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.