USSTRATCOM officer reaches out, gives back to local middle school students

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Kevin Allen
  • United States Strategic Command Public Affairs
For Navy Capt. Paula Hinger, giving back to the local community has a different meaning - one that is close to her heart. She recently transformed her personal and professional passions for education and service into something memorable for about 100 students and staff May 21 at Russell Middle School in Millard, Neb.

Hinger put together a team of eight personnel from United States Strategic Command's Plans and Policy directorate to teach some of Russell's sixth graders about space, the Global Positioning System, cyberspace, aviation and a foreign perspective of the world - a noble cause from any perspective. The real story is how this particular program began.

When Hinger's husband Navy Capt. Eric Hinger, a former battle watch captain in the global operations center at USSTRATCOM, passed away in November 2005, the Millard school district reached out to her family, offering comfort and counseling during their time of grief. Her daughter is a student at Russell, and the support they provided was "incredible."

"The school wrapped their arms around my daughter," she said. "I got a call from the principal explaining the programs they had and how they would work with us to get through" their time of crisis. In appreciation for the school's efforts, and in putting her Navy-funded master's degree in education to use - a program was born, one that, coincidentally, highlights some of the command's major mission areas.

The program lessons were designed to give children an eye-opening, global perspective on space, cyberspace and aviation. The four-hour program culminated with students using GPS receivers to find points of interest around school grounds - an exercise that built upon the sixth graders' year-long studies of longitude and latitude. To facilitate the studies, Captain Hinger purchased and donated the GPS units to the school. She also wrote a syllabus for the district's meteorology program for high ability learners.

"This was my way of teaching the children and exposing them to a world few knew existed 30 minutes away," she said, referring to the military presence at Offutt. "Military personnel come with highly sought after skills and talents, and involvement in the local community is a way to maximize those gifts," she said.

Those skills and talents translated into excited student participation and a better appreciation for geography, space and cyberspace, as well as insight into the life of a military aviator.

The captain's team ran four sessions of each class, allowing the students to rotate through each classroom and get information on every subject, which included presentations by Col. Stephen Padgett, a British army officer, and Wing Commander Wal Mazzoni, a Royal australian air force officer, both assigned to USSTRATCOM. Air Force Majs. Robb Owens and Lorenzo "Che" Bradley taught the space and cyberspace classes, Marine Corps Maj. Rod deZafra and retired Air Force officer Chris Widseth talked about aviation and Air Force Lt. Col. Darren Johnson taught the GPS portion of the program.

"What struck me most was how engaged some of the students were," said Sandra Segal, a sixth-grade teacher at Russell. "The presentations definitely opened some doors and eyes to more possibilities of what people can accomplish in life."

"It's great to see career-oriented people turn (children) on to their profession," Mitch Mollring, Russell Middle School principal, said. "The program was tremendous. Any time we can get the students moving around and working 'hands on' with a project, it's refreshing."

Through it all, Captain Hinger's enthusiasm for passing on knowledge and supporting the school that took care of her and her family is evident in her actions, yet she sees her contributions in a realistic fashion.

"As in all cities there are more needs than there are people, funding and material to satisfy them - this is my way of giving something back," she said.