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MAUSTON, Wis. - The 33rd class of the Wisconsin National Guard's Challenge Academy celebrated its graduation at Mauston High School Dec. 20.

A testament to the "challenge" aspect of Challenge Academy, 107 of the 169 at-risk teenagers - 63 percent - who began the course July 24 walked across the stage to receive their diplomas.

The Challenge Academy is designed to help troubled youth get back on the road to success. They are placed in a military environment and given leadership opportunities to instill discipline.

The transition is difficult for the cadets, but as distinguished honor graduate Cadet Ernesto Green said during the graduation ceremony, "The one thing that helped us all succeed at the academy was being resilient."

Green compared two particular phone calls that the cadets made to their families, the first and the last.

"Think about that first call home and how much more you missed home after hearing your loved ones voices," he said. "Now think about last Sunday's phone call. Think about the level of confidence and determination you had when you told your families what your goals were after graduation."

That separation, he said, taught them about resiliency.

Ryan Mussack, Green's Challenge Academy mentor, is proud of Green's accomplishments.

"It's amazing, the things that he's done - from the struggles that he's been through to becoming the distinguished honor graduate," Mussack said.

Green also provided some advice to future Challenge Academy cadets.

"The program is only as hard as you make it so just give it your all and stay positive."

The Challenge Academy program combines a rigorous physical training regimen with community service and military and academic discipline. As graduates, each alumnus will continue to maintain contact with a mentor during the 12-month post-residential phase. More than 2,800 Wisconsin teenagers have completed the program since its inception.

The Wisconsin National Guard Challenge Academy, located at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin, is for Wisconsin youth between the ages of 16 and 18 only. For more information, contact Challenge Academy Admissions at (608) 269-4605.