Brazos Valley students receive Navy SEAL of Approval via virtual reality

The thrill of virtual reality has reached military recruitment efforts in the US Navy as current technology is able to simulate what it’s like to be a Navy SEAL without even touching the water.

Students in the Brazos Valley from seven counties on Tuesday experienced what it’s like to be a Navy SEAL on a mission with a headset and backpack through the unique Nimitz Virtual Reality Experience.

“I knew a few things about the Navy and not a lot about Navy SEALs,” North Zulch High School junior Cheyenne Brockman said after her mission. “It was a bit crazy and some things happen that I didn’t expect, but it was pretty cool. This experience is more real and overall a better experience than just talking [a recruiter].”

During the annual HYPE [Helping Youth Prepare for Employment] Career Expo at the Brazos County Expo in Bryan, Brockman and several other middle and high school students from 16 schools participated in the VR experience.

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The ‘journey’ to the Nimitz gave the students a better understanding of what the Navy is like rather than just chatting to a recruiter about what their journey might be like.

Navy Petty Officer Corey Johnson said this is a unique opportunity for the Brazos Valley area because it is the only simulator.

“We were able to get that and bring it here and show the people of the Brazos Valley what we can offer them,” he said. “Much [the students] never seen the sea. We have hired several Sailors who have been in the Navy who have never been on the water or the ocean and this gives them the best experience we can offer them locally. That’s one of the main reasons I’m trying my best to get this out there and actually show it to the kids of the Brazos Valley.”

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Students toured the career fair inside the expo and were treated to the VR experience outside at the 18-wheeler Nimitz. The program simulates an actual high-speed Navy SEAL mission, with participants going through a video briefing before donning an Oculus Rift headset and wearable technology called SubPac, traditionally used by DJs, and playing in real-time to the sounds von percusses the mission, according to Nimitz associates.

Participants then navigate the mission using a state-of-the-art steering wheel and throttle system that mimics the actual feel of piloting a high-speed SWCC boat. Upon completion, participants go to the debriefing station, where they receive feedback and a performance grade and can see all types of jobs available in the Navy, Nimitz staff said.

Although they were required to sign a liability waiver before boarding the mission, the students were then able to have their picture taken in a simulated airplane and show off their physical agility to recruiters at the pull-up board.

Duvascha Todd, brand ambassador for Nimitz Virtual Reality Experience, helped students prepare for their virtual mission.

“Once they receive their mission, which is what they need to do … they’ll put on the virtual reality headsets and go through a mission tour like they’re fighting the war,” she said from the Nimitz. “You’ll go from day to night feeling what it’s like to be with a team and bring them home safely.”

Todd said each attendee had the opportunity to see firsthand what the Navy is doing.

“When I see the sparkle in their eyes, I know they’re passionate,” she said. “And even if they have family members who were in the military with them, they get a better understanding and appreciation.”

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Todd said with this new generation of young people, it’s always best to have first-hand experience.

“If they don’t have an experience or a journey, how could you recognize that feeling in you if that’s what you want to do and pursue?” she said.

Navy Petty Officer Natasha Stubbs was one of the recruiters who spoke to students after they completed their Nimitz experience. She said she suggests they ask questions about their plans after high school.

“I would ask students, ‘What do you want to do after high school? That’s the biggest thing to get their minds going because a lot of the kids didn’t really think about it,” she said. “Whether they know or don’t know what they want to do after graduation, I ask them what they like; and then I connect the jobs that we have in the military that we could offer to the things that they like or want to do.”

Stubbs also engaged the students in a conversation about how they plan to pay for college and how the military can help them when they can’t afford it.

All participants went home with a Navy SEAL dog tag to commemorate the Nimitz trip.

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