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'At-Risk' Youth Complete Phase I of ChalleNGe Program

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

FORT RICHARDSON, Alaska, Sept. 3, 2005 – Sept. 2 was a very special day for 85 Alaska Military Youth Academy cadets as they received diplomas for completing the five-and-a-half month residential portion of the academy's Youth ChalleNGe program.

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Cadets of the 2005-1 class graduated from the Alaska Military Youth Academy's Youth ChalleNGe program Sept. 2 at Fort Richardson in Anchorage, Alaska. The 85 cadets completed the five-and-a-half month residential program and now must complete the 12- to 14-month post-residential mentoring program. DoD photo by Samantha L. Quigley

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Cadet Roy Sanders, 17, described the ceremony, held at Buckner Physical Fitness Center at Fort Richardson in Anchorage, Alaska, as bittersweet.

"It's a very, very beneficial thing to have," Sanders said. "I hated (the program). I hated it throughout the whole cycle. I've hated it until now. Now when I realize how good it's been for me. It's just a bittersweet thing."

Before he entered the program, Sanders said he was skipping school and had fallen in with the wrong crowd--a common thread for many of the cadets. Still others, like Cadet Tiffany Sloan, 17, added issues with parents to the reasons they voluntarily entered the academy's program that has a distinct military flavor.

"Me and my mom were having problems and she heard (about the ChalleNGe) from a friend and she said, 'Well, why don't you go here and that way you don't have to finish high school and you can get your diploma through there?'" Sloan said. She decided to go through the interview process, determining that the ChalleNGe might help her decide whether she wanted to join the military.

As it turns out, Sloan will leave for basic training for the Army National Guard in January. And now that she's completed ChalleNGe, she's convinced she's ready to face just about anything, she said.

"I feel accomplished," Sloan said. "I made something of my life."

Even as a congratulatory letter from Alaska's governor and his wife was being read and Anchorage's mayor was commending the cadets on their achievements, they realized that they had learned many lessons.

A spokeswoman for Alaska's program, Rosey Fletcher, also an Olympic snowboarder, pointed out that throughout her life, she , too, learned some of the same lessons the cadets learned during their Alaska Military Youth Academy experience.

"If we set our minds to it, we can accomplish anything," Fletcher said.

Some cadets learned that when they finished a one-mile run for the first time on the day Fletcher visited the camp to experience a "day-in-the-life" of a cadet.

"I'm really proud of you for finishing that mile," she told the cadets during the ceremony. "There'll be many more miles and many more finish lines."

The cadets realize they have one of those miles immediately ahead of them: another 12 months before they're really finished with the program.

The post-residential mentoring phase helps cement what the program has taught. Edward Wicher, AMYA's director of admissions and records, said that although the Alaska program is award-winning, it's the cadets who deserve most of the credit. They put in a lot of hard work to turn their lives around during the residential phase, he said.

In the end, the success is measured by how a cadet grows from the time he or she enters the ChalleNge through graduation day. Officials say they see the difference in their education, physical fitness, self-discipline and the way they learn to make positive choices and give back to the community.

Tatyana Terskaya she went from being a kid who didn't go to school and didn't like teachers to someone who has found a purpose in life.

She learned to "respect people," including herself, she said. But she also completed her General Equivalency Exam and has a job in downtown Anchorage. What comes next, she's not quite sure, but at 17, she's got some time to figure it out.

Although bittersweet about completing this portion of the ChalleNGe, the cadets stepped forward with military precision to collect their diplomas. Many let their guards down long enough to hug those who had demanded so much of them.

Then it was time for the traditional cap, or in this case, beret, toss.

"Every graduation is emotional," Wicher said. "I'm absolutely thrilled. I'm so proud of them that a couple of them I didn't want to let go."

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Related Sites:
Alaska National Guard
Alaska Military Youth Academy

Related Articles:
Alaska Youth Program Gives 'At-Risk' Students Chance

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