FORT BRAGG, N.C. (Feb. 1, 2013) -- About 150 teens converged on Fort Bragg the week of Jan. 21. They were part of the Tarheel ChalleNGe Academy and came to town to try their hand at the grueling, pre-Ranger course that is part of their curriculum. Visiting Fort Bragg is one of the first phases of this five and a half-month program designed for high school dropouts, to improve their life-coping skills and employment opportunities.The Tarheel ChalleNGe Academy located in Salemburg, N.C., has been in operation since 1994 and it teaches at-risk North Carolina youth about responsibility and discipline and gives them the opportunity to get on the right track and earn a GED. The program is sponsored by the N.C. National Guard and is funded by state and federal governments."Our motto is 'added value to North Carolina teen -- one youth at a time.' Basically, we give them the opportunity to turn their lives around," said Melvin Williamson, retired military and program coordinator who has been with the organization for 17 years.The course was originally scheduled to run from Jan. 21 to 24, but the last day was cancelled due to inclement weather. Earlier in the week, the group worker on par with Army physical training regimens.
Similar to a scaled-down boot camp, the week's agenda featured squad drills, leadership classes, physical training, a team assault course, land navigation, the jump tower and three obstacle courses. The teens were divided into three groups -- two male and one female group."It was definitely fun and challenging, the cargo net was the hardest for me," said Aleksander Ernest, 18, of Greensboro, N.C.The course was designed for the Ranger buddy system, meaning cadets had to rely on each other while improving their leadership skills under stress (including lack of sleep, weather fluctuations and fatigue). Hardship and stress notwithstanding, some enjoyed it."I love it here at Fort Bragg, I was ready to do it (the obstacle course). I accomplished everything, and would do it again," said Alex Higgs, 16, of Wilson, N.C.(Editor's note: Staff Sgt. Nancy Lugo, 82nd Airborne Division PAO, contributed to this article.)