N.C. National Guard supports Tarheel Challenge Academy and At-Risk Youth


On an obstacle course in the North Carolina woods at Camp Butner, young men, between the ages of 16-18, work hard to climb walls, pull themselves across ropes and low-crawl under barbed wire on Jan. 21.

N.C. National Guardsman, Staff Sgt. Anthony Lawson, with the 732nd Forward Support Company, encourages them to push themselves and get over the walls, much like the walls they face in life. These men are cadets in the National Guard Youth Challenge Program, a community based program whose goal it is to intervene in the lives of 16-18 year old high school dropouts and instill in them the traits and skills they need to become productive citizens.

The cadets are two-weeks into North Carolina’s version of the program called the Tarheel Challenge Academy, a 22-week long residence program that will be followed by a yearlong mentorship program.

Lawson, who in addition to assisting with the obstacle course has previously been a mentor, uses each obstacle as a metaphor for accomplishing goals in life.

“It’s about teaching them to look forward to the accomplishment on the other side,” he said.

Lawson also tells the story of the man he mentored who went from having bad grades, being disrespectful to his parent and being involved with gang activity to graduating from barber school and going on to open a retail store with a group of barbers.

“He himself admitted ‘If I keep going, I’m going to die or I’m going to kill somebody,’” Lawson said. “When he finally got it right … we had a moment where I actually came to tears, and I knew then that he would be OK.”

Thanks to support from the N.C. National Guard, the Tarheel Challenge Academy will spend two days at Camp Butner taking two groups of young men and one group of young women through the obstacle course, a land navigation course and on a 5k road march.

The North Carolina National Guard helps plan the two-day event twice a year and provides Soldiers as group leaders, instructors, safety officers and medical support.

First Sgt. Stephen Caldwell, who serves with the 1-130th Attack Reconnaissance Battalion, said he enjoys working with the Academy, and that is rewarding both for the cadets and the National Guard Soldiers and Airmen who support the event.

“This program gives these kids a second chance, so they don’t become a product of the system one day,” said Caldwell, who has been part of all four rotations of the event the NCNG has supported at Camp Butner.

“This is a very rewarding program. When people hear that they have to come and support the Tarheel Challenge they might have different feelings about it, until they come out here and do a rotation with us. Then, they see how rewarding it is to help these young kids who have faced a lot of challenges in life and get to interact with them and mentor them,” said Caldwell.

The event also gives the Guardsmen a chance to act as good role models for the young men and women going through the Academy.

“My goal is to take these kids and give them some direction in life,” Caldwell said.

“The direction I give them might steer them towards a military career or might steer them into a civilian career, but what I like to do is give them the motivation and guidance to finish this program. I tell every class I work with ‘Finish this program. This is your new start on life,’ so they can become productive citizens one day,” he said.

The cadets are all in the program because they want to better themselves. For some it was strongly recommended, but they are still there of their own free will.

“I’m here because I wasn’t doing so good in school,” said Quadir Stuckey, one of the cadets, from Sanford, North Carolina. “I started slacking off, wasn’t doing the right thing, and one day it just hit me that if I kept doing the wrong thing I wasn’t going to get as far in life as I wanted to.”

Stuckey and his Aunt researched programs to help him get caught back up and they found the Tarheel Challenge Academy.

“I hope to better myself, further my education, gain motivation and dedication; I want to come out wiser and stronger than I was before,” said Stuckley.

Stuckey said that in addition to learning discipline and teamwork strategies so far in the program, he has already overcome two challenges: dealing with others and climbing the ladder obstacle on the course.

“I had to overcome a fear today. I’m terrified of heights. And, I learned to cope with other people, even though they don’t want to cope back with me,” said Stuckley.

One of the goals of the Tarheel Challenge is to help these young people learn how to overcome life’s obstacles to accomplish their goals and get back on the path to success.

In that spirit, Lawson hopes that he can leave these kids believing in themselves.

“It is my goal for them to accomplish their greatest feat. Nobody can be a carbon copy,” Lawson said.

“I don’t believe that God made carbon copies. He made us all to be individuals and we all have something that is special inside of us, so my goal is to reach down and help that person realize what that special thing is and then go after it and not to quit on themselves,” he said.



Contact: NCNG SSG Mary E. Junell
Phone: (919) 664-6357

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