SOUTH WEBSTER — This summer has been a challenge for many young people with activities canceled and uncertainty looming over the return of school. Jacob “Riley” Cook, a junior at South Webster High School decided to take on a different challenge.
For four weeks, Cook embraced the drill sergeants and the literal obstacles of a military training program in Camp Liberty, Alabama. He was pushed to new lengths but would always try to keep the difficulties in perspective.
“The whole point of the experience was to break you down and then build you back up,” said Cook. “When you believe you are at your breaking point, you have to convince yourself that there is no breaking point.”
Equally important was remembering the purpose of the exercise.
“I was doing it for my mom,” he said. “My mom is a big inspiration and I care about making her proud.”
One of over 300 people from across the globe, Cook participated in the Extreme Military Challenge, a training camp for teenagers. For someone who has had a lifelong fascination with the military, his mother, Heather, said he was a perfect fit for the program.
Cook enrolled in the combined course of Cadet Basic Training and Cadet Field Leader Course, which XMC says 75% of the first-year cadets attend. Based on a philosophy of “CRAWL- WALK-RUN,” cadets gradually take on more tasks throughout the duration of the program. It is the XMC-recommended option for those considering attending service academies like West Point and the Naval Academy or an ROTC program in college.
It was an intense experience from the start, his mother said, as the instructors tried to replicate many of the stresses of an Armed Forces boot camp. Along with the physical challenges like crawling through mud and climbing, building self-confidence is another goal of the program.
“He wanted to try it out to figure out if this was a path he wanted to take,” she said. “It has given him a whole new perspective.”
His time was shortened at the base after members of a separate platoon tested positive for the coronavirus. After his test came back negative, Cook was able to return home and was greeted by his family and friends in South Webster. The pandemic kept them for attending the typical end-of-program graduation ceremony, although they hope to go there once it has rescheduled.
Already in a brief time, he has been home, Heather has seen a difference in her son. Gone are the days where she would tell him to make his bed and do his chores, she says. Now Cook needs no reminders, waking up early and leaving his bed with hospital corners.
“He has learned so much,” she said. “He will admit himself it has changed the way he looks at things, his responsibility, his respect for his parents.”
The challenge is not a delinquency program, with the majority going on to careers in the military like Cooks plans to, law enforcement, firefighting or emergency medical services. He recommends it to anyone interested in those fields or those who want to better themselves.
“This is a camp for those that are serious or are wondering if the military life is for them,” Cook said. “It really affects the way you come back home, but you have to want that change.”
Reach Patrick Keck (740)-353-3501 ext. 1931, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @pkeckreporter.
© 2020 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved.