Three Bryan County teens – Allen Benton of Pembroke and Harold Anthony and Patrick Hayward, both of Richmond Hill – graduated June 18 from the National Guard Youth Challenge Academy program.
Benton, Anthony and Hayward attended the campus operated by the Georgia Army Guard at the Guard Garrison Training Center in Hinesville and were among the 215 YCA cadets of Class 2011-36 to complete the program. Commencement ceremonies for this latest group of graduates were held at the Macon City Auditorium before hundreds of families and friends from communities across the state.
During those ceremonies, Georgia Army Guard Brig. Gen. Larry Dudney, director of the joint staff, congratulated the estimated 25 members of Class 2011-36 who have chosen to join the military now that they have graduated. It was the biggest group of prospective enlistees he has seen come out of a YCA class in years, he said.
“No matter which branch service you’ve decided on, no matter how long you’ve chosen to serve,” Dudney told the cadets, “you have committed yourself to one of the greatest and oldest professions in the world…the profession of combat arms. Congratulations on the choice you have made. See it through, stay committed and become the leaders we know you can be.”
To entire class, he said, “Whether you enlist, go on to seek higher education or move directly into the job market, stand tall and be proud of who you are and what you have accomplished here today.”
The Georgia National Guard operates two Youth Challenge Academy campuses, the one at the garrison training center, and the other at Fort Gordon in Augusta. Between the two campuses, more than 10,000 former “at risk” teens to date have graduated from the Youth Challenge program. In March, Georgia celebrated the graduation of its 10,000th cadet since the program began here 18 years ago.
The estimated 22-week National Guard Challenge program is a preventive rather than remedial youth-at-risk program, for teens 16 to 18 years old who are unemployed, drug-free and law-free high-school dropouts.
Core components of the program are citizenship, academic excellence (GED attainment), life-coping skills, community service, health and hygiene, skills training, leadership followership and physical training. The five-month residential phase, which includes the Pre-Challenge phase, is followed by a year-long mentoring relationship with a specially trained member from each youth’s community.