‘Dream Come True.’ Florida soldier becomes US citizen, HS graduate

By CPT Kyle Key November 25th, 2011

OCALA, Fla. — Coming to America was easy, but the journey to stay here was paved with struggle for Pvt. Angel E. Chavez and his family.

Pvt. Chavez grew up in Panama in the city of La Chorrera and dreamed of coming to the United States some day.

“I would tell my friends in elementary school,” said Chavez. “They used to laugh at me. I would tell them, I am going there one day and I’m going to make it.”

In 2005, Chavez arrived in the United States with his parents and three siblings. They settled in Ocala, Fla., where his father started a business repairing and exporting vehicles to Panama and his mother found a job as a cosmetologist. He and his siblings were doing well in school and were adjusting to their new lives when a big problem arose: their visas expired and their entire family was subject to deportation.

The Chavez family tried every legal avenue to stay in the country. The dishonor of being illegal immigrants wore on the children. By 2008, his mother divorced and remarried a U.S. citizen and shocked the family by disappearing for two years with her new husband.

The children remained positive, progressed in school and their father’s business continued to grow. In 2010, Chavez’ mother came back demanding the children from his father. After an argument one morning, he took a load of vehicles to Port Canaveral, Fla., and was met at the docks by federal agents from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. His mother reported his location and Mr. Chavez was deported.

Chavez had no money, nowhere to live and was forced to live on the streets. He felt that the heart of his family had been ripped out.

“It was absolutely horrible,” Chavez recalled. “My dad wasn’t there anymore. I didn’t want to leave, but I had to. I just didn’t have an option. I dropped out in the middle of my senior year at Belleview High School. I became depressed.”

His brother, Julio, went to live with his mother in Ocala, while Chavez and his youngest brother Anthony moved in with his sister Julissa and her husband Army Staff Sgt. Todd Corona in Clarksville, Tenn. Staff Sgt. Corona serves on active duty and is stationed at Fort Campbell, Ky. Shortly after they moved in, Corona took over custody of Pvt. Chavez and his little brother.

Chavez tried to enroll at the local high school but was told he would have to repeat the last year and that many of his credits wouldn’t transfer from Belleview H.S. He made plans to earn his GED and worked two jobs as a manager at Pizza Hut and as a grocery bagger at the Fort Campbell Commissary. That wasn’t enough for this ambitious immigrant.

“Even though I was making good money, I didn’t feel right about not having a high school diploma,” Chavez said. “I didn’t want to live with that for the rest of my life.”

Chavez enrolled in an online high school and thought he would check out his opportunities in the military. When he talked to a recruiter with the Army National Guard, he found out that his online high school was not accredited but he might be eligible to transfer to the National Guard Patriot Academy high school and join the Army National Guard.

“I was like, wow,” Chavez exclaimed. “A high school diploma is what I want!

Chavez passed all his tests, physicals and shipped off to basic training at Fort Benning, Ga. While he was there, the drill sergeants in his platoon assisted Chavez with naturalization paperwork for him to become a U.S. citizen. Upon graduation, he reported for the National Guard Patriot Academy in Butlerville, Ind., and his application documents were transferred to Indianapolis.

“I think I annoyed them,” he laughed. “I called them–I kept on calling them like every day. But, they called me back and told me they were going to send me a letter with a date for my ceremony.”

That letter arrived, Sept. 21, 2011 and Pvt. Chavez was ordered to appear before the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration field office in Indianapolis on October 21, 2011 to swear in.

“As soon as I walked into the building in my military uniform, everybody there was surprised, looking at me and stuff,” said Chavez. “And I was surprised that I was the only one to become a citizen there that day.”

According to a Nov. 21, 2011, article from Time Magazine entitled “The Other 1 Percent,” approximately 70,000 non-citizens serving the U.S. Armed Forces have become naturalized since Sept. 11, 2001. Expedited citizenship during times of conflict for non-citizens serving in the U.S. Armed Forces was initially authorized by an Executive Order in July, 2002. Now, through Defense Authorization Acts, service members do not currently have to bear the expense of costly processing fees.

A cadre member from the Patriot Academy drove Chavez and his battle buddy Pvt. Raul Martinez to Indianapolis. Martinez completed basic training at Fort Benning, Ga., and attended the Patriot Academy with Chavez.

“Your dream came true!” Martinez said as he gave Chavez a hug. “You got it!”

