Arlee youth completes MYCA
student David Plant, 18, graduated with high honors from the Montana
Youth Challenge Academy on June 19. (Lailani Upham photo)
ARLEE — He was told it would be hard; and that it
was. With 150 cadets starting and only 80 completing, David Plant, 18,
graduated with high honors from the Montana Youth Challenge Academy on
The Montana Youth Challenge Academy is a six-month
program sponsored by the National Guard and the State of Montana that
caters to the state’s at-risk youth. The training takes place on the
campus of the University of Montana - Western in Dillon.
MYCA’s eight core components are: academic
excellence, life coping skills, job skills, health and hygiene,
responsible citizenship, service to community, leadership and
followership, and physical fitness.
The program was launched in September 1999. The
graduating class on June 19 was the 22nd class making a total of 1,484
MYCA graduates so far.
The first two weeks are known as the pre-challenge
phase, where nobody is allowed to speak to another person; and just
like military basic training character building, a young person is
tested to the most intense discipline. “It sucked. The first two weeks
of pre-challenge was frustrating. We were not allowed to talk and we
had to ask permission to speak,” Plant expressed. Many mornings during
this phase Plant said the platoon would have to stand in silence, in
the cold for 45 minutes or so. “It was a weeding out period,” said his
mom Aileen Plant, who also says she has seen a big change in her son.
The six-foot two-inch Plant took on the challenge
with a true warrior spirit and in no time without his approval was
selected for a leadership role in his platoon. He was promoted to
platoon leader and also nominated and selected as class president. The
perks were nice, but according to him, sometimes not worth it. “I had
to deal with kids just like me,” he said. The kids gave him lip and
tempers flared up left and right; however the key to remaining sane was
to remain humble. “I tried not yell,” he said. The toughest part for
Plant was that he wanted to just be left alone. But he came to grips
with leadership roles and being left alone was a far-off wish.
The caliber of instructors was a plus according to
Plant. Many of the Cadre Instructor sergeants from the Army Reserves,
one was a former National Football League player and another was a
sniper for the U.S. Marines.
The feeling of accomplishing something prestigious
is what makes him proud he said.
The program does pay the cadets a little stipend
to help pay for toiletries. One afternoon a few guys from Plant’s
platoon were bored, he said, and decided to figure out their pay. Their
wage came to three cents an hour.
The program requires the cadets to carry a
one-year plan and a five-year plan. Plant’s one-year plan is to finish
high school and qualify for the military and complete a marital arts
certification. His five-year plan is cut and dry; he plans to join the
military and qualify as a ranger.
His father, Albert Plant, said he thanks God for
his son’s opportunity at MYCA. “He has a lot more opportunities,
military, college, Job Corps and he has opt to go back to high school.
There are so many options he has never thought of before,” his father
“His outlook on life is better. He has lots of
opportunities, and it’s a big change from last year,” Aileen said.
David is the oldest of two other siblings; Al
Plant, 15; and Naomi Plant, 11.
Plant is thankful for the opportunity to
experience the leadership role, something he did not realize he had.
When asked what he learned from the experience he said. “Make the
system work for you, don’t work for the system.”