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Face of Defense: Army Guard Recruit Seeks Better Life

By Army Capt. Kyle Key
National Guard Patriot Academy

SAN DIEGO, Dec. 7, 2010 – Daniel J. Sanchez woke up one morning and knew his day was going to be different than the one before, because it would be the last day he would wake up on a park bench or worry where his next meal would come from.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
California Army National Guard Pvt. Daniel J. Sanchez of Apple Valley, Calif., studies algebraic equations to prepare for his upcoming General Equivalency Diploma examination at the National Guard GED Plus Program at Camp Robinson in North Little Rock, Ark., Nov. 3, 2010. Sanchez failed math in high school but with help from the GED Plus tutors, he passed the math and algebra section and received his GED, Nov. 5, 2010. Army National Guard photo by Capt. Kyle Key

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

Sanchez's mother was only 17 when she gave birth to him. With no money, job or support, she put him up for adoption. His adoptive parents divorced when he was six and ping-ponged Sanchez for the next 11 years.

Even when things were good, Sanchez lived below poverty levels without running water or electricity in a trailer in Apple Valley, Calif.

When he turned 17, Sanchez's adoptive mother kicked him out of the house. He went into survival mode, dropped out of high school halfway through his senior year, and found one dead-end job after another to make ends meet.

Sanchez wandered from place to place, staying with friends, in shelters and under the stars.

According to the American Journal for Public Health, 1.5 million youth experience homelessness over the course of a year nationwide. In nearby Los Angeles County alone, there are currently an estimated 26,000 homeless youth.

After working as a ranch hand, Sanchez's adoptive father asked him to come to San Diego. Things didn't work out as he’d planned.

"It's just been really rough," Sanchez said. "My dad couldn't afford to have me in his house. I stayed at my sister's house, but it was the same situation."

Health problems and the economic downturn hit his family hard, forcing Sanchez to go it alone. He hit the streets again.

Determined to make a better life for himself, Sanchez called California Army National Guard recruiter Sgt. Arkadiy Knopov in Kearny Mesa in eastern San Diego.

"He was ecstatic when I confirmed everything that he read about GED [General Equivalency Diploma] Plus," Knopov said. "Part of the reason why I became his National Guard recruiter is because I want to help young individuals like Private Sanchez get on the right track in life."

Sanchez did his homework. Only the Army National Guard had a program to allow him to enlist, get full-time pay, benefits, housing and three square meals a day while going to school to earn his GED credentials.

"I wasn't taking him seriously at first," Sanchez said. "But when he told me there actually was a program like this, I really started to get into it."

Sanchez said the National Guard GED Plus Program at Camp Robinson in North Little Rock, Ark., sounded like an opportunity for him to support himself as a citizen and soldier. The resident program lasts from two to three weeks and prepares new recruits for the GED examination, administered at the end of the course. Upon successful completion, recruits depart for basic training.

Sanchez took the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery exam and scored a 78, well above average, allowing him to select fire support specialist as his military occupational specialty.

After passing a physical examination and completing paperwork, he raised his right hand and became Pvt. Daniel J. Sanchez, the newest recruit in the California Army National Guard. But his problems still weren't over.

"I was still living on the streets," Sanchez said. "Sergeant Knopov started working harder and went to extra lengths, from what I understand, to get me into the GED Plus Program as soon as possible."

Knopov worked quickly to get Sanchez’s orders published for Camp Robinson.

Sanchez said Knopov managed to get him shipped out within a couple of days instead of several months.

Sanchez and other recruits like him not only have a home in the National Guard program, but they have become part of something even greater, Army Sgt. Maj. Elizabeth Causby of the GED Plus program said.

"We're changing lives at the National Guard GED Plus Program," Causby said.

"It's not unusual for us to be a source of refuge for young adults facing hardship, adverse conditions or dangerous situations.

“These warriors,” she continued, “know the day they graduate that they have become a part of a huge family -- the National Guard family -- and we take care of our family."

Sanchez and 193 of his classmates graduated with GED credentials on Oct. 29. His graduating class was the largest since the program began in 2006.

Sanchez said he's grateful for a second chance at his education and a springboard for career opportunities and a better life.

"I want to make my recruiter proud, because he really, really helped me," he said. "I wasn't doing anything with my life. I haven't worked as hard as I could have throughout my life. I needed to get out of there. I needed to get my life straight.”

Sanchez reported to Fort Jackson, S.C., for basic training. He’ll move on to Fort Sill, Okla., for his advanced individual training as a fire support specialist.

When Sanchez returns, he has a mentor waiting for him back in Kearny Mesa.

"My work with him is far from over," Knopov said. "As a National Guard recruiting and retention non-commissioned officer, I am responsible for soldiers during their entire career, from the day I meet them for the first time until they day they leave the military.

"Private Sanchez and I made an agreement than when he completes his [training] he will use me as a 'go to' person to help him enroll in college and begin his journey towards higher education,” Knopov continued. “I see a lot of potential in this young individual."

Sanchez has big plans.

"It's good to know that I have a bright future ahead of me," he said. "Right now, I just really want to support myself."


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