“I didn’t know what to say,” Chavez said about becoming a citizen. “I wanted to cry. I wanted to laugh. I wanted to celebrate so much. It’s something that most of my people can’t accomplish everyday. It’s something really great for me.”

Chavez, who is the first in his family to become a naturalized U.S. citizen, called his father in Panama to tell him the news.

“He was crying with joy,” said Chavez. “He said he was proud of me and so was my sister and brothers too.”

Two weeks after becoming a citizen, Chavez completed another milestone in his life, graduating high school. On Nov. 4, 2011, Chavez walked across the stage at the National Guard Patriot Academy with an accredited high school diploma and one semester of college under his belt.

“This is a great opportunity that I’ve had and I thank God everyday,” Chavez added. “I look at my diploma and naturalization certificate everyday. This has been a dream come true for me.”

Chavez spent an early Thanksgiving dinner with his sister, brother and brother-in-law in Clarksville and will spend Thanksgiving with his mother, his brother Julio and his uncle in Ocala, Fla. Despite what has happened in the past, understanding and forgiveness has healed his family, and according to Chavez, the best moments are yet to come.

“When I see my father return to the U.S. legally, that will be a great moment for me,” Chavez said. “I want him here with us.”

He will attend training weekends with the Florida Army National Guard and is scheduled to report to Fort Jackson, S.C. to learn his new job skill as a Light Wheeled Mechanic in February. Once he returns, Chavez will enroll in college and plans to earn his commission through Army ROTC.

“Every time that I was lost, didn’t know what to do, and thinking this was it for me, I just keep on going,” Chavez added. “And no matter what, keep trying hard and never quit.”

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Soldier learns success from those who never gave up on her

By CPT Kyle Key November 20th, 2011

BUTLERVILLE, Ind. – Pvt. Jennifer H. Roberts now knows that the direction of her life was diverted from disaster, and is grateful to the South Carolina Army National Guard for giving her a second and even a third chance.

[caption id="attachment_641" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Pvt. Jennifer H. Roberts receives her diploma from Patriot Academy Commandant Lt. Col. Wm. Kenny Freeman, Friday, November 4, 2011 at the Muscatatuck Urban Training Center."][/caption]

In 2010, the Lugoff native made it to the second semester of her senior year at Lugoff-Elgin High School and dropped out. But Roberts wasn’t alone. According to the Alliance for Education, approximately 30,000 of her fellow seniors across South Carolina didn’t graduate that year.

“I was hanging out with the wrong people and skipping class,” said Roberts. “I never wanted to go to school or listen to the teachers. Going to school was my last priority.”

Roberts said she never thought about her decision until she received a letter from a Staff Sgt. Lorraine M. Lordy, a South Carolina Army National Guard recruiter in Camden. Her mother, Lisa Staszak, encouraged her to look into it.

“My mom was like, ‘Oh, you need to go see her. She’s going to help you get your life figured out.’ So my mom and I went to the National Guard recruiting office in at the Camden Armory. We were talking to my recruiter and first of all, I asked ‘can I get in without a high school diploma?’ She was like, ‘we’ve got this new awesome program called the National Guard Patriot Academy.”

The National Guard Patriot Academy is the military’s first and only high school that allows applicants between the age of 17 to 21 to enlist and earn an accredited high school diploma. It was a perfect fit for Roberts who wanted a second chance.

Roberts went back to the armory alone and visited with Staff Sgt. Lordy. They researched the Patriot Academy online and combed through postings on the program’s Facebook page.

“I could see she got really excited about the Patriot Academy,” said Staff Sgt. Lordy. Roberts was a cadet in the Army JROTC program at Lugoff-Elgin High School and told Lordy that she was proud of her accomplishments as a cadet. “I knew that good things would come for her, because she is young, very personable, and headstrong. [Our command] knew she had so much potential, she just needed some guidance from an outside source–the SC Army National Guard would be that source.”

She soon began her application to the program and was accepted in the fall of 2010. By December, Roberts was sworn into the South Carolina Army National Guard and left for basic training in March 2011.

On June 2, 2011, Roberts graduated from basic training at Ft. Jackson, S.C. and reported to the Patriot Academy to complete her diploma requirements. Life at the Patriot Academy was challenging. Many soldiers spend up to 6 months on the campus, conducting physical training, completing classes and homework along with military training and community service. Roberts was homesick and wasn’t expecting a National Guard program like the Patriot Academy to be as difficult as getting through Army basic training.

