FORT STORY, Va. — Rappel masters of the Fort Pickett-based 1st Battalion, 183rd Regiment, Regional Training Institute helped candidates from the Commonwealth ChalleNGe rappel down a 40-foot tower April 8, 2017, at Fort Story, Virginia.
Commonwealth ChalleNGe is the Virginia component of the National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Program, a five and a half month residential program which focuses on preparing at-risk teens and high school dropouts for the General Educational Development test and future employment, military or higher education opportunities.
The rappelling challenge comes after the two-week acclimation phase, focused on the individual, according to Robert Laury, program director of Commonwealth ChalleNGe. He explained that at this phase, the goal is to get them to work as a team, encouraging one another to overcome their fears and succeed.
“They get up here and they’ve never done anything like this before,” said Sgt. 1st Class Jeffery S. Chaney, rappel master at the 183rd RTI. “They’ve never learned to trust their equipment, or trust anyone period, people-wise. So once we get them up here, show them they can trust their equipment and their peers, they’re fine.”
“I got kicked out of high school, I thought my life was going nowhere and I needed a second chance,” said Jensen Means,17, a ChalleNGe cadet from Smithfiled, Virginia. “I needed to get my GED and my life on the right path. I found out about the Commonwealth ChalleNGe, told my mom and she agreed that it would be a good idea for me. I really enjoyed rappelling today, it was scary at first, looking down, but I got over my fear and did it, and it was a lot of fun.”
Rappel masters of the 183rd RTI have been facilitating this event for ChalleNGe cadets for many years. The Virginia National Guard Soldiers operate other community support rappel events with ROTC programs, civil air patrol organizations and boy scout troops.
“Once we get them out there and they go down their first time, once they get down that gives them confidence,” said Chaney. “They’ve probably never done something like this and they likely won’t get to do it again unless they join the military. And experiences like this reveal to some of them that the military is something they’d like to pursue.”
“After this, I’d like to go into the Air Force Security Forces,” said Means. “I feel like I’ve gained a lot of respect and leadership opportunities in the ChalleNGe program so far and I’d like to continue that.”
“For most kids this is something they’ll rememberer for a lifetime,” said Laury. “Many of them have never had to take on a challenge that would make them overcome their fears. Further down the road as they come to difficult crossroads in their life where they might be afraid, they can look back on this and draw strength from knowing they’d completed this task, overcoming a fear.”