Ever sat in a Blackhawk helicopter? Or learn how to aim a Howitzer?

High school student Bella Ward-Steinman has.

“It’s definitely a learning experience,” said Ward-Steinman, one of 400 students who spent Thursday at Joint Base Lewis-McChord as guests of the Washington National Guard.

The guard hosted 400 students from nine Western Washington high schools, showing them the engineering and mechanics behind maintaining and operating the weapons and vehicles used by the guard.

It’s a recruiting tool, but not only for the military. Fifty private and public organizations from Boeing to the Port of Seattle helped advertise the event at high schools in an attempt to identify students who have interests in science, math, engineering, and technology, known as STEM.

“I would say it’s special to be around all of this equipment,” said Cascade High School senior James Ramirez, who wants to be a military pilot.

But Ward-Steinman has zero interest in joining the military.

She wants to be a forensic scientist or a veterinarian, and said what she experienced with the guard will motivate her to stay focused on a STEM career.

She was glad the guard opened up the event to everyone.

“They’re not trying to push us to sign up; they just want to educate us,” said Ward-Steinman.

Guard Captain Josh Brown said he hopes the students are inspired to serve their country, but that’s not the only reason for the field trip.

“It’s an opportunity for them to experience a different trade that whether in the guard or in the civilian world, they can take advantage of,” said Brown.