Challenge Academy candidates transition from kids to cadetsAugust 10, 2012
By Capt. Michelle Baer
Wisconsin Army National Guard
For Sabrina Kerr of Fort Atkinson, Wis., the challenge in the Wisconsin National Guard's Challenge Academy program at Fort McCoy came early.
Like other at-risk 16-to-18-year-olds, Kerr agreed to submit to a structured, military-style environment, where state-certified teachers and counselors build participants' academic abilities, character, self-confidence and personal discipline. She exceeded the cadre's expectations during the first 10 days, but struggled with homesickness and left the program three times during the second week.
A-Day, or Acceptance Day, is when Challenge Academy candidates have to make a choice - tough it out, take the oath and become a cadet, or go home.
"They are busy today transforming themselves from candidates to cadets," Peter Blum, Challenge Academy acting director, said Aug. 3, the Acceptance Day for Class 29 candidates. "We are evaluating the candidate's performance within the first two weeks. If they don't conduct themselves like they want to be here, then we ask them to leave."
Kerr was not alone in struggling with being away from family and friends, along with the total change in daily routines or withdrawal from bad habits. She acknowledged that her lifestyle before attending Challenge Academy involved staying up all night, sleeping all day and eating junk food.
"I knew I had to stay," she said. "I wanted to change and go to college. I wanted to be sober and have a relationship with my mom.
Kerr admitted that it was challenging to accept the regimented schedule and the culture shock that comes with building a different lifestyle.
"You have to push yourself through it," she said.
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Wisconsin National Guard Challenge Academy candidates take the oath and become cadets during the Aug. 3 A-Day ceremony at Fort McCoy, Wis. Wisconsin National Guard photo by Capt. Michelle Baer
Wisconsin National Guard Challenge Academy cadre prepare candidates to become cadets during the Aug. 3 A-Day ceremony at Fort McCoy, Wis. Wisconsin National Guard photo by Capt. Michelle Baer
Wisconsin National Guard Challenge Academy cadre issue cadets equipment needed for the remaining weeks of the residential phase following the Aug. 3 A-Day ceremony at Fort McCoy, Wis. Wisconsin National Guard photo by Capt. Michelle Baer
"Here, I mean something to somebody, and everybody means something to me," he said. "We help each other with everything."
Kerr said that part of succeeding at Challenge Academy is being able to work past the emotional hardships that will arise from being away from home and learning to make better life choices.
"But I am a strong person, and I can do it," she said. "And that is why I am still here. I feel proud to be here."
"I know that this is who I am going to become for the rest of my life," Beoisle said. "It feels good to have the acceptance of my family. Through this program, I can turn my life around and head in the right direction."
After graduating from the 22-week residential phase of academy training, cadets are paired with hometown mentors who offer guidance and encouragement in pursuing their new direction in life.