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    Pilot program offers Soldiers second chance at high school diploma



    Story by Sgt. Rob Cooper 

    Camp Atterbury Public Affairs

    MUSCATATUCK URBAN TRAINING CENTER, Ind. — Army National Guard leaders from around the country converged onto the remote Muscatatuck Urban Training Center Aug. 26 for the dedication of the National Guard's first and only academy designed to help Soldiers receive their high school diplomas.

    The Patriot Academy, which is the first of its kind, is a National Guard Bureau initiative allowing high school dropouts ages 17 through 20 a second opportunity to earn their diploma. Currently, 47 students from 16 states are attending the Academy, which is staffed by a full-time cadre of active duty National Guardsmen.

    "The Patriot Academy can be described in two words; second chance," said Col. Perry Sarver Jr., the academy's commandant. "These Soldiers are here because they have unfinished business, and they are getting a second chance to right a wrong. These young men have started down a path that will change their lives forever."

    The academy, which is a nine-month program, was launched last June under the guidance of former Army National Guard Director retired Lt. Gen. Clyde Vaughn, for high school dropouts who weren't able to finish high school for reasons other than disciplinary or legal. Students attending the academy first attend basic training prior to arriving here, and then move on to their Advanced Individual Training after receiving their diploma. Although the first class consists of all males, the academy will be tailored to accommodate co-ed students in the future.

    "Our mission is, very simply, to educate and train these young men to become the best citizen-Soldiers in the Army National Guard," Sarver said.

    While at the academy, the student-Soldiers receive a nationally-accredited diploma through online courses offered through Liberty University. While there are current Army initiatives out there designed to award GED certificates to its students, the Patriot Academy is the only program that offers a diploma.

    Vaughn, the former Army National Guard Director, said Patriot Academy is an investment in the Army's most precious asset.

    "It's a workforce that's not going to be available if we don't get it right. It's someone that's not going to reach their full potential if we don't get that diploma early enough. We depend on this organization right here in this state to get it right."

    In addition to academics, the students are required to attend Army training and accomplish community service projects around Jennings County in Indiana.

    "The Academy will be strengthening the connection of each student-Soldier with that community service they provide," said Indiana Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman. "The culture of service has never been more important to our state and our nation. It's my hope that the graduates of this program return home with a real understanding of what it means to be a good neighbor as well as what it means to be a good Soldier."

    One student-Soldier currently attending the academy, Pvt. Ismael Ramirez Jr., said that the academy has given him a chance at both serving and accomplishing something he never thought he could. A native of Roanoke, Texas, Ramirez was unable to receive his diploma because Texas law requires high school students to pass a qualifications exam.

    "I had the credits I needed, but I didn't pass the final exam, so I wasn't issued a diploma," he said.

    After speaking with a recruiter and learning about the Academy, Ramirez said that he wanted to enroll just because of the diploma program.

    "Just the fact that I could get a high school diploma rather than a GED sounded better to me," Ramirez said. "It just makes me feel and sound like I've completed my school. Like our sergeant major once told us, we're not going to get this chance again. If you get the opportunity to come to the Patriot Academy to have your second chance, you actually get paid to go to school and learn new things."

    "When it's all said and done, you walk out of here with extra knowledge, you walk out of here stronger ..."



    Date Taken: 08.26.2009
    Date Posted: 08.26.2009 19:37
    Story ID: 37996

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