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Son Follows Father’s Path for Second Chance

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

Twenty years after Brandon Bullock attended the Maryland National Guard’s Freestate ChalleNGe Academy, his son, Jeremy, processed into the same program at the Edgewood Arsenal of Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, on July 11, 2021.

While a whole new experience awaits Jeremy in the program that provides at-risk youth with academic skills, job skills, and life skills training focusing on positive values, his father will know exactly what he will be doing for the next five-and-a-half months.

The structured environment gives cadets hope and opportunity to become productive citizens. While enrolled in the Freestate ChalleNGe Academy, cadets can earn a G.E.D. diploma and obtain a driver’s license.

“I noticed my son going down a similar track that I was on at one point in my life,” said Brandon Bullock, who attended the program in 2001. “We discussed it and thought it would be in his best interest to come here and do the same thing I did to turn my life around.”

Established under the authority of both federal and state law in 1993, the Freestate ChalleNGe Academy is a state-run, nearly 18 week residential and post-residential intervention for 16–18-year-olds who have dropped out of high school or are at risk of dropping out.

When asked what changes he noticed in his life after graduating, Brandon said, “Mainly, having structure in my life, accountability for myself and my actions and to be able to set goals for myself in the future.” 

Once in-processed,  Brandon and Jeremy embraced one another with a hug before parting ways. Both are looking forward to a positive outcome for Jeremy at the conclusion of the program.

The Freestate ChalleNGe Academy is a division of the National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Program. It services students from around the State of Maryland and accepts applications year-round. Classes begin twice each year, in January and July, and are continuous for 5 ½ months with the exception of last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Following the residential phase of the program, cadets must complete the 12-month post-residential phase in order to successfully complete the Freestate ChalleNGe Academy program. For more information on the Freestate ChalleNGe Academy visit