Every 30 minutes, another handful of Wyoming Cowboy ChalleNGe Academy candidates, along with their family, filed into the Wyoming Army National Guard’s 213th Regional Training Institute in Guernsey. Their demeanor, much like the weather, was cool and quiet on Report Day, Jan. 8.
Not knowing what to expect, the incoming candidates of Class 32 were gradually trying to figure out their surroundings and gain their bearing as they were mentally preparing for the next 5 1/2 months of what is sure to be a rigorous program. The program, which is voluntary for 16-to-18 year olds, consists of two phases, the first of which is a 5 1/2 month residential phase at Camp Guernsey Joint Training Center, followed by a 12-month at-home phase, which takes place after graduation, where they work with assigned mentors that they’ve gotten to know throughout the course of their residential phase.
“Once the candidates get past that structure and knowing that that’s the way it’s going to be continuously, they do much better. The first couple of weeks are always a challenge because of the structure. Getting up at 6 a.m., toeing the line. The first two weeks – known as acclimation – are always the hardest. Once they make it past acclimation, they move from being ‘candidates’ to being ‘cadets’,” said Derek Chavez, who has been a cadre team leader for WCCA for a year.
Although the drill hall was packed with the 52 candidates and their family members from 8 a.m. until 2 p.m., much of the day consisted of quiet conversation and a soft, solemn lull. The candidates and their families were moved through seven stations like a well-oiled machine.
Once the candidates and their families were greeted, they went through medical checks, academic reviews, recording height and weight, getting haircuts, and finally an emotional goodbye between candidates and their family.
“The program is going to be hard. Like really, really hard. You’re going to change. Your body will change; you’re going to be working out a lot. We aren’t messing around here. If something happens and you start feeling angry, walk away. If you feel frustrated, walk away. If someone tries to start drama, walk away. You are here to work hard and improve yourselves,” said Don Shreve, recruiter in Northern Wyoming for WCCA.
WCCA, which started at Camp Guernsey Joint Training Center in January 2006 will host three classes, Class 32, 33 and 34, in 2017.
The focus of the candidates in the first two weeks of acclimation is to get the hang of the program and expectations while being indoctrinated to standards. They participate in physical training twice a day, learn military customs and courtesies, have several hours of academics per day, and learn to live, learn and get along with approximately 50 other cadets on a daily basis.
The 44 male and eight female candidates in the drill hall Sunday hailed from Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, Nebraska and South Dakota. They come from vastly different backgrounds and circumstances, but all have the same end-goal: graduation from the 5 1/2 month residential phase of the program and a positive change in their lives that will carry on into their future endeavors.
For Tyger Rodriguez, a 17-year-old from Torrington, Wyoming, his goal is to get into a solid routine in life and make good decisions for his family. That comes at a cost as he must leave his 4-month-old son, Kyson, and his girlfriend Sami, in order to better himself.
“I need a change. A better mindset and attitude towards my life. I see myself changing greatly in this program. Last week I was in jail. In a month, I hope to be doing good things in the program so I can make a better life for my family and my son who I love very much,” said Rodriguez, who was referred to the program by his friend, Dawson Reifschneider, also from Torrington, who graduated from Class 31 Dec. 10, 2016.
Seventeen year-old Samantha Clinger, from Thermopolis, Wyoming, was referred to the program by her high school principal.
“My ultimate goal is to go into the Army, improve my self-esteem, and get my GED,” Clinger said. “I’ve heard of the program before and I think it will greatly improve adding structure to my life and assisting with my goal of joining the military.”
Letticia Zubia, 18, from Burlington, Wyoming, is also focused on her education. She, like many of the candidates, saw herself going down the wrong path in life and wanted to right it.
“I noticed myself getting into trouble that I didn’t want to be in. I’m looking forward to getting healthy and being drug-free, with the ultimate goal of going to college to become a detective or go into law,” Zubia said.
Other candidates have similar stories. Angel Burson, 16, from Riverton, Wyoming, is looking to improve her educational credits and her life, leading to a happier life and a good job down the road. Robert Renquist III, is working to become more respectful towards authority figures in his life.
If Renquist, Burson and the other 50 candidates successfully complete the acclimation phase, becoming cadets and completing the residential program, they will graduate June 10.