MUSCATATUCK URBAN TRAINING CENTER, Ind. (Army News Service, Aug. 27, 2009) -- Only months ago, four dozen high-school dropouts from around the country faced a bleak future and limited opportunities in the work force. Now they are Soldiers at the Patriot Academy, on their way to earning their high-school diplomas and credits toward a college degree.

The Patriot Academy grants newly enlisted National Guard Soldiers the chance to get their high-school diplomas -- not GED certificates -- while in a military environment and receiving full-time military pay and benefits.

The academy held its official dedication ceremony Wednesday outside its newly renovated schoolhouse at the Muscatatuck Urban Training Facility in Butlerville, Ind. The dedication was attended by dozens of dignitaries from across the country, as well as Indiana Rep. Barron Hill and Indiana Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman.

The first class actually started in July with 47 students from 16 different states.

"Our mission is, quite simply, to educate these young men... to become the best citizen-Soldiers in the National Guard," said Col. Perry Sarver, commandant of the academy. "The Patriot Academy can be described in two words: second chance."

Students at the school enlist in the National Guard and attend basic training before coming to the academy and all have 10 or fewer high-school credit hours to complete. The school also offers several dual-enrollment college courses that will result in college credits for the students.

Applicants to the Patriot Academy must meet several qualifications to include a score of at least 50 on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test, must be out of school for at least 6 months, have no dependents and be between the ages of 17 and 20. They must also be in good health and physical condition. No applicant will be considered requiring moral waivers such as felonies, drug use, etc.

The academy is a nine-month resident program at Muscatatuck Urban Training Center, near Butlerville, Ind., where students are issued laptops for access to online classes are tailored for each student to complete their degree requirements.

Students receive dual high school and college credit for senior level courses and are encouraged to enroll in additional college-level courses upon completion of their high school degree requirements.

The National Guard Patriot Academy was the idea of retired Lt. Gen. Clyde A. Vaughn, the former director of the Army National Guard, to provide qualified high-school age youths the opportunity to earn their diplomas as active-duty Soldiers.

"(This program) is an investment in our most precious resource," said Vaughn. He said it was a great opportunity to help the youth of America while defending American's freedoms.

Patriot Academy Commandant Col. Perry Wilson Sarver Jr. said the students are not considered social delinquents or at-risk students. Some students may have quit high school because of family illnesses, hardships and others because priorities were in the wrong place.

"This program is about second chances," said Sarver. "It's a do-over. You don't get many of those in life," he said. "These students are not only getting the opportunity to get a high school diploma, they are getting additional military training and opportunities to give back to the community as well. We are preparing Soldiers to be well-rounded professionally, mentally and physically."

"I've been here three weeks, going on four, and I've already finished two classes," said Pvt. Derrick Morris, a native of Detroit.

"For the military to offer a second chance, I think it's wonderful," Morris said.

In addition to completing high school and college classes, the students have regular military skills training and a strenuous physical fitness regimen six days a week.

According to 1st Sgt. James Duncan, the training is intensive and gives the students a better grasp on Soldier skills while they receive their education.

"It creates a higher echelon of private, which in turn will result in better (noncommissioned officers)," said Duncan. "When Soldiers leaves here, they'll have an experience level that would take two to three years to accomplish as a traditional Soldier."

Despite the tough training regimen, Duncan stressed that Patriot Academy wasn't basic training all over again. The students are self-sustaining, with their own leadership structure and coordination. The students live in a modern, college-style dormitory with spacious rooms, computer labs and internet connections in every living space.

Duncan said they actually patterned the training after Army NCO schools like Warrior Leader Course and the Basic Noncommissioned Officer Course.

Another focus of the program is the students' activities within the local community around Muscatatuck. Students are required to complete at least eight hours in a community service program of their choice, but they're encouraged to do more.

"The end result benefits everyone: the state, the unit and the individual," said Sarver. He spoke about how he hoped that students - upon arriving at their advanced individual training sites - would be far ahead of the Soldiers just out of basic training. He said he's certain this will benefit the Guard as a whole.

The Patriot Academy is a pilot program, but National Guard Bureau officials are confident in the potential of the school. The program is expected to grow each year, to a maximum of 500 students by 2011.

The National Guard, through the Patriot Academy, strives to take individuals who have made a mistake, who are down on their luck and who need help, and give them a chance to be something, to better themselves and to serve their nation.

"You can't quit at 17," said Maj. Gen. Raymond W. Carpenter, acting director of the Army National Guard, during a speech at the ribbon-cutting ceremony. "There's so much more to the story."

Carpenter stressed how he had so many great things in his life after that point and couldn't fathom giving up at such a young age and how great it was to give students another chance at success.

The school is located in a former school house recently renovated by local contractors. Construction of the Patriot Academy began in the fall of 2008.

The National Guard is also helping to reduce the growing number of high school drop outs by encouraging students to stay in school and pursue career opportunities through its Partnership In Education program. Patriot Academy Command Sgt. Maj. Judy Macy said the best place for students is indeed in a traditional high school.

"We want the students to stay in their communities enrolled and active in their local high schools," said Macy. "They are best served when surrounded by their peers, teachers, family and other support networks."

For those who do drop out, the Patriot Academy provides them a new start, said Macy. "They're righting a wrong from quitting high school, they can continue on with college courses, improve on military training and learn valuable life skills. All this along with service to the community builds a sense of confidence that they've never had before."

Families of Patriot Academy Soldiers are seeing the change. Don Vance, father of Pvt. Michael Vance, said he's more than proud of his son.

"It's the best thing that's ever happened to him in his life," said Vance. "His brother committed suicide and Michael was lost. I saw a kid that was headed to prison. Now, he has turned his whole life around and he's headed for a bright future in life and the Army National Guard."

(1st Lt. Kyle Key serves with the National Guard Bureau and Spc. Austin Hurt writes for Indiana Joint Forces Headquarters Public Affairs)

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16