Her mother and stepfather came to visit on the 4th of July weekend but returned to S.C. concerned about their daughter. Although it was a military academy, it still had some aspects of a regular high school. She received unwanted advances and felt intimidated by fellow students. And once again, Roberts fell into an old trap of listening to the wrong group of people.

Roberts failed to show up for formation and was reported AWOL (absent without leave). By the time she showed up in South Carolina, all efforts were focused to help her get back on track again. Staff Sgt. Lordy and her colleagues encouraged and prayed for Roberts to finish what she started.

“You can do this,” Staff Sgt. Lordy told Roberts. “It is a short time frame; it’s just a speed bump in life, and we have faith in you.”

Maj. Timothy M. Cassel, Task Force Commander for the SCARNG Recruiting and Retention Battalion, formally counseled Roberts and asked her for a commitment to return to the Patriot Academy and graduate with her diploma. That night, her stepfather, Frank Staszak, drove through the day and into the night to get her back to the Academy.

Roberts kept her promise. On Friday, Nov. 4, 2011, she walked across the stage and received her diploma. Even though her family and friends couldn’t be in the audience, a sense of pride swelled deep in her heart.

“Besides the fact that I let my family down before in the past, they’re really proud of me that I’ve changed my life,” said Roberts. “I think I’m in a good place with them– back in the circle of trust, even though I’ve been kicked out a couple of times [laughter]!”

She will report for advanced individual training as a Horizontal Construction Engineer (12N) in January at Ft. Leonard Wood, Mo. and will return to her unit with the South Carolina Army National Guard in the spring of 2012.

“I was always downing myself about being successful and going to college and everything,” said Roberts on graduation day. “When I got to the Patriot Academy, I was a mess. Now I know that I can actually go to college. I guess I can really be something that I thought I couldn’t be.”

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Patriot Academy Chaplain Helps Soldiers Get a Fresh Start

By CPT Kyle Key November 17th, 2011

MUSCATATUCK URBAN TRAINING COMPLEX, Ind.–Some service men and women are lucky to find their calling in life. One chaplain found it twice and is helping new Soldiers transform their lives. Click the link above to view the story about Chaplain Swisher and Pvt. Casey Luster from the Georgia Army National Guard who he baptized in the cold waters of the Muscatatuck Reservoir.[caption id="attachment_615" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Chaplain (1st Lt.) Roy Swisher baptizes Pvt. Casey Luster in the Muscatatuck Resevoir, Sunday, Nov. 5, 2011."][/caption]

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Soldiers graduate with more than a diploma

By CPT Kyle Key November 17th, 2011

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.

[caption id="attachment_599" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="CSM Steven P. Ridings announces the commencement of Patriot Academy Class 12-01, November 4, 2011 at the Muscatatuck Urban Training Complex in Butlerville, Ind."]
CSM Steven P. Ridings

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.

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ADVISORY: Patriot Academy to Brief National Dropout Prevention Conference, Oct. 10th

By CPT Kyle Key October 5th, 2011

CHICAGO–Patriot Academy Commandant Lt. Col. Wm. Kenny Freeman, Command Sgt. Maj. Steven P. Ridings along with Patriot Academy graduates Pvt. James Barker and Pfc. Vincent Lewis will brief approximately 400 attendees at the 23rd Annual National Dropout Prevention Network/Center Conference at the Renaissance Schaumburg Convention Center Hotel, Monday, October 10, 2011 at 4:30 p.m. CT.

Patriot Academy leadership along with middle school students from Franklin Community Middle School pose for a picture following the Academy’s first Red, White and Blue Program in August, 2011.

Patriot Academy graduates will discuss their experience at the program and  answer questions from the audience while the Patriot Academy leadership will detail the National Guard’s plan to strategically address the nation’s growing dropout epidemic through prevention and dropout recovery.

Members of the media are invited and encouraged to attend.   Media inquiries and requests for interviews should be directed to Capt. Kyle Key, Public Affairs Officer at (501) 212-4293 or via e-mail at kyle.key@us.army.mil.

