CLAY NATIONAL GUARD CENTER, Marietta — Six Liberty County teens graduated Saturday, June 18 from the National Guard Youth ChalleNGe program.
The class 2011 completed the program at the campus operated by the Georgia Army Guard at the Guard Garrison Training Center in Hinesville.
DeJohnte Capers of Midway; Dillon Saylor of Allenhurst; and Dusty Payne, Markiveon Carter, Neftaly Saleh and Trevon Bacon, all of Hinesville, are among the 215 YCA cadets that composed the program’s 36th graduating class. Commencement ceremonies, which were held at the Macon City Auditorium, drew hundreds of family members and friends from across the state.
Georgia Army Guard Brig. Gen. Larry Dudney, director of the joint staff, congratulated the 25 graduates who have chosen to join the military. 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 of 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 the 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.”
State Rep. Barbara Massey Reece, D-Menlo, delivered the commencement address, telling the cadets she knew of no better way to spend a weekend than among those who had just completed one of the best youth programs in the state or the nation.
“You have worked, played, learned and — at times — even cried together,” Reece told the graduates, “but you stuck with it, saw it through to this day, and because of that, you’re better prepared to meet life’s challenges. If you’ve learned anything at all, you have learned not to be afraid to stop, re-evaluate your situation and ask for help when needed.”
The Georgia National Guard operates two Youth ChalleNGe Academy campuses — one at the garrison training center and one at Fort Gordon in Augusta.
Between the two campuses, more than 10,000 former “at-risk” teens have graduated from the Youth ChalleNGe program. In March, Georgia celebrated the graduation of its 10,000th cadet since the program began 18 years ago.
The estimated 22-week National Guard ChalleNGe program is a preventive rather than remedial youth-at-risk program for 16- to 18-year-olds who are unemployed, drug-free high-school dropouts with no criminal past.
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 is followed by a year-long mentoring relationship with a trained member from each youth’s community.