Fort McCoy News June 27, 2014

Challenge Academy staff, cadets share experiences

STORY & PHOTO BY SCOTT T. STURKOL
Public Affairs Staff

Staff and cadets from the Wisconsin Challenge Academy (WCA) held a June 9 open house to share information and experiences with visitors.

Photo 1 for Challenge Academy article
Peter Blum of the Wisconsin Challenge Academy provides a briefing to attendees at the academy's open house.

Open house attendees were briefed on why the academy exists, and how beneficial it is to the youth who attend the training.

"The Challenge Academy is a non-combat mission of the Wisconsin National Guard," said Peter J. Blum, deputy director of admissions, recruitment and community relations for the academy. "Many people don't know about that affiliation with the Guard."

In 1993, Congress created the National Guard Youth Challenge Program, according to the WCA website. It is a civilian youth opportunities program and is authorized by the Secretary of Defense to use the National Guard Bureau to conduct the program for at-risk youth.

The Challenge Academy offers youth the opportunity to change the direction of their lives and develop the strength of character and life skills necessary to become successful, responsible citizens, according to Blum. The program begins with a 5 ½-month residential phase, followed by a one-year, post-residential phase that includes mentorship.

"This program works — it's about teaching children to learn the habit of choosing the harder right over the easier wrong," Blum said. "It's a voluntary program to give some of these at-risk children a chance."

Youth who attend the Challenge Academy must be between the ages of 16 years, 9 months, but not yet 19; be one or more years behind in high school credits, have been expelled or dropped out; be a citizen or legal resident of the United States and a resident of Wisconsin; be drug free; volunteer to attend; not be currently on parole or probation for anything other than juvenile status offenses; and not charged or convicted of a felony.

Blum said each cadet class can range between 150 to 170 students. Over the course of 5 ½ months, that can shrink as some leave the training. For example, the June 2014 class graduated 120 cadets.

"It's a demanding, structured program," Blum said, "and it's a real accomplishment for these cadets when they graduate."

During their stay at Fort McCoy, cadets are immersed in training called the "Eight Core Components of Challenge."

This training teaches cadets about leadership and followership, responsible citizenship, service to community, life-coping skills, physical fitness, health and hygiene, job skills and academic excellence.

"With leadership and followership, we put a strong emphasis on followership," Bloom said. "To be a good leader, you first have to be a good follower."

By graduation time, they feel like leaders, according to Cadet Javier Moreno of Madison, Wis.

"Before I came here (to the Challenge Academy), I was skipping school and doing things I shouldn't have been doing," Moreno said. "What I like about the academy is it's always about your (self) discipline. It's definitely made me a better person."
When asked where he might be in five years, Moreno said he hopes to be in the Marine Corps. "That's where I'm going to be," he said.

Cadet Alicia Pagel-Garcia of Rio, Wis., said she hopes to join the Navy and learn about nursing after graduation. She also wants to go to college. None of her aspirations would be that way, however, had she not done something to change her life.

"I was struggling and getting into trouble for so many things," Pagel-Garcia said. "Now I feel like I have succeeded as I will be getting my high school diploma. Coming to the academy really opened my eyes to new possibilities."

A new class of Challenge Academy cadets begins in July. Blum said they will continue their mission to give their cadets an opportunity "to become successful, responsible citizens."

For more information about the Challenge Academy, call 608-269-4605, email them at challenge@wisconsin.gov, or visit their website at www.challengeacademy.org.

(See related photos.)