Academy Offers Soldiers Second Chance at Diploma
By Army Sgt. Robert G. Cooper III
Special to American Forces Press Service
MUSCATATUCK URBAN TRAINING CENTER, Ind., Aug. 27, 2009 Army National Guard leaders from around the country converged on this remote training center yesterday for the dedication of the National Guard's first and only academy designed to help soldiers receive their high school diplomas.
Distinguished guests cut the ribbon during the dedication ceremony of the National Guard Patriot Academy at the Muscatatuck Urban Training Center in Indiana, Aug. 26, 2009. The academy enables high school dropouts to earn their high school diploma while serving in the Army National Guard. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Robert G. Cooper III
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
The Patriot Academy is a National Guard Bureau initiative allowing high school dropouts ages 17 through 20 a second opportunity to earn their diploma.
Currently, 47 students from 16 states are attending the academy, which is staffed by a full-time cadre of active duty National Guardsmen.
"The Patriot Academy can be described in two words: ‘second chance,’" said Army Col. Perry Sarver Jr., the academy's commandant. "These soldiers are here because they have unfinished business, and they are getting a second chance to right a wrong. These young men have started down a path that will change their lives forever."
The nine-month program was launched last June under the guidance of now-retired Army Lt. Gen. Clyde A. Vaughn, then the Army National Guard director, for high school dropouts who weren't able to finish high school for reasons other than disciplinary or legal.
Students first attend basic training prior to arriving here, and then move on to their advanced individual training after receiving their diploma.
Although the first class consists of all men, the academy will be tailored to accommodate coed students in the future.
"Our mission is, very simply, to educate and train these young men to become the best citizen-soldiers in the Army National Guard," Sarver said.
While at the academy, the student-soldiers receive a nationally accredited diploma through online courses offered through Liberty University.
While Army initiatives are designed to award GED certificates to its students, the Patriot Academy is the only program that offers a diploma.
Vaughn said the Patriot Academy is an investment in the Army's most precious asset.
"It's a work force that's not going to be available if we don't get it right," he said. "It's someone that's not going to reach their full potential if we don't get that diploma early enough. We depend on this organization right here in this state to get it right."
In addition to academics, the students are required to attend Army training and accomplish community service projects around Indiana’s Jennings County.
"The academy will be strengthening the connection of each student-soldier with that community service they provide," said Indiana Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman. "The culture of service has never been more important to our state and our nation. It's my hope that the graduates of this program return home with a real understanding of what it means to be a good neighbor as well as what it means to be a good soldier."
One student-soldier attending the academy, Army Pvt. Ismael Ramirez Jr., said the academy has given him a chance to serve and to accomplish something he never thought he could.
A native of Roanoke, Texas, Ramirez was unable to receive his diploma because Texas law requires high school students to pass a qualifications exam. "I had the credits I needed, but I didn't pass the final exam, so I wasn't issued a diploma," he said.
After speaking with a recruiter and learning about the academy, Ramirez said that he wanted to join just because of the diploma program.
"Just the fact that I could get a high school diploma rather than a GED sounded better to me," he said. "It just makes me feel and sound like I've completed my school. Like our sergeant major once told us, we're not going to get this chance again. If you get the opportunity to come to the Patriot Academy to have your second chance, you actually get paid to go to school and learn new things.
"When it's all said and done, you walk out of here with extra knowledge,” he said. “You walk out of here stronger."
(Army Sgt. Robert G. Cooper III serves in the Indiana National Guard.)