It's too early to tell how many students from MacArthur Fundamental Intermediate School in Santa Ana will become Marines. But over the last four months, about 150 of them have toured the Tustin Marine Corps Helicopter Air Station.
The Marines have taken the public relations opportunity to highlight everything from attack dogs to helicopters and to inform children that being in the armed services is not like being in prison.
"When you take off a uniform, you're like everyone else," Lt. Col. Jim Casford said he tells students. "We go to the movies too."
Periodic visits to the Marine base were arranged by MacArthur Assistant Principal Steve Solomon, a former army corporal. MacArthur is one of Santa Ana Unified School District's four fundamental schools.
Fundamental schools--all in primary and intermediate levels--stress back-to-basics educational courses along with such themes as patriotism. Tours of the Marine base are aimed at instilling patriotism.
MacArthur students previously visited the U.S. missile cruiser Antietam in Long Beach, Solomon said, before the ship was posted to San Diego.
Solomon said a partnership with the Marines, which includes visits to MacArthur, provides students with role models who stress values such as discipline.
After the students visit El Toro Marine Corps Air Station, Casford said, they often send letters to the Marine Corps expressing an interest in joining the armed services.
He said another school also wants to start a similar program. There is no direct cost to the Marines for conducting the tours.
While a handful of students touring the base recently said they did not wish to become Marines, they enjoyed the visit.
"It looks a lot more interesting than it did in the old movies; you know, get down and give me 50 [push-ups]," said eighth-grader Thomas Peeples, 14.
Peeples had just finished watching Marines battle a fire, a staged event that included a mock helicopter surrounded by jet fuel that was set aflame.
As the smell of fuel hung in the air and ash rained down on the students, Peeples said he was more interested in computer programming. But, he was impressed with the firefighting.
"People talk about black smoke and pillars of flames," he said. "That's exactly what it looks like."
The helicopter control panel, however, was much more interesting to him. "It's not as complicated as it looks," he said. But asked whether he was ready to fly a copter, he quickly replied, "No."