I enjoyed living in the Soviet Union as a child. I was constantly busy with school and after-school activities, and could switch from one program to another without my parents worrying about the cost. The activities were free under the national Ready for Work and Defense (RWD) program.
The program was very popular. The Soviet government kept children busy by developing a variety of activities and teaching us how to enjoy and defend the society that it called the best in the world.
As a student in the late '70s and early '80s, I learned about warfare preparation in a mandatory class called primary military preparation. I was introduced to the use of firearms, civil defense awareness and self-defense tactics. I learned about chemical, biological and nuclear weapons as part of the RWD program. The classes helped me to develop survival and adaptation skills, including problem solving, discipline and self-sufficiency.
I went to school six days a week and had 10 years of education instead of 12, as in the United States. The military preparation lessons were mandated during ninth and 10th grades. I enjoyed these classes and learned a great deal.
The military preparation class was focused on enhancing patriotism and physical and psychological education. The class started with students standing in a school hall and saluting our military instructor. There were reading instructions, written and physical tests and hands-on training.
I learned how to properly put an anti-chemical gas mask on my own and somebody else's face in one minute; how to load and take apart a pistol and an AK-47 rifle with my eyes closed in 45 seconds; and how to shoot targets from standing, prone and running positions. Regular tests on timing and the proper use of defense equipment, such as throwing a wooden grenade as far as possible, were important. We also had competitions for the best target shooters and marathon runners.
I enjoyed traveling to different school districts and regional events and Olympics to compete. I was not always a winner, but as the old saying goes, "If you don't try, you won't know if you win." I wanted to take a chance.
During the Cold War era and the Soviet-Afghanistan war, the military preparation was a vital part of Soviet propaganda to preserve socialism in order to fight capitalism. Children were taught that our enemy is the United States of America, the biggest capitalist country in the world, where human rights were discriminated and violated.
The idea of the national RWD program was to build youths' bodies and minds, to be psychologically and physically fit. The Soviet schools taught us not to be afraid of death, but to look at our enemies with open eyes and protect our country.
A similar program must be developed in the United States. Because many teens think that it's cool to have a gun and kill innocent people, crime is on the rise and jails are overcrowded. They don't have proper training.
Schools and activities must focus on teaching discipline and respect for oneself and others, the ability to obey authority, physical and mental fitness, and, most important, the introduction to military preparation in order for youths to live more productive, responsible and self-sufficient lives.