National Guard Youth Challenge Program giving teens a second chance

FORT KNOX, Ky. (WKYT) - A couple of buildings on the grounds of Fort Knox are reserved for men and women that are not in the military, but it feels like they are. "I've spent 40 years in the Army. I thought I'd heard it all. No," said Director of Bluegrass Challenge Academy General Charles Jones.

General Jones has only been in charge of this boot camp of sorts for less than a year. The kids he's in charge of have been in trouble, maybe close to juvenile jail. Others have just had a tough life. "We have kids that will walk out of here on graduation day and this will be the first victory they ever experienced in their life," he explained.

The program has seen some setbacks of its own. In 2014, two former employees were convicted in federal court on charges stemming from sexual abuse of female cadets. "It had an impact, and all the new staff have worked diligently to ensure and overcome that question. It's always going to be there and if a parent didn't ask that question, I would be concerned about that," General Jones said.

Since 1999, The Kentucky National Guard has been running the Bluegrass Challenge Academy to change the path of struggling teens before it's too late. "My parents sent me here because of drug abuse and authority issues," Brandon Royster told WKYT's Miranda Combs. Royster had been with the program for 17 weeks. "They strip you down of your personal identity and they give you basically the same identity as everyone else," he said about his first couple of weeks. "You can get by with a lot less. You don't need everything that I had to live with. I took a lot of things for granted when I lived in my other house."

The program is voluntary, and free for the teens. The Department of Defense covers 75 percent of the cost and Kentucky covers the rest. Kentucky has a second Challenge Academy in Harlan. "We're teaching these kids a new normal," Gen. Jones said.

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