Military officials say the program would have to be located in the Casper-Douglas or Laramie-Cheyenne areas in order to attract enough staff – but another option was suggested during a legislative committee meeting last week: Riverton.
“Riverton could be a great place to put this (academy),” Wyoming Youth Now Foundation executive director Chris Klein told the Joint Transportation, Highways and Military Affairs Committee last week. “It has a close proximity to things like Job Corps. Central Wyoming College has a residential program. (And) it’s right next to an airport. …
“It’s definitely an avenue that should be considered.”
Riverton also borders the Wind River Reservation, he said, pointing to a “huge problem within the youth” there when it comes to educational outcomes in public schools.
Recruiters “struggled” to enroll those students in the Challenge Academy when it was located at Camp Guernsey, Klein said, explaining that, due to a “lack of transportation, a lot of these families can’t bring kids over.”
That barrier wouldn’t exist if the program were located in Riverton, he said, urging the state to consider moving the Challenge Academy to a spot “where it’s going to impact the local communities probably the most.”
Regardless of the location, Wyoming Adjutant General Greg Porter said the Challenge Academy shouldn’t re-open in the state until the staffing issue is addressed.
The problem centers on wages, he told the committee last week.
“It’s fairly difficult to attract (people),” he said. “We aren’t able to pay (enough).”
The situation isn’t unique to Wyoming, National Guard Bureau Youth Programs chief Jeff White said, recommending that the state rewrite its Challenge Academy staff descriptions so future employees can qualify for higher pay.
“(We) have to fight to raise that salary,” Wyoming Sen. Stephan Pappas, R-Cheyenne, said. “If we’re willing to raise it … we may be able to stand up a program.”
Wyoming Sen. John Kolb, R-Rock Springs, agreed that “the best course of action … is to ask (for) more compensation for these positions.”
While the wage process plays out, the committee is working on a bill draft that would allow the Wyoming Cowboy Challenge Academy to continue sending in-state recruits to programs ouside of the state.
“This seems like (a) good way to keep the program going,” Porter said of the proposal. “I believe this helps us with that bridge for the future.”
The committee also considered a bill draft authorizing a study of potential Challenge Academy locations in Wyoming, but state staffers said that request should come from the military department.
The committee voted to write a letter to the State Construction Department in support of the study instead.
SCD staffers noted that the next State Building Commission meeting is scheduled to take place Oct. 11 in Cheyenne.
The Transportation committee’s next meeting is Nov. 2-3 in Cheyenne.