Truman students get a lesson in personal safety from Citizen-Soldiers

With his arms wrapped around his target, Sgt. 1st Class Jim Neighbors poses as an attacker during his Situational Awareness class at Truman High School in Independence. Sgt. Jennifer Job demonstrates how a person should handle the situation in order to break free from the aggressor and move to safety. The Missouri Army National Guard has been presenting the program to high school students for about four years. (Photo by Jennifer Archdekin/Missouri National Guard)


By Jennifer Archdekin

INDEPENDENCE, Mo. - Students at Truman High School recently went through the Situational Awareness program presented by the Missouri Army National Guard. The two-part program is geared towards high school students to prepare them and protect them in the event they are ever attacked.

Nearly four years ago Sgt. 1st Class Jim Neighbors, one of the program's creators, was approached by a Kansas City area high school inquiring about a self-defense class for students. Parents were concerned that no personal safety classes were offered at that time within the school's curriculum, Neighbors said.

The urgency was sparked when 18-year-old Kelsey Smith was abducted from an Overland Park Target store in 2007. The case made national headlines when surveillance video showed her leaving the store and then being forced into her car by an abductor. Smith was found murdered four days later.

About 125 students at Truman attended the classes aimed at teaching self-defense techniques.

Lindsey McClaran, a freshman at Truman, was appreciative of the class. She said she learned how to stay balanced, and punch and kick in ways that would actually benefit her if attacked.

"If I get in a situation I'll know, at least if I'm thinking correctly, I'll know what to do," said McClaran. "It's pretty interesting."

Neighbors stressed to the students to do what has to be done in order to get away from someone trying to harm them, even if it's outside their comfort zone.

"It's your life," said Neighbors. "There are no rules when somebody is trying to rape you or kill you. You do whatever you got to do."

The class teaches more than just the physical acts of self defense. The two hour program is delivered in two parts. The first portion includes a presentation with videos, discussion and practical training students can use to avoid dangerous situations. The second phase is a more hands-on approach showing basic techniques on how to get free from an attacker and move to safety.

The class looks at situations that are common to everyone, and what students should observe in parking lots, at the ATM or even jogging. It also provides valuable information on things to do, and to avoid, while on a date or while driving.

Actual surveillance video from the Kelsey Smith abduction is used to show students just how real these dangers can be.

Neighbors admit his students may not leave his class with a warm-fuzzy feeling and makes no apology for that.

"They have that feeling of invincibility before they walk into my class, but I think that after they leave they feel that they are vulnerable and they start thinking about it," said Neighbors. "How long does that stay with them? I couldn't tell you for sure, but I think it does make an impact and gets them thinking about a lot of stuff we've learned since we were small children."

The Soldiers who deliver this seminar draw from years of military experience which easily translates to civilian world situations. Specifically, Neighbors uses lessons he learned while deployed to Iraq conducting convoy security operations and infuses them into his classroom. He points out that a lot of what the program is based on is purely common sense.

"A smart person can usually win a fight," said Neighbors.

To some, the National Guard may not appear to be the most obvious group to champion the cause of personal safety, but for Neighbors it is a perfect match. He said that the National Guard is a little different from other branches in the military because they are community based.

"I'm teaching in schools that my kids, and nieces and nephews go to, as well," said Neighbors. "I'm not just an Army recruiter that's been sent there from another part of the country teaching in these schools. It's something just like any other of our community outreaches that we do."

The free personal safety, violence prevention program is designed to provide students with valuable information so they are proactive when it comes to their own safety and wellbeing. It is available to every high school in Missouri, public or private, and easily fits in the health class curriculum of most schools.

For more information about scheduling the Situational Awareness program contact John Crane at 573-291-1299, or Sgt. 1st Class John Wolfmeyer at 573-634-2084.

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Truman High School freshman, Lindsey McClaran, practices a self-defense technique with Sgt. Jennifer Job. While presenting the Situational Awareness program, Sgt. 1st Class Jim Neighbors taught the knee, punch, kick combination to the 125 students that attended his classes. The Missouri Army National Guard has been presenting this program in high schools for nearly four years. (Photo by Jennifer Archdekin/Missouri National Guard)


Sgt. 1st Class Jim Neighbors works with Truman High School freshman, Lindsey McClaran, on her self-defense techniques. Over the course of two days, Neighbors brought to light some of the dangers students may encounter during their daily routine. The Missouri Army National Guard Situational Awareness program focuses on making students aware of their surroundings at all times. (Photo by Jennifer Archdekin/Missouri National Guard)

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