Class 39 of the Wyoming Cowboy ChalleNGe Academy on Camp Guernsey Joint Training Center spent a day picking up roadside trash about a week before graduation, reflecting on their 22-week experience.
WCCA Program Training Coordinator Cricket Reyher, who schedules community service, joined the cadre seven years ago. She left her position as a pre-school teacher in Torrington.
“I was only going to be here for three months,” she said, laughing. “Pre-school’s great, I loved it, but this feels a lot more worthwhile, watching these kids go from not really knowing what their plan is in life to have one. I didn’t realize it when I came, but this is my dream job.”
The cadets fulfill a 40-hour community service requirement for graduation working for non-profits. “We help with food banks in Guernsey and Torrington, the Kindness Ranch in Hartville, and a local nursing home, where they interact with the residents. That’s their favorite. We also do a lot of park cleanups,” Reyher said.
Community service fits into a rigid 22-week schedule, during which time a cadre of 13 sergeants teach “quasi-military” traditions, structure and discipline, Reyher said. The early days are filled with intense physical training, and marching. “There’s a lot of team building especially in the first two weeks,” Reyher said, “They learn that they’re all in it together.”
One of the top graduates, Denali Candace Lee Cline, of Cody, said, “I now know what I want to do with my life. I want to enlist in the National Guard and go to college for criminal justice. Before this program, I was everything you could describe as a mess. I was hanging out in the wrong crowd and I needed a change.”
Cline was also one of a few females to hold the position of company first sergeant, the first of any class. “The thing I’ll remember most was being in leadership. I loved it,” she said. “It uncovered skills that I didn’t know I had before.”
Cline was also recognized for her fitness improvements. She cut her mile run time in half from 14 minutes to 7:29, and earned the Presidential Physical Fitness Award.
Another of Class 39’s leaders, Weston Miles, of Riverton, said he had two brothers who attended the academy before him. “I just kind of got tired of high school. Then my brothers told me, might as well do what they did, and go to the Challenge.”
Miles, who served as a platoon leader, said, “I’ve learned discipline, and control, like moments when you want to talk. Or, like work ethic, as opposed to putting something off because I didn’t want to do something. They gave us a leadership packet when I was squad leader. I really studied that. When I became a platoon leader, I studied more. What I learned is that being a good leader is helping people out, making things better, and making the world a better place.”
Nick Myers of Buffalo, served as a first sergeant, too. “The town’s about 5,000 people, not too big. I like it, but I was struggling in school, getting into drugs and stuff. I failed all my classes in the first semester of my junior year.”
By January, Myers made the decision to attend Challenge. The 17-year old Meyers said the one big lesson he took from his experience at WCCA was realizing the freedom he once had. “I didn’t know how much until I came to Challenge. Back home, I didn’t like being told what to do, but when I went home on a pass, I was doing everything for my parents, even when I didn’t have to.”
Myers added, “I’m there for any of these guys, no matter where they’re at. It’s like a huge bond with all these people.”