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Face of Defense: Soldier Overcomes Life’s Setbacks

By Army Capt. Kyle Key
National Guard Professional Education Center

MUSCATATUCK URBAN TRAINING COMPLEX, Ind., March 15, 2012 – When Army Pvt. Travonce Marquiese Covey’s mother lost her job and wanted to protect him from the hardships that would entail, she sent him to live with an aunt in Ohio, interrupting his senior year at Helix Charter High School in La Mesa, Calif.

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Army Pvt. Travonce Marquiese Covey reads through questions during an online high school class at the National Guard Patriot Academy in Butlerville, Ind., Jan. 17, 2012. Covey earned an accredited high school diploma and reported to Fort Sill, Okla., for his advanced individual training. Courtesy photo

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

But when he arrived in Massillon, Ohio, and tried to enroll in the local high school, the school counselor told him many of his credits would not transfer, and he would have to repeat some of his junior year and his entire senior year.

That was the last thing Covey wanted.

Back in California, his mother had lost her home and lived on San Diego’s streets until she found refuge in a mission church. When Covey returned to visit his mother two years later, he was shocked at what had transpired in his absence.

“The church took her in and got her a room in a house so she could get back on her feet,” Covey said. “While I was away, she got really close to God. When we saw each other she said, ‘Look, I’ve found God, and I’m involved in this church.’ I didn’t believe her, because all her life she had been an atheist.”

Covey decided to stay in San Diego, moved into the mission house and became active in the church. But without a job, a high school diploma or a GED certificate, his prospects were dim.

One day, a man from the streets moved into the group home. “You’re really young to be here,” he told Covey. “This place is for ex-gang bangers, drug users and stuff. What are you doing here?”

Covey had never experimented with drugs and had little in common with the man, but they began talking. The man asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up.

“I want to work in law enforcement,” Covey answered.

“That’s good,” he told Covey. “I know a guy who can help you.” He pulled out a card from his wallet for an Army National Guard recruiter. “You go talk to this guy,” he said. “He can help you out with your future.”

Covey met with Army Sgt. 1st Class Lane H. Stack, a recruiter for Team Baja, which covers the southern portion of San Diego County. The first thing Stack asked Covey was whether he had a diploma. When he shook his head no, Stack told him it was OK and began to tell him about the Army National Guard’s Patriot Academy. He could attend after he enlisted and finished basic training, complete with active duty pay and benefits, and an opportunity to work online to get his high school diploma.

“And as soon as you graduate,” he added, “you can go to advanced individual training.”

Covey began the paperwork on the spot. Once he was cleared for enlistment at the San Diego Military Entrance Processing Station, he was transferred off the dropout rolls at Helix Charter High School and had a seat reserved at the National Guard Patriot Academy High School in Butlerville, Ind.

He left San Diego on June 20 and reported for basic training at Fort Jackson, S.C.

“Some of the guys at basic training had heard about the Patriot Academy,” Covey said. “I didn’t know much about it, because it is not well known. They were telling me that the physical training is really intense -- ‘It’s going to be hard. You’re not going to like it. You’re going to be gone for months at a time.’ So before I even got here I was like, ‘Aw man, this is really going to suck.’”

Covey stuck it out, graduated from basic, and arrived at the Patriot Academy in early September to see that some of the rumors were dead-on accurate and that things had stepped up a notch from basic training. Drill sergeants and cadre met him and his fellow enlistees as they stepped off the bus with more yelling, which soon evolved into more running and more pushups.

After his shock thawed, Covey said, he realized he had landed in a goldmine.

“I was like, ‘Wow, this is an incredible program,’” he said. “The entire staff are taking their time and working their hardest to help people like me and high school dropouts who don’t deserve a second chance. But here we are, so I just grabbed it for what it was and ran with it.”

Covey said he wasn’t sure what to expect academically. Helix Charter High School was one of the top-performing schools in San Diego County in 2009, and every class was designed for college preparation. The Patriot Academy looked like a school. Lockers lined the halls, period bells rang, students participated in sports, and the student body was a similar stew of jock, nerd, and prep stereotypes, he said. But as he soon learned, it was anything but an ordinary high school.

“We wake up at zero-five in the morning for physical training, and we all wear the exact same clothing,” Covey said. “That might be like some private high schools, but here it’s digital camouflage instead of ties and skirts.”

When soldiers complete their high school diploma requirements and have passed the Indiana Statewide Testing for Educational Progress examination, they run through the hallway and ring a bell from an old ship on the other end. Students take a moment and congratulate each other as they achieve these important milestones.

“We do formations for people who graduate,” Covey said. “Everyone goes around and shakes their hands. They get diplomas. We also have formations for soldiers who get awards or get promoted.”

After seven months of working on his diploma at the Patriot Academy, conducting military science training and community service, Covey was a changed man.

“It’s been hard being away from family,” Covey said. “I really appreciate all of the sacrifices everyone [at the Patriot Academy] has made for allowing me to get my high school diploma. The commandant and the sergeant major here really care about you, and the noncommissioned officers on post are really impressive.”

Covey increased his physical fitness score, became a leader and increased his proficiency as a National Guard soldier. “I credit that to all the staff that work here and my battle buddies in 1st Platoon,” he said.

Covey reported to Fort Sill, Okla., to learn his military occupational skill as a tactical data systems specialist in field artillery for the California Army National Guard.

After his advanced individual training, Covey said, he plans to earn a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and earn his commission as an officer through the ROTC program. Covey earned 15 college credits at the Patriot Academy and will earn more for his specialty training, getting him closer to his goal.

“The Patriot Academy is a great program,” he said. “I’m extremely thankful for this opportunity, and I’m looking forward to the rest of my life as a leader. I would recommend it to anyone who is looking not only for a career, but to finally tie up some loose ends in their lives as well.”

As for the mother on the other side of the country, Covey said she could not be more proud of her son.

“My mom was so excited and proud of me for graduating,” he said. “She tells everyone she knows that, ‘My son is defending our country. He’s in training right now, and sacrificing his time away from his family.’ Even though she misses me, she knows I have to do better myself and further my life so when I have a family later on, I can provide for them.”


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