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MD Defense Force Assist Freestate ChalleNGe Academy’s Day 1

Maj. (MD) Richard P. Barnes, Maryland Defense Force Public Affairs

In-processing took place for candidates at the Freestate ChalleNGe Academy with Maryland Defense Force soldiers ensuring everything went smoothly. Cadets in-processed into the Maryland National Guard’s Freestate ChalleNGe Academy program at Edgewood Arsenal of Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, on July 11, 2021. The procedure was similar to the first days of military basic training. Paperwork was reviewed, each candidate received a duffel bag of uniforms and equipment, and all the male candidates were required to get a shave and a G.I.-style haircut.

Things were a little different this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Before in-processing, each candidate was required to take a COVID-19 test upon arrival. Any candidates with positive tests were disenrolled from the program. COVID-19 vaccinations were also available for the candidates and their family members per Governor Larry J. Hogan’s Vaccine EquityTask Force.

Volunteers from the Maryland Defense Force, the state guard component that supports the Maryland National Guard, provided on-post traffic direction, crewed in-processing stations, and assisted with COVID-19 testing. The Maryland Defense Force also provided an interpreter for any Spanish-speaking candidates and their families.

The Freestate ChalleNGe Academy is a division of the National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Program. Established under federal and state law authority in 1993, the FCA is a state-run 17 ½ months residential and post-residential intervention program for 16–18-year-olds who have dropped out of high school or are at risk of dropping out. The purpose of the FCA is to provide at-risk youth with academic skills, job skills, and life skills training, emphasizing positive values in a structured environment. The design of this program gives youth hope and the opportunity to become productive citizens. It services students in Maryland and accepts applications year-round. Classes begin twice each year, in January and July, and are continuous for 5 ½ months except for last year due to the pandemic. Following the residential phase of the program, cadets must complete the 12-month post-residential phase to complete the Freestate ChalleNGe Academy program successfully.  For more information on the FCA, visit

The Maryland Defense Force (MDDF) is the State’s uniformed volunteer military unit providing professional and technical assistance to the Maryland Military Department. Established in 1917, the MDDF consists of over 170 personnel who perform legal, engineering, finance, medical, chaplain, field support, and ceremonial services for Maryland. For more information on the MDDF, visit