“Next. Get in here. No that’s not it. Wrong. Read your SOP. Get out and try it again!” Those were the words that resonated throughout the three hour check-in process by Sergeant’s Dave Hornung and Diana Mondragon as they beckoned each Cadet through the doors of the dining facility at the St. Joseph’s Youth Camp in Mormon Lake Village for the check-in process for the ALLECA 2016 class. This year’s class took place from July 24th to 30th of 2016. Sergeant Hornung (Deputy Director-Area “B” and Deputy Commandant) hails from the Gila County Sheriff’s Office and Sergeant Mondragon (Assistant Commandant) hails from the Arizona Department of Public Safety (AZ DPS). Usually all the yelling and commotion is barked out by the long standing voice of Sergeant Dan Palmer (ALLECA Director/Commandant), who has represented the AZ DPS for the last 25-years while assigned to the program. This year was a little different though, because since Sergeant Dan was elected to be the Department of Arizona-American Legion Vice-Commander for Area “B”, an early departure from the usual happened, so he could to attend the National American Legion Membership Workshop in Indiana starting Thursday the 28th. To lesson confusion and distractions Sergeant Dan turned over the responsibilities of running the class to Sergeant’s Hornung and Mondragon, who have been helping with the program for numerous years. Sergeant Dan just hung around for a few days, so he could do consulting when needed, which turned into him being in everyone’s way and being placed in time-out in the Director’s cabin.
This year’s class had twenty-six Cadets (4-Cadet Advisors and 22 Cadets) scheduled to attend and for the first time in almost 20-years all of them actually arrived on check-in day. As accustomed to each class the Cadets were stressed as they carried their luggage in one hand and class literature in the other, and the staff began to incorporate the plans of action to guide the Cadets from being individuals and into a team for the week. Meeting the Sergeants as they entered the door to the dining facility, reciting the Pledge of Allegiance (a few times for some), body and luggage searches, uniform issuance and inspections for fit and preparation for the first physical fitness test induced stress levels as never experienced before by the Cadets. Relief by the Cadets soon set in as all of them passed the physical fitness test (1.5 mile run, push-ups and sit-ups) and accomplished the first hurdles of the week. They were soon off to standing in formation to align the squads and then off to meeting the entire staff and learning the rules for the week.
During the first couple days of the week one Cadet decided to leave and go home, so the graduation class consisted of 21 Cadets and 4 Cadet Advisors. This year’s graduation keynote speakers were Sheriff KC Clark from the Navajo County Sheriff’s Office and Frank Whitten past Department Vice-Commander for Area “B” and Past Director of ALLECA. Throughout the week the Cadets attended classes, such as; Citizenship/Americanism, Career Building, Being Bullied by Others, Defensive Tactics, SWAT/Bomb Squad, K-9 demonstrations, Air Rescue, High Risk Stops, and any others. Many team building exercises happened throughout the week, as well as physical fitness where the Cadets completed a total of 25-miles run and approximately 1,000 push-ups and sit-ups. The typical day for the Cadets began at 4:30 A.M. and ended around 10:00 P.M. The Cadets learned how to wash cloths, make beds, iron uniforms and shine boots.
After all the years of participating in the program and all the articles posted about the ALLECA program within the Legionnaire and American Legion magazine, Sergeant Palmer is still surprised when he comes across someone within the Arizona American Legion that says that they have never heard about the program. This year marked the 35th year of the partnered program between the AZ DPS and American Legion and it is estimated that over 3,300 Cadets have come through the program. ALLECA is one of only seventeen (17) such programs in the United States that are geared toward those individual teenagers who have shown an interest in some phase of law enforcement or military and ours is unique because much of the program is focused on physical fitness. This is one of the many “Children and Youth” programs that are sponsored by The American Legion and our program is seen as the national model for such programs. The program consists of a seven-day encampment and is held at the St. Joseph’s Youth Camp (Mormon Lake Village), which is about 23 miles South of Flagstaff. The program is offered to youths between the ages of 11 and 18. The cadets are fed three meals a day and are provided quarters and uniforms. This camp is not meant to correct disciplinary problems, but is one developed for kids interested in law enforcement or the military. Physical training is rigorous, so cadets attending the academy must be in good shape and able to run 1.5 miles within 15 minutes, and complete 35 push-ups and sit-ups (depending upon age group) upon entering the program. Additional information about the program can be accomplished by visiting www.alleca.org or sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The class president of the ALLECA 2016 class was Dakota Hankins from Surprise, Arizona and he was also the recipient of the Arizona Youth Leadership Conference scholarship to attend their week long program in 2017. The class Guidon and Physically Fit Female was Cadet Dreama King of Maricopa, Arizona and the Physically Fit Male Cadet was Ethan Griffin of Maricopa, Arizona. The Never Quit-Never Die Award went to Cadet Alexandria Gilbert of Cornville, Arizona and the Most Improved Cadet Award was given to Cadet Klayten King of Maricopa, Arizona.
