80 cadets graduate from Mountaineer ChalleNGe Academy during coronavirus pandemic


KINGWOOD, W.Va. – The West Virginia National Guard’s Mountaineer ChalleNGe Academy recently graduated 80 cadets as a part of Class 54, despite the challenges posed by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Class 54 began with a total of 197 enrolled cadets, according to a press release. Of those cadets, 41%, or 33 out of 80, who successfully completed the program, are graduating from the MCA with a high school diploma. Of those graduating, 59% (47 cadets) plan to join the workforce, 16% (13 cadets) plan to join the military, 16% (13 cadets) plan to attend a vocational/technical program and 9% (7 cadets) plan to go onto a four-year college program.

“I cannot express how tremendously proud I am of these young folks who have not only faced difficulties prior to coming to MCA, but then had to deal with navigating their education through a pandemic,” said Maj. Gen. James Hoyer, adjutant general of the West Virginia National Guard. “Despite having every excuse to quit the program or not put forth the effort to finish, these cadets met the challenge head on and have showcased their abilities to handle any situation that comes their way. I have no doubt they will each go on to do wonderful things that contribute to the success of the State of West Virginia.”

In March, cadets were sent home from their campus at Camp Dawson out of an abundance of caution due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the release explains. During the remaining time before the end of course exams, staff and faculty at MCA conducted virtual training to ensure students were on track to meet the requirements for graduation.

Class 54 represents 31 counties throughout the state, with Kanawha County having the highest enrollment for the course with 18 cadets.

Throughout the 22-week program, cadets provided more than 674 hours of community service through 19 different projects, a recognized value of more than $17,139.82, according to the WVNG.

The mission of the Mountaineer ChalleNGe Academy is to train and mentor selected at-risk youth to become contributing members of society using the Eight Core Components in a quasi-military environment during a 22-week residential and one-year post-residential follow-up program. It is a free volunteer program for West Virginia youth ages 16 to 18 years old who are educationally at-risk, the release states.

Since its inception in 1993, the Mountaineer ChalleNGe Academy has graduated 4,743 cadets from the program, with 1,737 earning their high school diploma.

Award winners from the program are as follows:

Robert C. Byrd Distinguished Cadet Award
Cadet Racheal Adkins
MacArthur, Raleigh County
daughter of James Adkins and Denise Clifford of MacArthur

Adjutant General’s Award for Academic Excellence
Cadet Sean Joy
Elizabeth, Wirt County
son of Anthony and Jennifer Joy of Elizabeth

Leadership Award
Cadet Andrew Fitzgerald
Keyser, Mineral County
son of Mary Hardy and Andy Fitzgerald of Keyser

Citizenship Award
Cadet Parker Myers
Buckhannon, Upshur County
son of Bobbie and Jeremiah Sharp of Buckhannon

Academic Challenge Award
Cadet Mikal Blankenship
Huntington, Cabell County
son of Nina and Scott Roberts of Huntington

Most Improved Cadet Award
Cadet Cody Stump
Brohard, Wirt County
son of Brad and Lisa Stump of Brohard

“Esprit de Corps” Award
Cadet Cameron Ball
Huntington, Cabell County
son of Amber and James Drake of Huntington

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