FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (WNCN) – Getting young people to enlist has been a challenge for U.S. military branches since the COVID-19 pandemic began, partly due to the competitive job market, and also for monetary reasons.

Arcjohn Sayre is a senior at E.E. Smith High School in Fayetteville and he said he’s joining the military.

“I still want to do college, but I don’t want to pay for all that student debt,” he said.

Assistant principal Kenneth Williams also knows how important it is to prepare their student body for life beyond high school, whether that’s for the military or for other paths of work.

“We have so many military-connected students, and a lot of faculty and staff who are also former military,” Williams said. “So, they are able to share their experiences, but they also know how it changed over their years, and things the kids are going to need going into the military now.”

Students at E.E. Smith are earning drone licenses, learning to fly airplanes through simulators and using technology to problem-solve.

“I’m going to jump out of an airplane tomorrow and I was thinking ‘how is the pilot doing this?’. Now I’m thinking I can be flown by a 17-year-old,” Commanding Officer LTC. Burton Furlow Jr. with 528th special operations of the U.S. Army said.

He and other Fort Bragg soldiers toured the STEM program/labs at E.E. Smith on Thursday.

Some of the students Furlow met could one day be in his shoes, so training and recruitment now are crucial.

“(This) shortens the learning curve for us and it gets troops and soldiers on the battlefields faster than we can ever imagine,” Furlow said.