FORT MCCOY, Wis. — Seventy-nine cadets graduated as Class 46 from the Wisconsin National Guard Challenge Academy in a ceremony at Fort McCoy, Wis., June 5.
The Challenge Academy re-shapes the lives of at-risk 16-to-18-year-olds by using a structured, military-style environment and state-certified teachers and counselors to build cadets’ academic abilities, character, self-confidence, and personal discipline.
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.
As they graduated, Cadet Robert Savage of Tomah, Wis., the distinguished honor graduate for Class 46, reminded his fellow cadets of where they were when they started and what they have overcome.
“Whatever your obstacle was, hold tight to that, because you overcame that,” Savage said. “Maybe you had help, but something was developed in you so you could overcome that obstacle. Though this seems to be the end, realize that this is just the beginning.”
He outlined how the graduates had to adjust throughout their training in order to grow and succeed.
Scott Pavlock, the Wisconsin National Guard Challenge Academy director, also highlighted the graduates’ growth.
“We taught you how to do basic life skills,” Pavlock said. “We gave you discipline – little simple things like marching, accountability, responsibility for your actions. We taught you to tell the truth, a stage called integrity.
“We taught you about courage,” Pavlock continued. “Courage is when not to fight. It’s not that you can fight. It’s not that you’re the toughest guy or girl on the block. It’s that you know a way around that fighting and you use your mind and your mouth or your silence to avoid fighting and harming others. That’s courage. Honor. Do what’s right, legally and morally. Don’t do what’s right because you might get caught or not get caught.”
He encouraged the graduates to continue on the right path, to take their second chance, and fulfill the commitments they made to earn their GED or High School Equivalency Diploma.
Gov. Tony Evers congratulated the cadets in a video message played during the ceremony.
“I know that the past year was a challenging one beyond anything we could have imagined, but I know I speak for all your family, friends, and loved ones when I say we are all proud of you,” Evers said. “You stayed flexible, resilient, and steadfast in your dedication to developing new leadership and job skills, to your education, to growing your skills in service to your community, and building on your health to be the best you can be.”
He encouraged the cadets to remember their experiences and the lessons learned during their time at the Challenge Academy. Maj. Gen. Paul Knapp, Wisconsin’s adjutant general, echoed that sentiment.
“Graduating from this program is a testament to your inner strength, discipline, and courage to face challenges and overcome obstacles,” Knapp said. “The lessons you learned here will be with you for the rest of your lives.”
Knapp also emphasized the transition the cadets face as they return home to their lives.
“Your next step is the most important one to date,” Knapp said. “You have a chance for a fresh start and as you leave here today, you control your own destiny.”The mission at the Challenge Academy is to offer cadets the opportunity to develop the strength of character and the life-skills necessary to become successful, responsible citizens. During their time at the academy, cadets completed 5,079 hours of community service, averaging more than 64 hours per cadet, with many projects focused on improving Fort McCoy. The next class is scheduled to begin in late July.