News: 'Home for the Holidays' Takes on New Meaning for Recruit
Story by Capt. Kyle Key
SAN DIEGO - Daniel J. Sanchez woke up one morning and knew his day was going to be different than the one before—today would be the last day he would wake up on a park bench or worry where his next meal would come from.
Sanchez’ mother was only 17 when she gave birth to him. With no money, job or support, she put him up for adoption. When he was six years old, his adopted parents divorced and ping ponged Sanchez for the next 11 years. Even when things were good, Sanchez lived below poverty levels without running water or electricity in a trailer in Apple Valley, Calif.
When he turned 17, Sanchez’ adopted mother kicked him out of the house. He went into survival mode, dropped out of high school halfway through his senior year and found one dead end job after another to make ends meet. Sanchez wandered from place to place, staying at friends, shelters and under the stars. According to the American Journal for Public Health, 1.5 million youth experience homelessness over the course of a year nationwide. In nearby Los Angeles County alone, there are currently 26,000 homeless youth.
After working as a ranch hand, Sanchez’ adopted father asked him to come to San Diego. Things didn’t work out as he planned.
“It’s just been really rough,” said Sanchez. "My dad couldn’t afford to have me in his house. I stayed at my sister’s house, but it was the same situation.” Health issues and hard economic times hit his family hard forcing him to go at it alone. Sanchez hit the streets again.
Sanchez called 1-800-GoGuard and the operator transferred him to Sgt. Arkadiy Knopov in Kearny Mesa. “He was ecstatic when I confirmed everything that he read about GED Plus,” said Knopov. “Part of the reason why I became is National Guard Recruiter is because I want to help young individuals like Pvt. Sanchez get on the right track in life.”
Sanchez did his homework. Only the Army National Guard had a program to allow him to enlist, get full time pay, benefits, housing and three square meals a day while going to school to earn his GED credentials. “I wasn’t taking him seriously at first,” said Sanchez. “But when he told me there actually was a program like this, I really started to get into it.”
The National Guard GED Plus Program at Camp Robinson in North Little Rock, Ark., sounded like an opportunity that would help him be able to support himself as a citizen and soldier. The resident program lasts from two to three weeks and prepares new recruits for the GED examination, administered at the end of the course. Upon successful completion, recruits depart for Army Initial Entry Training.
Sanchez took the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery exam and scored a 78, well above average, allowing him to select fire support specialist as his military occupational specialty. After passing a physical examination and completing paperwork, he raised his right hand and became Pvt. Daniel J. Sanchez, the newest recruit in the California Army National Guard. But his problems weren’t over.
“I was still living on the streets,” Sanchez said. “So my recruiter, Sgt. Arkadiy Knopov, started working harder and went to extra lengths, from what I understand, to get me in the GED Plus Program as soon as possible.”
Knopov, the Army National Guard Recruit Sustainment Program San Diego and the GED Plus staff began working quickly to get his orders published for Camp Robinson. Sanchez said Knopov managed to get him out within a couple of days instead of several months.
National Guard GED Plus Sergeant Major Sgt. Maj. Elizabeth Causby said Sanchez and other recruits like him not only have a home now, but they have become part of something even greater.
“We’re changing lives at the National Guard GED Plus Program,” said Causby. “It’s not unusual for us to be a source of refuge for young adults facing hardship, adverse conditions or dangerous situations. Many times, we have coordinated to get family members or our recruits off the streets and into better living situations. These Warriors know the day they graduate that they have become a part of a huge family, the National Guard family and we take care of our family.”
Sanchez and 193 of his classmates graduated with GED credentials Oct. 29, 2010. His graduating class was the largest graduating class since the program opened in 2006. Sanchez said he’s grateful for a second chance at his education and a springboard for career opportunities.
“I want to make my recruiter proud, because he really-really helped me,” said Sanchez. “I wasn’t doing anything with my life. I haven’t worked as hard as I could have throughout my life. I was just screwing around and really didn’t pay attention to what I was doing to those around me. I needed to get out of there. I needed to get my life straight. This is not how a real man is supposed to live his life.”
He reported to Fort Jackson, S.C., for basic training and will follow on to Ft. Sill, Okla., for his advanced individual training as a fire support specialist.
When Sanchez returns, he’s got a mentor waiting for him back in Kearny Mesa. “My work with him is far from over,” said Knopov. “As a National Guard Recruiting and Retention non-commissioned officer, I am responsible for soldiers during their entire career, from the day I meet them for the first time until they day they leave the military. Pvt. Sanchez and I made an agreement than when he completes his [training] he will use me as a ‘go to’ person to help him enroll in college and begin his journey towards higher education. I see a lot of potential in this young individual.”
As for Sanchez, he said he’s got big plans. “It’s good to know that I have a bright future ahead of me,” Sanchez said with a sincere smile. “Right now, I just really want to support myself.”