National Guard at Fort Custer Michigan

Academy ‘the best kept secret in Michigan’

September 15, 2011 // 0 Comments

Rockford youth turns life around by BETH ALTENA Spencer Williams was a 17-year-old high school dropout who knew his life was headed nowhere. His dad, Dan, described Spencer as a “pissed off kid, a mad kid” who just didn’t quite fit in. He wasn’t dumb, but he just didn’t click in the traditional high school setting or even the alternative education program. His parents didn’t know what to do to get through to him or to help him. Then Spencer heard about a quasi-military program that takes on kids just like him. Dan calls the Michigan Youth Challenge Academy the “unheard-of secret—the most amazing program.” Twenty-two weeks after Spencer stepped onto the campus of the Battle Creek academy, he walked away with his GED, 15 college credits, and 81,000 collective hours of community service. More importantly, he walked away knowing he had succeeded in the most difficult struggle of his life and with a new pride in himself, self-respect he never felt before, and a vision of his future. “I knew I had to change myself to change my future,” Spencer said. “I knew I wasn’t going to graduate. I knew I had to do something to get my life on track.” Spencer was dropped off at the campus with a duffle with just socks and underwear. Cadets at the academy can’t bring cell phones, video games, cigarettes—no creature comforts from home to the National Guard military barracks at Fort Custer. Students get one chance to stick it out at the academy and can’t return if they quit. From day one, Spencer was in a whole different world. “They are in your face 24/7,” he said of the National Guard staff who run the state supported school. “They break you down mentally and make you do everything out of your comfort zone,” Spencer said. A typical day begins at 5:30 a.m., removing the rack (cot) sheets and standing in line in silence, waiting for orders. Calisthenics follow for the next hour, then cadets are allowed to brush their teeth before morning chow. Each day includes presenting colors: the raising of the Michigan and United States flags at attention before marching to classes. The first couple of weeks were the worst, by design, and quite a […]