News: California National Guard's Second Chance Success Stories
Story by Spc. Edward Siguenza
CAMP SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif.—Truthfully, there are those who could be dead right now had they not stepped forward to give the Grizzly Youth Academy a chance.
Ask Tyler [last name withheld]. A teenager in 2006, the Northern California resident verged on dropping out of school and "lacked respect for any authority." He admitted abusing alcohol and marijuana, leading to a strained relationship with his parents.
Ask Mac [last name withheld]. He dropped out of high school last year. He began "hanging out with the wrong people" and eventually strayed from loved ones. Ahead of him, he says, was nothing but trouble.
Ask Adriana [last name withheld]. Just 16 years young and the middle of three siblings, the Central California resident disconnected with those at home; Father, brother and sister, and especially her mom. What happened at home, according to her, paved a way to troubles elsewhere.
"The biggest thing for me was I wanted to get away from the environment at home," she said.
Awaiting her was the destructive road that millions of teens travel each year. Tyler, Mac and Adriana were to add to the public statistic of uneducated teens without jobs or careers. Within reach were more problems—troubles with the law, possible incarceration, even potential death.
But something positive happened: A change for the better. Each has different stories of how they were introduced to the California National Guard's heralded youth program. Each credits the Grizzly Youth Academy for a life-turning step.
"I just didn't want to go down that road. I had to change," said Mac, 19, a Southern California resident and graduate of Grizzly Class 26. "Did this change my life? Most definitely, this showed me I can be successful."
Mac and Adriana are products of a Graduate Recognition and Internship Program (GRIP) where previous cadets are invited back to mentor current cadets. They share their experiences and guide others through the process.
"They teach you a lot here," said Adriana. "There are all types of opportunities you get with this program. You learn to cooperate with others. You'll do things you'll never do at home."
Sergeant 1st Class (CA) Manuel Razo, a Grizzly platoon sergeant, initiated GRIP to enhance the program. For years he had seen cadets emerge from troublesome, at-risk students to respectable leaders. But to impact the already-successful Grizzly program even further, Razo implement a student-type of leadership.
"It's by invitation only. Those whom we feel will be leaders to the next class will be asked to return," said Razo. "If you want to make a change in someone's life, this is the spot. I've been in the [Federal Bureau of Prisons] system for 25 years, but this is it. The Grizzly program is the elite."
The GRIPs don special uniforms, identifying themselves differently. To earn the uniform, Mac and Adriana distinguished themselves as top graduates when their program ended June 2011.
"Everyone here really cares about your success. I do my best to let these guys know that," Mac said. The physical part isn't the hardest. The hardest is mental. In the first two weeks, they try to break you down to see if you can make it the next 20 weeks."
Some former cadets have gone on to respectable careers. Christopher Espinosa is now Hispanic Federation’s director of advocacy in Washington, D.C.; Brian Seda now serves with the California Sheriff's Department; Carrie S. Garlick now serves in the U.S. Coast Guard; Kevin Dinnel, Grizzly Class 14 valedictorian, now serves in the U.S. Army.
As for Adriana, she earned high school credits through the Grizzly and will soon head to San Luis Obispo's Cuesta College. She hopes to be a nurse. The Grizzly put her on a positive career path, but there was something more important that she earned.
"My mom. We finally connected. We talk now. We're bonded," Adriana said, glowing with each word. "We turned a new leaf. The past is past. We started a new direction."