Army racing team talks to Waxahachie students about opportunities after high school

It may have been a day before the pivotal NHRA Fall Nationals races, but NHRA Top Fuel Champion Tony Schumacher, sponsored by the U.S. Army, took time to visit Waxahachie High School Students on Wednesday.

The NHRA Fall Nationals start at 11:30 a.m. on Thursday at Ennis’ Texas Motorplex.

“We wanted the kids to meet Tony and realize there’s a lot of things the Army’s doing and he’s a part of that,” said Capt. Grancis Santana, commanding officer of Waxahachie’s U.S. Army Recruiting Station. “It’s about changing the image of the Army. Most people think the Army’s about shooting guns, but they don’t realize that the Army has civilian-based jobs. The majority of jobs that kids want to do, there’s the same job in the Army.”

Santana has spent 12 years – four as an enlisted Soldier – in the U.S. Army, spending time in Vicenza, Italy as a military policeman and across the globe as an artilleryman.

Though Schumacher’s car provided the shiny bait for Waxahachie’s students, the ulterior motive was clear – open the eyes of the city’s youth to all the opportunities a career in the military, regardless the branch, can bring.

Those created opportunities are just as important to Waxahaxhie High School principal Al Benskin.

“It makes them aware of all the opportunities they have,” said Benskin. “And not only college opportunities, but opportunities through the military. It gives them an opportunity to see them as more than just soldiers, Marines, airmen or sailors.

“It allows the students to see these men and women for the people they are – good American citizens. As their principal, I’m living proof of that.”

Benskin completed his bachelors, masters and doctorates degrees through military funding – but not before dedicating 20 years and one month of his life as a gunnery sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps.

Benskin’s dedication to educating the youth – a passion borne through Marine Corps service – is a big reason he views events like Thursday’s so vital to the development to Waxahachie’s youth.

“While I was in the Marine Corps, I was working with America’s youth. When I decided to retire, I realized I still liked helping youths,” Benskin said. “I see myself in a lot of these kids. Kids who want to go to college or aren’t really sure about things, but want to find something that captivates them.”

Master Sgt. Mike Phillips, who has spent 24 years in the Army and is part of the Army Marketing Research Group, has spent his time training in Bosnia, Korea, Japan and has recruited Green Berets. He believes a foundation of knowledge behind action is necessary for any person, no matter if they are a soldier or not.

“You have to be disciplined to make the right decisions. Whatever it is you decide to do, understand why you’re doing it,” Phillips said to a group of Waxahachie High School students. “Don’t just do it to do it. Do you’re research and become a master of your craft. Motivation will get you there, but discipline is what keeps you there.”

“The Army’s come along way from where it used to be,” Phillips continued. “One day I’m going to have to take this uniform off and it’s the youth of America that are going to replace me. No matter what city I’m in, the next president of the United States could be out amongst the crowd. Kids need to know that no one coasts their way to success, it comes from hard work. If you’re coasting, usually you’re going down hill.”

Shumacher may be the personification of the Army’s intent to reach America’s youth in a positive, uplifting way – one reason why he’s been an Army-sponsored driver for over a decade.

Schumacher attended military school before beginning his racing career at age 15 and couldn’t join because of metal plates placed after a broken leg. He has, however, visited Iraq and Afghanistan during troop support events and trained with Army Rangers and Green Berets – anything he could do to become fully engrossed in something he so dutifully respects.

“My real father was a U.S. Marine – he died when I was born,” Schumacher said. “He was a bad dude. Is it in my blood? Yeah, it is. Am I around these people everyday and have I learned lessons? Sure. These men and women who serve our country, what they do for us, is spectacular. It’s a lesson in life on how to be about something bigger than yourself.”

Schumacher firmly believes the most important lessons the students will learn are adaptability and adversity, saying that they haven’t understood yet they are going to have to change and figure out situations that are difficult in order to get over life’s hurdles.

He said racing behind a deficit like the one his team faces brings out that exact learning moment, remarking that some will say “that’s too far back.” Those same children will watch it happen and see nine guys working together, doing their job, with a common goal, he said.

“I feel like God put me 94 points back for a reason,” Shumacher said. “That’s a long way back. When we come back and win the championship, it’ll prove that moment was too big for me, but not for God. We’ve had too many miracles – literally too many great moments – coming from behind to let this perfect opportunity slip by. With three races to go, it’s just the right deficit to make it look unattainable. Fortunately, we have a team able to do it.”