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Academy Forges Ahead With New Commandant

By CPT Kyle Key June 10th, 2011

By Capt. Kyle Key, National Guard Bureau

BUTLERVILLE, Ind.—Lt. Col. Wm. Kenny Freeman from Seaford, Del. assumed command of the National Guard Patriot Academy high school following a change of command ceremony June 6.

[caption id="attachment_557" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Lt. Col. Kenneth Freeman passes the National Guard Patriot Academy Guidon to Command Sgt. Maj. Steven P. Ridings during a change of command ceremony, Monday, June 6, 2011 at the Muscatatuck Urban Training Center in Butlerville, Ind. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Brad Staggs)"]LTC Wm. Kenny Freeman[/caption]

“Our mission is to take care of Soldiers,” said Freeman.  “Give them the best training available and prepare them for the future.

Since its 2009 accreditation as the nation’s first high school for members of the U.S. armed forces, the Patriot Academy has graduated more than 200 Soldiers.  The program was designed to offer applicants without high school diplomas between the ages of 17-21 an opportunity to finish school and serve in the Army National Guard.  But the focus on their education process doesn’t end at a high school diploma.  At the Academy, students have an opportunity to earn college credits, prepare for the ACT and receive assistance in applying to colleges.

“The Patriot Academy truly is a tactical unit with strategic implications,” Freeman said.  “With each graduate we produce, lives are positively changed–directly and indirectly.  And communities across America are stronger because of the leaders we are developing here.  The ripple effect goes far beyond our ranks in the National Guard.  You can’t put a price tag on that.”

The program has helped Soldiers earn more than 3,500 college credits and has contributed more than 4,000 hours of community service to organizations in Jennings County, Ind.  Students also conduct military training to hone their skills and improve their physical fitness through rigorous daily training.  Their goal is to produce well rounded Soldiers, citizens and leaders.

The National Guard Patriot Academy falls under the National Guard Bureau, Education, Incentives and Employment Division in Arlington, Va.  It is one of two secondary diploma granting education programs, including the National Guard GED Plus program, for new recruits in the military.  Division Chief Lt. Col. Richard Baldwin said from managing incentives, education benefits and employment initiatives, he has one of the most important missions in the National Guard.

“With all of the responsibilities that we have as a division, we have a great ability to affect the Soldiers’ lives and change their lives for the better,” Baldwin said.  “The Patriot Academy is a prime example of our ability to do that.”

Prior to joining the Patriot Academy, Freeman served as the chief of the Combat Refresher Team for the Command and General Staff College at Ft. Leavenworth, Kan.  Freeman’s mobile team taught the Army’s military decision making process (MDMP) helping develop leadership, expertise in brigade and battalion operations, command and control, decision making and improve staff work.  He said his experience teaching MDMP will enable his personnel to be best trained planning staff while producing the best Soldiers in the Army.

“It’s time to implement what I taught at CGSC,” Freeman said, smiling at his staff.

Freeman replaced Maj. Charles Nesloney, acting commandant, who will be reassigned to the Army Recruiting Information Support System at Ft. Knox, Ky.  Nesloney served as the deputy commandant from the fall of 2009 until the reassignment of the Patriot Academy’s first commandant, Col. Perry W. Sarver, Jr. in March, 2011.

In 1987, Freeman received his commission through Salisbury State University Army ROTC in Salisbury, Md. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Liberal Science from Salisbury State University and a Master of Science in Military Arts and Science from the Command and General Staff College at Ft. Leavenworth, Kan. He is the proud father of two daughters, Bryianna and Corey Freeman, son of William Kenny Freeman, Sr., stepson of Phyllis Freeman of Seaford, Del., and brother of Karen Freeman of Kansas City, Kan.

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Patriot Academy Graduation Dates

By CPT Kyle Key February 28th, 2011

Upcoming graduation dates for the National Guard Patriot Academy.

Thursday:      3 March 2011

Friday:         25 March 2011

Thursday:      7 April 2011

Thursday:    21 April 2011

Thursday:      5 May 2011

Thursday:   19  May 2011

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By admin September 20th, 2010


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Patriot Academy Welcomes New Staff

By CPT Kyle Key May 7th, 2010

Human Resources NCO, SFC Tony J. Edmond

“God Bless the Guard!” can be heard echoing through the halls of the National Guard Patriot Academy High School when Sgt. 1st Class Tony J. Edmond reports to work.  Edmond, a native of Dublin, Georgia, reported to the Patriot Academy in April 2010 to serve as a Human Resources Non-Commissioned Officer.