I want to send out a special thank you recognizing all of the Arizona American Legion Post’s, Women’s Auxiliary’s, Sons of the American Legion, American Legion Riders, private citizens, and businesses for supporting numerous cadets that could not financially meet the cost to attend the academy. Thank you letters from the Cadets you supported will be arriving in the mail soon. A huge thank you goes out to Post #3 in Flagstaff and their Sons of the American Legion for feeding the Staff and Cadets for the first day, as well as for providing refreshments and lunch during the graduation. I want to specially thank Ken King (District 11 Commander), Sherie Mercier (Past Department Vice-Commander for Area C) and her husband Mark, and Jim and Jeri Strande (Past Department Vice-Commander for Area C) for stopping by the academy during the week and spending time getting to know and having lunch with the Cadets.
As Sergeant Palmer said in the “I’m a New Person Now,” American Legion Magazine 2009 article, “If we can save one youth, then we’ve been successful” and I think we have looking back at how many graduates we have had throughout all the years. We have created a “Facebook” ALLECA Graduates group page where alumni of the program can stay in touch and look at and download photographs and videos. The group page has already grown in numbers and it reaches out and touches alumni back to 1993, and we are searching to find older alumni to join the group too. Within this group page, the alumni can tell us of their future plans and what exactly ALLECA did for them.
A changing of the command occurred at this year’s graduation. Frank Whitten (Deputy Director for Area B and Finance Office) for the program stepped down as he decided to retire from the program. Sergeant Palmer turned the torch of being the Director of the program over to Sergeant Dave Hornung and he turned over being the Commandant to Sergeant Diana Mondragon. He isn’t getting too far away though, because he is taking over the position that Frank Whitten vacated. Sergeant Palmer had been the Commandant (AZ DPS position) since 2004 and had been the Director (American Legion position) since 2010.
A very special thank you goes out to all of the law enforcement officers that continually volunteer their time each year from the Arizona Department of Public Safety, Gila County Sheriff’s Office, and Maricopa Police Department. All of these officers/deputies are wonderful mentors and provide outstanding leadership to the cadets throughout the week, and without them, the program would not be as successful. It should be noted that the law enforcement officers only received 40-hours of pay and donate over 80-hours during a week for the ALLECA Program. These are the officers; Sgt. Dave Hornung (GCSO and Deputy Camp Commandant), DPS Sgt. Diana Mondragon (Assistant Camp Commandant), DPS Detectives/Troopers Brady Little (Retired), Dave Stopke and Juan Figureroa, Maricopa PD Officer Chris Evans, and City of Maricopa Information Technology Peder Thygsen (ALLECA multimedia). A HUGE special thank you goes out to our ALLECA Volunteer James Shaw (ALLECA 2012 Graduate) to our Cadet Advisors: Mickey McCullough-Cruz, Nathan Davis, Morgan Little, and Santiago Pesqueria for all of their untiring work and devotion throughout the week.
What are the dates for 2017? The ALLECA 2017 class will occur June 3rd to June 10th of 2017 and we will be holding it at the St. Joseph’s Youth Camp, which has been our home since 2011. Applications for the academy will become available in January 2017. I look forward to another successful year and our goal for 2017 is to have 50 Cadets attend the academy.
For God and Country,
Dan Palmer, Sergeant
Dept. of Arizona-American Legion
Vice-Commander Area “B”
Past ALLECA Director/Commandant