This was like a holiday season treat for Buckhorn High School’s JROTC cadets.

They participate each year in Redstone’s annual JROTC Day but they rarely get a chance for one-on-one mentoring with Soldier leaders. This was their opportunity.

Garrison Commander Col. Kelsey Smith and Command Sgt. Maj. Billy Counts participated in a mentoring event Thursday at the school in New Market. The visit included a meeting with the school’s principal, Todd Markham, a tour of the JROTC facility, Hall of Heroes, Veterans Memorial, and a mentoring activity with JROTC cadets.

Markham said he was excited about Garrison’s visit to the school. He wants to raise awareness and continue to grow the JROTC program.

After telling the cadets a little about themselves and why they chose to serve in the Army, Smith and Counts answered questions about leadership, academics, careers, deployments and military service.

Retired Lt. Col. Dominic Stewart, senior instructor for the JROTC program at the school, said he was pleased with the Garrison leaders taking time out of their busy schedules to engage with the cadets. This may have sparked some student interest in a military career.

Counts, a graduate of Woodville High School in Jackson County, told cadets about the value of maximizing their opportunities. Doing this has been life-changing for him.

“Don’t let the place where your story started confine you,” Counts said. “Have the mindset to make use of every opportunity that comes your way. I have 29 years, six months military service right now and will retire next year. I started out in Paint Rock, Alabama, right up the road – I was you. If you recognize opportunity when it presents itself, you can be standing where I am today.”

Smith focused his message on educational preparation and career exploration.

“The Army paid me to go to school,” Smith said. “All I was asked to give in return was six years of active duty and some Reserve time. I’ve gone way past that requirement. It’s a way of life for me.

“We came out today to talk with you about the future. You’re all thinking about what career you’ll pursue one day, consider these colors as an option.”

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