BOISE, Idaho — The road that leads someone to serve in the Idaho Air National Guard isn't always the most traditional route.
Airman 1st Class Cody Gilbert, an aircraft armament systems specialist with the 124th Maintenance Group at Gowen Field here, decided to join after attending the Idaho Youth ChalleNGe Academy.
The academy is part of the National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Program, which helps at-risk youth earn their high school diploma or General Equivalency Diploma(GED). The program emphasizes self-discipline, personal responsibility and positive motivation to help Idaho teens with a tough, disciplined education, all within a caring and respectful environment.
The Idaho National Guard, along with the state of Idaho, funds the IDYCA, which is located in Pierce, Idaho.
"It's a quasi-military school, so you have military trainers that do things to help you figure out what you're doing with your life," Gilbert said.
Gilbert described IDYCA as a place that helps kids to grow and become better people.
Attending and graduating from the academy, he said, was a turning point in his life.
"I just wanted to be able to move ahead in life," Gilbert said.
The program is five-and-a-half months long and has eight core components: academic excellence, leadership and followership, life coping skills, job skills, service to the community, responsible citizenship, health and hygiene, and physical fitness.
Gilbert said he had always been interested in joining the military, but after attending the National Guard-funded IDYCA, and doing additional research he decided to stay close to home and joined the Idaho Air National Guard.
Although he said his experience was worth it, he admitted that IDYCA was tougher for him than going through basic military training for the Air Force, but it has benefitted him as an Airman because it's something that most people don't have.
"It has changed my perspective on a lot of things," Gilbert said. "I used to be way different, but after going through the academy, basic, and tech school it changes the way you see the world."