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NEWS | Jan. 24, 2012

ChalleNGe candidates tackle rappel tower during "Hard Core" phase

By Staff Sgt. Andrew H. Owen | Virginia National Guard Public Affairs

Rappel Master Instructors from the Fort Pickett-based 183rd Regiment, Regional Training Institute offered their expertise to candidates of the Virginia Commonwealth ChalleNGe Youth Academy Jan. 20 as they descended the 30-foot rappel tower at Fort Story during the "Hard Core" phase of the program. The Hard Core phase is the first two weeks of the ChalleNGe program where the cadre determines whether the students have what it takes to become cadets in the program.

"This was a reward, it was exciting for the candidates but it also helps them understand how to work as a team and how to do things that they never expected they could do," said retired Lt. Cmdr. Richard Guzman, deputy director of Virginia Commonwealth Challenge. "None of them have ever been on a rappel tower, and none of them have ever done an obstacle course."

"The rappelling piece is another way to provide these teens with a sense of accomplishing something which at first glance seems insurmountable," said Sgt. 1st Class Robert J. Homer, Rappel Master Instructor.

The Hard Core phase began Jan. 14 with the 169 candidates entering "The Grinder," 30 minutes of intense introduction into the ChalleNGe lifestyle. The Grinder used motivational techniques taught by the Cadre including corrective physical exercise; it reinforced the overall standards they will use for the next five months of the program. During Hard Core, candidates overcame a leadership reaction course, an obstacle course and the rappel tower. It culminated with a road march followed by the induction ceremony where they lost their candidate status and became cadets.

The purpose of the Commonwealth ChalleNGe is to take at-risk youth, put them through 22 weeks of a quasi -military residential program, and give them a second chance at life by promoting academics, attention to detail, time management and leadership, while promoting self esteem, confidence and pride.

"Hard Core ChalleNGe is a shock to all the prospective candidates. Once they begin the Hard Core phase, they are introduced immediately to military discipline and training methods," said retired Col. Jimmy Chandler, ChalleNGe Director. "At this point, all prospective cadets are referred to as ‘candidates.’ Each candidate must complete various physical and mentally challenging events to boost their own confidence in themselves and working as a team." 

The teens also spent a week focusing on classes in military courtesies and basic drill and ceremony instruction. They also attended various classes including anger management, ethics goal setting and even attended classes focused on preparing the cadets for the Test for Adult Basic Education.

Of those that began the program, 159 candidates completed the two weeks of Hard Core, and were inducted into the program as cadets in an official ceremony Jan. 25. 

"Those who make it through Wednesday become cadets, and they get new uniforms, they get new gear issued, they get new privileges, they move into new barracks and it all changes," said Guzman. "Everything is back to zero; Hard Core is history and we start with the education part of the program."

The cadets returned to Camp Pendleton in Virginia Beach where they will complete the rest of the program and work toward the attainment of the G.E.D. by taking classes in math, science, language arts and social studies. Upon completion of the residential phase the graduates are placed in a year-long post-residential phase under the tutelage of trained mentors who help cadets sustain the skills they acquired during the residential phase and apply them to their everyday lives. The program requires that cadets line up a job, or go on to higher education or military service as a graduation requirement.

The ChalleNGe Program began in July 1994 and since then more than 3,000 cadets have completed the program.

After the residential phase, ChalleNGe graduates are required to complete a one-year mentorship period completed in the cadet’s community with the guidance and assistance of a screened, trained, and matched mentor.

There is no cost to the cadets for the ChalleNGe program with 75% of the funding coming from the federal government and 25% percent from Virginia.

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