News: GED Plus Graduates 10,000th Recruit
Story by Capt. Kyle Key
NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - The Army National Guard GED Plus program surpassed another milestone Friday as the 10,000th graduate walked across the stage with his GED diploma.
When his name was called, Pvt. Corey Blackwood smiled as he shook hands of the official party and received his diploma from the GED Plus Commandant Lt. Col. Mary Maguire. For Blackwood, it was one of the first milestones he had ever achieved. Little did he know that his accomplishment would represent all of those who came before him.
“It wasn’t just because I was proud and honored to be the 10,000 graduate, but the fact that I am representing everyone else who has done it too,” said Blackwood. “This is a big achievement for GED Plus.”
Blackwood had his share of adversity during his adolescence growing up in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
“I came from a poor family,” Blackwood said. “I dropped out high school to help my ailing mother and provide for my family. Then I sat around for two years not knowing what I was going to do with my life. I was lost.”
Like many other former high school dropouts, Blackwood didn’t listen to the naysayers of the world who told him he wouldn’t amount to anything or would never make it in the military. According to Lt. Col. Mary K. Maguire, neither did the leadership of the Army National Guard when they instituted the GED Plus Program in 2006. The program graduated 493 recruits in its initial year and swelled to a current through-put of approximately 3,000 per year.
“We have surpassed 10,000 graduates here at the Army National Guard GED Plus program,” said Maguire to the 65 graduates and family members attending the ceremony. “I’m sure on day one that they never thought we’d ever get to 10,000. We’ve been able to make a difference in 10,000 plus lives and we’ll continue to do so in the future.”
The GED Plus program was the vision of retired Lt. Gen. Clyde A. Vaughn, former Director of the Army National Guard. As a GED recipient himself, Vaughn knew what it was like to be left out and left behind without a high school diploma. Since Vaughn spearheaded the project in 2006, its rapid growth required the recent construction of a state-of-the-art, 90,000 square-foot building, featuring 22 classrooms, 12 barracks and a dining facility.
Located at Camp Robinson in North Little Rock, Arkansas, the facility is capable of accommodating up to 7,500 students per year. Recruits are exposed to both a military basic training and academic environment, instructed by experienced educators, drill sergeants and school cadre. Officials at the GED Plus program said expansion of the program is being discussed with the possibility of adding a high school degree option for future recruits.
Sgt. Maj. Corey B. Jackson, the GED Plus program’s newest sergeant major, said while the Army National Guard is over its Congressionally mandated end strength, programs like GED Plus are critical because of the positive impact in our communities to help solve America’s crisis in education.
“The Army National Guard, true to its roots and foundation, reached back to America 10,000 times,” said Jackson. “The GED Plus program has given Citizen-Soldiers an opportunity that they would otherwise been unable to have.”
Blackwood said while the world may have given up on him, he didn’t give up on himself and neither did the Army National Guard.
“I didn’t give up,” said Blackwood. “Now I’ve got my GED and I’m going to serve my country. It’s possible--you’ve just got to keep trying.”
Blackwood shipped to Army basic training at Ft. Benning, Sunday and will complete his advanced individual training there at the U.S. Army Infantry School this summer. Upon graduation, he will return home to serve with the Michigan Army National Guard’s 125th Infantry Regiment. Blackwood plans to attend college and pursue his associates degree in criminology.
“Now, I feel like a man,” said Blackwood. “I feel like I’m something. I feel a lot of honor and pride.”