The Patriot Academy is the U.S. Department of Defense’s first and only accredited high school for dropouts who wish to serve their country and earn their diplomas.  Approximately 1.2 million high school students nationwide drop out each year, a trend the National Guard Patriot Academy is trying to end–one Soldier at a time.  Edmond said he has the passion and dedication it takes to help guide these former dropouts to make positive changes.

“I just really want to make a difference in young lives,” said Edmond.

Edmond is a 17-year military veteran having served on submarine duty with the U.S. Navy and as a human resources specialist with the Georgia and South Carolina Army National Guard.  He is a 1983 graduate of East Laurens High School in Dublin and is currently scheduled to graduate from the American Military University with his bachelor’s degree in Military History in the fall of 2010.

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Congressman Declares Military High School for Dropouts a Success

By CPT Kyle Key April 6th, 2010

U.S. Representative Baron Hill, who represents the 9th District of Indiana, has made several visits to the Patriot Academy since its beginning in June 2009 to encourage Soldiers to stay the course in order to earn their high school diplomas. This time, Hill personally returned to the academy Wednesday, March 31, to congratulate each Soldier, staff and cadre for what he called a “success story” for the first year of the high school.
U.S. Representative Baron Hill addresses the first graduates of the Patriot Academy High School located at the Muscatatuck Urban Training Center in Butlerville, Ind. The former dropouts shared their individual challenges and triumphs with Hill as he encouraged them to set even higher goals. Hill and his staff, who have visited the campus several times since its inception, declared the "experiment" a complete success.
Patriot Academy Commandant Col. Perry W. Sarver, Jr. briefed Hill prior to meeting with the graduates to update him on the past year and current projections on the upcoming class, scheduled to begin June 1.

“We graduated 38 students from 16 states for our first year,” Sarver told Hill. “Four students who were not able to complete their degree requirements, received their GED through the Guard’s Professional Education Center at Camp Robinson, Arkansas. This year, we’ll grow to 250 students from around the nation who will better themselves, their communities and their nation.” Sarver said students contributed more than 550 hours of community service to the area.

Hill listened and responded to each graduate’s personal story of triumphs over challenges in their lives.
Patriot Academy Commandant Col. Perry W. Sarver, Jr. and Indiana's 9th District Congressman Baron Hill pose in front of the main academic building at the Patriot Academy, March 31st. Hill received a briefing on the high school's successes and visited with the first graduating class of Soldiers from the Academy.
“You guys are an inspiration for a lot of reasons,” said Hill. “Reason number one: who knew that this thing was even going to work? You’re looking at some men and women who put their necks out on the line for you guys. I’m sure that they guided you along the way, but you had to respond to what they were trying to teach you. And because you responded to the challenge, there’s going to be 250 new people coming into the next class. And that’s because you were a success in your class. So, the experiment worked.”

“I am so delighted that you guys from all over the United States, were kind of down on your luck a little bit, are now back on top of your game,” Hill continued. “And good things are now to come.”
U.S. Representative Baron Hill listens intently as Patriot Academy Commandant Col. Perry W. Sarver, Jr. briefs him on how many former dropouts earned their high school diplomas during the first year. The Patriot Academy graduated 38 students on March 18 and are expecting a new class of 250 Soldiers this summer. Hill represents the 9th District of Indiana to include the Patriot Academy Campus and Muscatatuck Urban Training Center.
The Patriot Academy is the Department of Defense’s first accredited high school for service members by a state department of education. Once applicants complete basic training, they report to the Patriot Academy to begin their academic training which lasts three to nine months depending on courses needed to graduate.
U.S. Rep. Baron Hill poses with high school graduates of the National Guard Patriot Academy, March 31st at the Muscatatuck Urban Training Center in Butlerville, Ind. The Soldiers, who were former dropouts, received accredited high school degrees and are waiting to ship out to advanced individual training.
Each week, students attend five days of class, conduct six days of physical training and one day of military training. Soldiers are issued laptops and receive a tailored degree completion program according to their past transcripts. They are also provided full-time pay and benefits along with meals and housing.

The Patriot Academy accepts male and female applicants who are eligible to serve in the Army National Guard between the ages 17 and 21, must have successfully completed their sophomore year of high school, be out of school for at least six months, have no sole custody of dependents and possess no felony offenses.

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