News: California soldier overcomes recession’s impact
Story by Capt. Kyle Key
MUSCATATUCK URBAN TRAINING COMPLEX, Ind. –Pvt. Travonce Marquiese Covey suffered the misfortune of having his senior year at Helix Charter High School in La Mesa, Calif., interrupted when his mom lost her job. Trying to protect her son from seeing the subsequent struggle and potential to lose everything, Mom sent him to live with an aunt in Ohio.
Covey arrived in Massillon, Ohio, and tried to enroll in the local high school. While his mother wanted him to earn his diploma, the school counselor told him many of his credits would not transfer and he would have to repeat some of his junior and entire senior years. That was the last thing Covey wanted.
Back in California, Mom had lost her home and was living on the streets of San Diego. Fortunately, she found refuge in a local mission church. When Covey returned to visit his mother two years later, he was shocked at what had transpired in his absence.
“The church took her in and got her a room in a house so she could get back on her feet,” Covey said. “While I was away, she got really close to God. When we saw each other she said, ‘Look, I’ve found God and I’m involved in this church.’ I didn’t believe her because all her life she had been an atheist.”
Covey decided to stay in San Diego and moved into the mission house with his mom and became very active in the church. Still, without a job, high school diploma or GED, his future prospects were very dim.
One day, a man from the streets moved into the group home. He said to Covey, “You’re really young to be here. This place is for ex-gang bangers, drug users and stuff. What are you doing here?”
Covey had never experimented with drugs and had little in common with the guy, but they began talking. The man asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up.
“I want to work in law enforcement,” Covey answered.
“That’s good,” he told Covey. “I know a guy who can help you” and pulled out a card from his wallet for an Army National Guard Recruiter. “You go talk to this guy,” he said. “He can help you out with your future.”
Covey took his advice and met with Sgt. First Class Lane H. Stack, a recruiter for Team Baja, which covers the southern portion of San Diego County.
The first thing Stack asked Covey was if he had a diploma. When he shook his head no, Stack told him it was okay and began to tell him about the Army National Guard’s Patriot Academy he could attend after he enlisted and finished basic training, complete with active duty pay and benefits, and an opportunity to work online to get his high school diploma. He added, “And as soon as you graduate, you can go to advanced individual training.”
Covey enthusiastically told Stack to sign him up and began the paperwork on the spot. Once he was cleared for enlistment at the San Diego Military Entrance Processing Station, he was transferred off the dropout roll at Helix Charter High School and had a seat reserved at the National Guard Patriot Academy High School in Butlerville, Ind.
Covey left the San Diego MEPS, June 20, 2011, and reported for basic training at Fort Jackson, S.C. “Some of the guys at basic training had heard about the Patriot Academy,” said Covey, “I didn’t know much about it because it is not well known. They were telling me that the physical training is really intense; it’s going to be hard, you’re not going to like it; you’re going to be gone for months at a time. So before I even got here I was like, ‘Aw man this is really going to suck.’”
Covey stuck it out, graduated from basic and arrived at the Patriot Academy in early September to see that some of the rumors were dead-on accurate and that things had stepped up a notch from basic training. Drill sergeants and cadre met him and his fellow enlistees as they stepped off the bus with more yelling, which soon evolved into more running and the inevitable - more pushups.
After his shock thawed, Covey realized he had landed in a goldmine. “I was like, ‘wow, this is an incredible program,’” Covey exclaimed. “The entire staff are taking their time and working their hardest to help people like me and high school dropouts who don’t deserve a second chance. But here we are, so I just grabbed it for what it was and ran with it.”
Covey wasn’t sure what to expect academically. Helix Charter High School was one of the top performing schools in San Diego County in 2009 and every class was designed for college preparation. The Patriot Academy looked like a school - lockers lined the halls, period bells rang, students participated in sporting events, and there was a similar stew of jock, nerd, and prep stereotypes. But as he soon learned, it was anything but an ordinary high school.
“We wake up at zero-five in the morning for physical training and we all wear the exact same clothing,” Covey said. “That might be like some private high schools, but here it’s digital camouflage instead of ties and skirts.”
When soldiers complete their high school diploma requirements and have passed the Indiana Statewide Testing for Educational Progress examination, they run through the hallway and ring a bell from an old ship on the other end. Students take a moment and congratulate each other as they achieve these important milestones.
“We do formations for people who graduate,” Covey said. “Everyone goes around and shakes their hands. They get diplomas. We also have formations for soldiers who get awards or get promoted.”
After seven months of working on his diploma at The Patriot Academy, conducting military science training and community service, Covey was a changed man.
“It’s been hard being away from family,” Covey said. “I really appreciate all of the sacrifices everyone here [at the Patriot Academy] has made for allowing me to get my high school diploma. The commandant and the sergeant major here really care about you and the non-commissioned officers on post are really impressive.”
Covey increased his physical fitness score, became a leader and increased his proficiency as a soldier in the U.S. Army National Guard. “I credit that to all the staff that work here and my battle buddies in first platoon,” Covey added.
Covey reported to Fort Sill, Okla., to learn his military occupational skill as a Tactical Data Systems Specialist in Field Artillery (13D) for the California Army National Guard.
After his advanced individual training, Covey plans to earn a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and earn his commission as an officer through the U.S. Army ROTC program. Covey earned 15 college credits at the Patriot Academy and will earn more for his AIT training, getting him closer to his goal.
“The Patriot Academy is a great program,” Covey said. “I’m extremely thankful for this opportunity and I’m looking forward to the rest of my life as a leader. I would recommend it to anyone who is looking not only for a career but to finally tie up some loose ends in their lives as well.”
As for the mother on the other side of the country, she could not be more proud of her son. “My mom was so excited and proud of me for graduating,” Covey said. “She tells everyone she knows that, ‘My son is defending our country! He’s in training right now, and sacrificing his time away from his family.’ Even though she misses me, she knows I have to do better myself and further my life so when I have a family later on, I can provide for them.”