he worked on an electronics project with students from other schools. "The ideas they had were ideas that most people wouldn't think about," Turner said. "We made a project about changing the molecules of water by taking out the two parts of hydrogen and leaving the oxygen. Then we combined the oxygen molecules to provide people with air when there are not any trees left. But there is a bunch of water, and they can just convert the water into air."

Viva Technology wasn't just about creating engineering and scientific projects; it also provided students with information about scholarships in the military and DoD and gave them knowledge about different fields they could pursue, Turner said. "In engineering, you can engineer chairs if you want to; you can engineer electronics, ... just about anything you can think of is engineered," said Turner, who plans to major in computer and electronic engineering. "If there's a problem, there's an engineer to solve it."

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