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Answering the CHALLENGE

November 02, 1998|By KATE COLEMAN

Jerry Sirbaugh was headed to the phones to call his parents. It was his first day at Freestate Challenge, a 22-week, military-oriented resident program at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Aberdeen, Md.

He wanted out.

"You're not leaving. You're going to make it," said a sergeant who stopped him.

The 18-year-old Hagerstown resident is glad he stayed.

"I wanted to do the right thing. I needed something to get on the right track," Sirbaugh says.

--cont. from lifestyle--

Sirbaugh earned his GED and learned a lot of other things during the five-and-a-half month alternative education program for high school dropouts between the ages of 16 and 18.

Although his grades at North Hagerstown High School were good, he says he had a reputation for goofing off and says he was kicked out for having a chain wallet.


Robert E. Myers, 18, also was getting in trouble at North Hagerstown High School. Outside school, he was running with the wrong crowd and says he worried that he'd end up in jail or getting killed.

"I wanted to change," he says.

Freestate Challenge gave him the chance.

Myers says he gained a different perspective on life.

"I can be anything I want to be,"

he believes.

It wasn't easy. Wake up was at 5:30 a.m.

"I thought I was gonna die," Myers says.

One morning, Myers made the mistake of saying, "It's still nighttime."

His comment cost him some push-ups.

"I learned very quickly to keep my mouth shut and take it as it goes," he says.

Seventeen-year-old Kimberly Wood, another local July 1998 Challenge graduate, lived in a six-shower and six-sink barracks with 33 other girls.

The cadets wore blue uniforms - and yes - combat boots. They were in classes every day until about 4:30 p.m., then it was time for physical training - running and exercise. After dinner it was back to the barracks for homework. Officers were there to help.

Kimberly says that one of them, Spc. Kori McComsey, became like a sister.

Myers says the program was a lot of fun. He was on the basketball team and he was selected for Recondo, an elite Green-Beret-style unit.

There were field trips and volunteer opportunities at a local YMCA day-care center.

Although she hadn't been in trouble at Clear Spring High School, Kimberly says she was bored and unfocused. She's known for a long time that she wants to work in the medical field, but her grades in high school weren't that good.

Now her goals are firm. Kimberly enlisted in the U.S. Army National Guard a few days after her graduation.

With a $250 stipend for further education or training, Pvt. Wood will be heading to Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., in January for eight weeks of boot camp. After that she'll be in San Antonio, Texas, for training as a medical specialist, and hopes to be certified as an emergency medical technician. She plans to go to college and eventually become a registered nurse.

"I've grown up a lot," she says.

Sirbaugh recently started a job at Hagerstown Kitchens and is thinking about joining the Air National Guard.

Myers is enjoying his job as a cook at a restaurant in Gettysburg, Pa. He's hoping to work up to the saut position. Does he ever think about a future in the military?

"I don't know about waking up at 5:30," he says.

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