Children made their boisterous presence felt across Naval Support Facility (NSF) Dahlgren as commands across the base hosted Bring Your Child to Work Day events April 26. More than 400 employees and dependents participated in the program, which featured 19 separate demonstrations, tours and hands-on projects sponsored by five supported commands and tenant activities on the installation. While the children were the center of attention, the kids' enthusiasm was nearly matched by their service member or Navy employee parents.
From scientific experiments, to interactive and competitive events, parents relished the chance to show kids a little bit about what mom or dad does at work.
"I think there's a lot of mystique about where we go off to every day," said Michael Burkholder, a scientist with the Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD) who brought his 10-year-old daughter Emily to work. "[Children] see the base, but there's a fence around it and they don't know what goes on. This gives them the ideal opportunity to spend the day on the base and actually see our offices. [Emily] has been looking forward to it for quite some time."
Emily checked out the displays at NSWCDD's Z Department with her friend Tamara, 11, whose parents, Donna and Eric Wheater, also work for NSWCDD.
"It's a fantastic opportunity for their own education and to expand what they think about science," said Donna, an engineer. "This opens up the world of what we do and how we apply science."
At the Chemical, Biological and Radiological (CBR) Defense branch, parents and their children marveled at NSWCDD scientist Max Lupton's ever-popular liquid nitrogen demonstration.
"I think that Bring Your Child to Work Day is really important because the kids don't know what we do," said Diane Cox, a security officer and mother of two, who observed, "The science, technology and math applications they have [in Dahlgren] are important, especially for young girls. Today's experiments are really exciting. There are good role models here."
Cox noted how seeing classroom subjects applied in real life makes her job as academic cheerleader a bit easier. "I remember thinking in high school when am I ever going to use math or geometry again," she said. "So this is a really cool way for the kids to see how education translates into a job.
"The briefs the employees are giving have been great because they're speaking to the kids' level. Anything [the children] are interested in, they can do in Dahlgren, which is amazing."
Cox's son Montgomery, 6, certainly had the necessary curiosity to one day become a scientist. "My favorite [subject] is math," he said, zeroing in on the reporter's small voice recorder. "That's a really small phone."
Overlooking the action was Mike Purello, head of CBR Defense Division, who seemed surprisingly at ease with the young people overrunning his conference room.
"One of the things that I think makes our country - and Navy - great is technology, especially in the areas of math, science and engineering," he said. "A lot of the technology and quality of life products that we take for granted today can be attributed back to a scientist or engineer."
Purello thought Bring Your Child to Work Day was not only a fun event, but one which might help Navy maintain a pool of talented employees in the future.
"We owe it to young students to try and get them interested in those fields, and they are tough fields," he said. "They require a lot of academic discipline and although I think there are a lot of kids interested, they don't always get exposed to these fields.
"This kind of event lets the kids see what their parents do and experience different technologies to peak their interest. It is fun and the kids see that. If several of the kids in this room decide they want to be a scientist or engineer based on what they saw today, I think we've accomplished something."
Purello praised the extra-curricular efforts his employees put forward to make the day's CBR events possible. "Obviously a lot of time and effort goes into the preparation," he said. "Our folks love what they do and this is reflected in the demonstrations."
Over at the System Safety Engineering Division, no amount of preparation could ready adults for the creative responses given by children as part of a safety exercise.
A group of kids were shown photos depicting obviously unsafe behavior, such as a car driving with an extension ladder sticking out the window. Then, the kiddy focus group was asked what could go wrong.
"If you stopped the guy could go flying through the air and he would say weee!" noted Autumn, 7.
"He could fall off and get run over and die," suggested Emma, who maintained the worst-case-scenario track for the duration of the presentation.
Young Matthew took Emma's thought to its logical conclusion and mused about what could happen if a fire truck arrived and there were nails in the road.
More impressive than the young peoples' imaginations, however, was presenter and engineer Brandy Jackson's ability to maintain her composure. "If you see anything like this," said a grinning Jackson, "run away!"