BIG SANDY, Texas -- If you were to stop most 17-year-old guys on the street and ask what takes up most of his attention, he would probably put movies, music and girls at the top of his list. But some teenagers are giving up those things, and more, for an entire year. What they are doing instead might just restore your faith in the future of this country.
During the East Texas summer, the International ALERT Academy turns boys into men with a unique program that's one-part Boy Scouts, one-part Bible school, and lots of good, manly fun.
ALERT stands for Air Land Emergency Response Team, and is made up of high school graduates from around the country. Colonel John Tanner has been leading this group for 15 years.
"The fellow who began this program really saw a need in the lives of young people who didn't seem to have a purpose in life," Tanner said.
"They didn't seem to know where they were going, and so he developed this program in order to prepare them to serve, but also to give them these great skills that they're not going to get in the home and they aren't going to get in many other places," he added.
52-Week Training Period
This is accomplished through a 52-week course of training at the ALERT Academy. But this is not any ordinary college -- these men get intense training in a whole host of life skills that will come in handy throughout their lives.
Sam Kordik signed up when he was 18.
"The first three or four weeks of basic training were murder," Kordik said. "It was intense. It was hard. I was dying. I felt like there was no possible way I could make it. At the same time, there was no way I could go home and say 'I quit.'"
After completing the course, Kordik returned for advanced paramedic training. Now, two years later, he directs the Quest program -- a four-week summer course for boys aged 14 to 16.
"We strive to give them basic skills every man needs," he said. "Maintenance skills, financial skills, financial stewardship, time management -- stuff like that. We point them towards scripture, teaching them to use scripture as the basic rule of life. And above all, we just strive to develop disciplines in them for success. Disciplines like prayer, daily devotions, physical training, proper eating -- the basic disciplines men need to grow up," Kordik said.
Selfless service is a hallmark of the program. During the course, these men often deploy to disaster zones to help with reconstruction or to bring humanitarian aid, and this campus is being certified by the state of Texas as a designated facility for hurricane survivors with special medical needs.
Each cadet learns what it takes to be a first responder, ranging from Firefighting to biblical counseling. They will be certified as Emergency Medical Technicians and can go on to eventually become a paramedic.
And some of the fun part comes during extreme classes like mountain rescue training, earning a private pilot's license on the campus airstrip, or heading to Miami to learn scuba rescue from some of the best -- the Miami Dade Dive Rescue Squad.
What's more, each element of the curriculum is woven around scripture, and by the end of the course, each man can recite entire books of the Bible.
"You give a man responsibility over a unit, you give him responsibility over equipment, you give him the responsibility to drive fire trucks, and he grows in character," Kordik explained. "It helps him grow up."
"The whole ALERT experience has driven me toward God, and has given me a heart for ministry and serving nations," one young man said.
A Boy Enters, A Man Leaves
"What we see are men coming out of high school that don't know what they want to do," Col. Tanner said. "They really haven't a clue. Some of our men have been able to get college credit up to two years for the experience they've had here through the training."
In 15 years of operation, the ALERT Academy has turned out over 2,000 first responders -- many of whom go on to the mission field, law enforcement, or some other public service.
But no matter where they go from here, when a man leaves this place, he knows one thing for sure -- he's a man.
International Alert Academy
1 Academy Blvd
Big Sandy, TX 75755
*Original Broadcast Date: August 13, 2009