Thunderbird Youth Academy prepares teens for the future

Wednesday, March 26th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

For ten years Thunderbird Youth Academy in Pryor has been turning troubled teens into productive men and women. Several dozen former cadets are serving with forces in the war on Iraq.

Wednesday, News on 6 reporter Rick Wells found out how the program works. Sgt Ben Kirkpatrick: “Let’s go platoon guides. Get 'em locked up.” It’s the noon formation at the Thunderbird Youth Academy in Pryor. Class 202 is headin' for chow.

Thunderbird conducts two 22-week classes or rotations each year. This one started in January with 178 cadets, halfway thru they're down to 111. Maj (Ret) Steve Tunnell: "We can only spend our time and our resources on the young man or woman who honestly wants to make a change in their life."

Thunderbird's cadets come from more than 50 cities and towns in 37 Oklahoma counties. The program is voluntary, for teens having difficulty in their hometowns, but they must be drug free and not in trouble with the law. Sgt Ben Kirkpatrick is the Commandant of cadets, in charge of running program. He graduated in the first class ten years ago. "I learned some self discipline without a doubt I needed that."

Now he's passing that along to these cadets. Viacheslav Bobarikin, Dennis Shcherbakov, James Dye, Tyren Springer and Gary Blake have already completed their high school GED. Cadet Tyren Springer: "When you finish it makes you feel good inside that you know you accomplished something in your life."

Four of these five are headed to the military. About 22% of Thunderbird graduates do. The academy believes 35 to 40 graduates are currently serving in the war along with five staff members who were called to active duty.

Major Tunnell says Thunderbird is one of the state's most successful youth programs few Oklahoman's have ever heard of, one of the state's best-kept secrets.

Thunderbird Academy is a program of the Oklahoma National Guard and is currently taking applications for its next class, which begins in July. The phone number in Pryor is 918-825-8150.