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Embracing the challenge

November 24, 2014
By Cadet Jeremy Harris

Editor’s Note: Cadet Jeremy Harris is part of Class 33 of the Wisconsin National Guard Challenge Academy at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin. Harris and the rest of Class 33 will graduate from the Challenge Academy on Dec. 20.

My name is Jeremy Harris. I am a cadet at the Wisconsin National Guard Challenge Academy.

Each cadet is here for a different reason. Some are here to break their negative habits and others are here for their education. The reason I am here is to earn my High School Equivalency Diploma and change my habits of always taking the easier way out of things instead of working hard for what I want. So far I am making the change that I want to see. I made it onto the Academic Honor Roll and was even awarded an academic excellence pin. My next and most current goal is to earn the rank of senior cadet.

The Challenge Academy is a two-phase program that takes place over a period of 17 months. The first phase is the residential phase, which is 5 1/2 months in a disciplined and structured quasi-military environment that focuses on eight core components. These eight core components are academic excellence, physical fitness, leadership/followership, health and hygiene, life-coping skills, responsible citizenship, job skills and service to community.

Day one began with roughly 160 candidates arriving at Fort McCoy with their nervous faces. They had turned in their personal belongings and were leaving their parents for 5 1/2 months, unable to speak with them for two weeks. Those two weeks were the hardest two weeks of my life as they were for many others as well. At the end of those two weeks, we had what was called A-Day (Acceptance Day). A-Day was where the whole candidate corps gathered into a building, and took the oath to become a cadet.

After A-Day, we were finally able to start school. Cadets were so relieved. Many told the team leaders that they had never been so excited and ready for school to begin. The academy is geared toward success, which is why the instructors start school at the lowest level. They do that so the cadets that struggled in school are brought up to speed on anything they have not learned. If the instructors think that you are ready, they will start scheduling GED tests.

You change so much at the challenge academy. Every cadet goes to a character development class. This class is instructed by each platoon’s counselor and resembles a high-school health class. In this class, we discuss and study a variety of topics –relationships, drugs, common-courtesies, sexual education, careers, schooling, our futures, etc. We also learn how to work as a team when we go to our weekly platoon development class.

The academy is the best place for every one of these kids to be, but you need to put in the effort to succeed. Like I said earlier, more than 160 candidates showed up, and only 110 are still here. The cadets who truly wanted to improve their lives made the choice to embrace the academy’s standards. When you embrace the challenge academy’s standards, others will notice, and you will too.

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Finding my self-worth

By Cadet Autumn Tischer
2014-11-20 12 40 44

Editor’s Note: Cadet Autumn Tischer is part of Class 33 of the Wisconsin National Guard Challenge Academy at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin. Tischer and the rest of Class 33 will graduate from the Challenge Academy on Dec. 20.

I have always been the kind of person who was afraid of change – whether it is kicking a bad habit, or getting a new teacher, change was always an uncomfortable thing for me. Almost four months ago, I would have never thought I would have accomplished all the things that I have so far. I made the greatest change for my future by coming to the Wisconsin National Guard Challenge Academy.

When I first arrived at the academy on July 24, 2014, I did not think I would make it this far into the program. Pre-Challenge was the hardest part of the program. My mental and emotional limits were tested daily for two weeks. On top of having a team leader in your face for most of those two weeks, I along with the all the other candidates were not allowed to contact family or friends over the phone – only through letters. Along with not being able to hear our family’s voices for two weeks, we also weren’t allowed to talk to each other as part of being taught self-discipline.

As the program has progressed, I have grown and learned many new things. I have learned that I don’t have to go it alone, and that I can succeed in life as long as I try. Before coming here, I had little to no self-esteem or self-worth. After rappelling and doing so many other activities that challenge me, I have learned I am strong, and I can conquer virtually anything as long as I put my mind to it. All of the things I have accomplished since coming to the Challenge Academy have made me a stronger and more confident person.

Most people who hear of the Challenge Academy think of it to be some sort of “hard core boot camp,” but it is not that at all. While the Academy may be a military-based program that involves quite a bit of physical training, the main goal of the program isn’t to turn you into what some people would call a “robot.”

During the 22-week residential phase of the program, I’ve been taught discipline, integrity, courage, honor, and commitment. None of that would be possible without the inspirational staff here. The cadre and instructors are the ones that are with us day in and day out. Without their support and pushing us to be the best that we can be I would have never made it as far as I have into the program.

In my short seventeen years I haven’t really had that much support other than from my mom. I was used to having people turn their backs on me, but the cadre and instructors are always there to catch a cadet when they fall and help them to figure out how to put the pieces back together.

With only five weeks left in the residential phase of the program, I hope to continue to grow and learn from my mistakes and become a confident and responsible citizen. I am grateful for all that I have been taught, and for all that I have achieved so far. Without coming here I don’t think I would have found my self-worth or have such a successful future to look forward to. During the twelve-month post-residential phase of the program I will continue my education and will be enlisting in the military after I graduate from my high school.