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Guard program shows promise

It's much more than just a way to meet recruiting needs

Military discipline is not for everyone, but for some it can be a lifesaver. For that reason, those who are quick to denounce a National Guard program for teens should consider the participants before they pass judgment on the effort.

The program, which was outlined in a story in Sunday's Mail Tribune, is the National Guard's Youth Challenge Program. The program, one of only 31 in the nation and the only one in Oregon, has about 130 students who come to the school near Bend with problems ranging from chronic truancy to drug addiction.

The National Guard school focuses on the basics: teaching discipline, setting and meeting academic expectations and making goals for the future. The students live a relatively Spartan existence for five months, with no TV or radios, no phones and little free time. Outside the classroom, where they can earn at least eight high school credits, their days are the equivalent of military basic training.

Of course, if you mix kids and the military, you're bound to have detractors. This, they say, is nothing less than another way for the military to meet its recruiting needs.

That is a gross oversimplification. Yes, the military may get some recruits &

8212; about a quarter of the students join the military after graduation. But the more important number is the 70 percent of the students who are still on track nearly a year and a half after leaving the program. These are kids who were mostly on a fast track to nowhere. They come to the school with an average grade point of 1.1 out of 4. They have seventh-grade reading skills and eighth-grade math skills on average. These are truly at-risk students, who find no motivation in school and who in truth are almost certain not to get high school diplomas.

These are not students likely to be turned around by a more nurturing school environment or the latest educational reform. These are kids in need of some tough love and a direction in their lives. Maybe someday our schools can provide that environment for those who aren't making it in the standard situation, but for now a lack of resources puts that way down the list of priorities.

The National Guard program is voluntary and, for most of these kids, they're lucky to have someone who cares enough about them to enroll them and try to turn their lives around. The graduates of this school have been given another chance and if they make the most of it, we all will be the better for it.

Heads, we winYou've no doubt heard the expression, "You'd lose your head if it wasn't attached." For the statue of Abraham Lincoln in Ashland's Lithia Park, even being attached wasn't enough to deter vandals from decapitation.

That leads to another old adage, "Two heads are better than one." But the second adage doesn't make sense without a third: "One good turn deserves another."

The story begins with Megan Mitchell and Steve Strickland discovering that a large landscaping stone in front of their residence had been knocked over by vandals. It was too heavy for them to move, but they prevailed on a city street crew to help them.

The pair are offering to repay that relatively small act of kindness many times over by donating not one, but two statue heads to the city. The pair had stonework done for their home earlier, and have connections with artisans in Asia who can make Lincoln a new head, plus a spare.

The ongoing saga of vandalism to public art and property is a sad one. The Lincoln head has been stolen twice before and other public works are routinely vandalized in far too many places in our valley and in our world.

But the generous act of Mitchell and Strickland gives us all hope that the senseless ugliness will not win out if we don't let it.