News: Soldiers graduate high school with more than a diploma
Story by Capt. Kyle Key
MUSCATATUCK URBAN TRAINING COMPLEX, Ind. — Soldiers who complete the U.S. military’s first and only high school, liken the experience as an extreme makeover: lifestyle edition.
Over the past several months, 48 former high school dropouts received a second chance in life to catch up with their peers and surpass even the lowest expectations of those whom they left behind. Patriot Academy Class 12-01 graduated Friday, Nov. 4 with diplomas in hand and tools to help them succeed in the military and beyond.
Patriot Academy graduate Pvt. James B. Barker of Lubbock, Texas, was on a downward spiral before joining the Texas Army National Guard. In high school, Barker often got into fights, skipped classes was more interested in street racing and “chasing girls” than he was getting a diploma. Barker dropped out of high school. But by the time he had a moment of clarity of what he had done, it was too late to go back.
“One day, I asked myself where I wanted to be in ten years and I realized my current path wasn’t getting me anywhere,” said Barker.
Barker began exploring his options and learned that the National Guard Patriot Academy was the only program that could help him earn an accredited high school diploma so he could transfer to the regular U.S. Army. But fearing disappointment, he kept his plans secret.
“It took me six months to get into the Patriot Academy,” said Barker. “Then, it took me another six months to process paperwork and get cleared through the Military Entrance Processing Station. I didn’t tell anybody until I left for basic training,” Barker said.
His family was elated to learn the news. Barker’s father served as a judge advocate in the U.S. Marine Corps’ Judge Advocate Division and both grandfathers made it to the ranks of command sergeants major in the U.S. Army.
When he took the oath of enlistment, Barker was transferred from the dropout rolls of his old high school to the Patriot Academy where an individualized degree plan was created. Barker completed basic training at Ft. Jackson, S.C., in the winter of 2011. During the initial transformation into a soldier, Barker increased his Army physical fitness test score from 142 to 252. He reported to the Patriot Academy in the spring and increased his score to 336 on the extended scale.
At the academy, Barker served as a mentor to at-risk youth, spoke to public high school students and church youth groups about his life experiences.
“Whenever I saw how the kids reacted to us, I realized from an outside point of view, just how far I’ve come with my life,” Barker said. “I never thought about it until I talked about my past decisions and experienced their reactions. That made a big impact on me to push further and set my goals higher.”
Barker also participated in the Patriot Academy apprenticeship program and worked at Radio Muscatatuck, an Internet radio station, which broadcasts news, sports, weather, music, and training information from the Muscatatuck Urban Training Complex. For all of his accomplishments, Barker has received the Army Commendation Medal, Army Achievement Medal and was awarded the Norwegian Road March Badge by the Norwegian Military Forces for completing an 18.6-mile ruck march with a 25-pound pack in October.
Eyes on West Point
Barker excelled in academics as well and is one of several Patriot Academy soldiers who is an applicant for admission to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. After graduation, Barker and 14 other soldiers listened to a briefing from Maj. Brian Wire, National Guard liaison for soldier admissions at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. Wire discussed the Soldier Admissions Program for the USMA and the USMA Preparatory School as options for qualified Patriot Academy graduates. The Soldier Admissions Program allows enlisted soldiers to receive a fully funded four-year West Point education, a bachelor of science degree and upon graduation, a commission as a second lieutenant in the Army. If a soldier is academically disqualified for admission to West Point, they are automatically considered for admission to the
United States Military Academy Preparatory School at Monmouth, N.J.
During the next class orientation in mid-November, soldiers at the Patriot Academy who meet the general qualifications will be given the opportunity to work on their USMA application packets, SAT and ACT preparation and placed in a separate “West Point Track.” Patriot Academy Commandant Lt. Col. Wm. Kenny Freeman said the Patriot Academy is uniquely suited to helping soldiers achieve their goals.
“Our soldiers have fewer distractions than they would at other high schools,” said Freeman. “If they set a goal and want it bad enough, we will motivate and help them succeed.”
Successful applicants from the Patriot Academy will receive a recommendation the commandant. If soldiers are denied admission to USMA they may be selected for USMAPS to prepare for the rigors of West Point. Each year, only 85 cadetships go to Army National Guard or Army Reserve soldiers and according to Maj. Wire, not all cadetships were taken in 2011.
“By the time, they’ve earned their diplomas, our graduates are changed people,” Freeman added. “Once they’ve achieved that goal, they are eager to reach higher and challenge themselves. Whether it’s West Point or Mountwest Community College, our teachers and counselors are there to help them along the way even after they leave the Patriot Academy.”
Barker said whether or not he’s accepted, he’ll keep trying and will pursue other commissioning programs so he can become a helicopter pilot. As for now, he will serve on active duty orders at the Muscatatuck Urban Training Complex and is studying to retake his SAT test to become more competitive for college.
“If it wasn’t for the Patriot Academy, I probably would have fallen into some of the same habits that got me into trouble,” Barker said. “The Patriot Academy has changed me from a self-destructive person to wanting to serve as a role model to others. It has definitely turned me into who I am today.”