By 1st Lt. Christian Venhuizen
Public Affairs Specialist
Wyoming National Guard
CAMP GUERNSEY, Wyo. – Wyoming is a state where the cowboy is the state symbol, trademarked and placed on every license plate, ID card, and accepted as the mascot of the state’s only public university.
Rodeos draw crowds that rival the size of major collegiate football and basketball games. Cowboy poets and admiring groups still gather around camp fires and tell stories of heroism and do-gooding that make legends out of men.
The cowboy is worn on the patches of Wyoming’s National Guardsmen and flown on the tails of the state’s Air National Guard C-130 Hercules cargo aircraft.
The cowboys of old, like our military, lived by their own codes and principles.
In March 2010, the Code of the West, as written by James P. Owen in his book "Cowboy Ethics," was adopted by the state of Wyoming. Its 10 principles include “ride for the brand,” “live each day with courage,” and “always finish what you start.”
This code was embraced by the commanders of the Wyoming National Guard. It translated into a name change and a philosophical shift for the Wyoming Youth ChalleNGe Program, now the Cowboy ChalleNGe Academy. The academy helps at-risk teens regroup and become responsible citizens.
Along with the name change came a new curriculum, not just for students, but staff as well.
“The Cowboy Ethics curriculum is a youth-based character education program focused on inspiring and engaging young people rather than instructing them,” said Barb Smith, an instructor at the academy. Smith teaches responsible citizenship.
“It has changed the program a lot, the attitudes a lot,” said Ron Schmidt, the commandant of the academy. He oversees the cadre of personnel who mentor and work with the cadets when they are not in class.
“Now, (the cadets) know they are riding for the brand with the Cowboy ChalleNGe curriculum,” he said.
These changes are across the entire academy, said Stephen Peacock, a cadre shift supervisor. “It’s the staff, all the way down to the cadets.”
In 2011, Smith attended a Daniels Fund seminar where Cowboy Ethics was presented. That visit led all ChalleNGe academic instructors to attend a training session presented by Cowboy Ethics developer Ann Moore, an educator herself dealing with at-risk students, in Denver, said Smith.
Within the year, Smith had successfully submitted a grant to the Daniels Fund to implement a Cowboy Ethics curriculum into ChalleNGe. Class 14, which entered ChalleNGe in July, became the first class to be fully immersed in Smith’s efforts, and the first to carry the Cowboy ChalleNGe name. Class 15, which began Oct. 7, will also learn the curriculum.
“It is early, but I would say the organizational name change from Wyoming Youth ChalleNGe Program to WCCA, the posters hanging in all classes and throughout the barracks, the formal Cowboy Ethics classes, and the overall emphasis on the 10 principles have brought about an appreciation for ethical behavior in general,” she said.
Cowboy Ethics, as Smith described it, includes a multitude of themes. Critical thinking and ethical decision making are two themes the staff and cadets were drawn to.
“It gives them a vision,” said Peacock. “When you set the standard right up front, it’s better for everybody.”
That standard includes what Peacock identified as “old-fashioned values.”
“It doesn’t matter what town you go to (In Wyoming), you always have someone asking you ‘Is there something I can help you with,’” he said. “They are old-fashioned and I think that’s what (the cadets) truly need.”
Schmidt and Peacock said many of the cadets come from difficult backgrounds, often a home life filled with negatives, telling them their goals were too far to reach.
Peacock said he understands hurdles and how to develop the ability to adapt and overcome. He’s a former Army drill sergeant.
“The biggest thing you can put back in their tool kit is discipline,” he said, noting that discipline comes with other qualities like respect and pride.
“You can hear students talking with one another in classes and in the hall, reminding one another to ‘take pride’ in their work and to ‘ride for the brand,’” said Smith. “As for faculty, well we are all wearing the uniform. It proudly reads ‘Cowboy ChalleNGe Academy.’”
That uniform comes complete with the image of a cowboy.
–30–Photos available here