HUDSON — It was like a touch-a-truck event for teenagers, and the main attraction was a M119A3 Howitzer and the high-mobility multi-wheeled vehicle that towed it.
For the first four periods of the day, National Guard Sgt. First Class Jeffrey Pelfort showed Hudson High School's Army Junior ROTC students in the Cobra Battalion some of what it takes to be an artillery officer, even giving a few the opportunity to fire a blank round in an empty parking lot outside the school gymnasium.
"Honestly, it was fun," said cadet Second Lt. Ezekiel Mercado, 16, after the smoke settled. "It felt like you're in charge. Gave the feeling of what the military is like and the jobs you can do."
Turns out, there's a lot of math and physics involved in making that shot. Getting that across in a practical way was what Pelfort was going for when he brought the Howitzer, which had been recently upgraded and digitalized, to the school.
"I like this over doing the typical PowerPoint presentation," said Pelfort, who works out of a recruiting office in Dade City. "It's hands on. I know a lot of people that like to learn that way."
Hudson High JROTC students are learning what the various branches of the military offer and expect through visits from local recruiters. By the end of the school year, representatives of the Army, Navy, Marines, Coast Guard and National Guard will give presentations at the school, said Maj. Tim Root, who leads the JROTC program with Master Sgt. Sam Harmon.
It's important information, even though few in the program tend to enlist, said Harmon, adding, "Our main goal is to get them to graduate high school."
"We also try to get them to think about something after high school, whether it's college or the military," said Root, adding that a close check is kept on the academic standing of all JROTC students to make sure no one is slacking.
A career in the military could be in the works for Mercado, as well as his buddy and comrade, cadet Second Lt. Kenneth Wheeler, 17. Both are on track to graduate from high school with an associate's degree from Pasco-Hernando State College through the dual enrollment program. Each is eyeing prestigious military academies as possible paths forward.
JROTC plays a large part in paving the way for that, Wheeler said, noting upshots such as the scholarship opportunities and uplifting family atmosphere that come with being part of JROTC and the Cobra Battalion.
"Me and Zeke (Ezekiel) didn't like each other in middle school. Now we're like brothers," he said. "We push each other to the limit. That's what we are here for."
Contact Michele Miller at [email protected] Follow @MicheleMiller52.