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Around the Foothills

A last call to unfurl as an adult of character and purpose

July 20, 1989|DOUG SMITH

At 8:45 each morning this week, 21 young men and women wearing white T-shirts and blue baseball caps have assembled in a ragged military formation in the parking lot behind the state employment office in South Glendale.

Sgt. Larry Forrest, a tall, stern figure in a light green uniform, looked them over with restrained disapproval as they answered roll call.

"Cutright!" the drill sergeant barked.

"James C.," a recruit called back.

In spite of the boot-camp routine, Cutright wasn't in the Army yet.

He tried but couldn't make it.

The Sunland youth twice took the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery--the entrance exam for the military--and flunked. He was a youth without a job, without a basic education and without a future.

Now he's receiving a last call to unfurl as an adult of character and purpose. The platoon he mustered with for the first time Monday is actually a class. It will meet six hours a day, five days a week for six weeks. Part of its instruction will be military. Most will be employment training and the three Rs toned by military discipline.

The class mission is to shape unskilled, undisciplined youth into material for the military, work or school.

The class is run by the California National Guard under an obscure program called IMPACT. It was the brainstorm 12 years ago of then-Gov. Edmund G. (Jerry) Brown Jr. It is still in favor under his ideological opposite, Gov. George Deukmejian.

Even as he cut millions of dollars in social programs from this year's budget, Deukmejian left an appropriation to expand IMPACT from five to seven centers at a cost of $1,700 per student. One of those centers went to Glendale, whose Chamber of Commerce Military/Veterans Committee had been lobbying for it two years.

The program will have a permanent home this fall in a rented office on West Glenoaks Boulevard.

Although the zoning approval is pending, its director, Capt. Milton Myers, got the first class off the ground this week in temporary quarters at the Employment Development Department on South Central Avenue.

After roll call on the parking lot among the state office workers' cars, the 16 men and five women, all ages 17 to 21, filed into a tight little classroom on the second floor. Each had a name tag on a desk, beginning with the title cadet .

On their second day of class Tuesday, the cadets began with Michael Sims, employment marketing specialist with the EDD. Sims had them fill out unemployment benefits forms.

"Do you know why I'm asking you to do this?" he asked with gentle solicitation. "To show you how much the state cares about you. They're willing to pay you to learn."

Each student had a paperback dictionary and a stack of general education workbooks. The math book begins with 1 plus 1 equals 2, literally, and ends with algebra equations and basic geometry concepts such as perimeters, areas and volumes.

Standing in the back of the class, Myers said many of the youths had officer potential.

"Most of them did not take algebra and geometry in high school. They just wanted to go into the military. They didn't know they needed them."

Many of the students in the class didn't even complete high school.

When asked how the first day's class affected his expectations of the future, Cadet Badolian answered: "It rised. Now I take the class, I can go into my future and make plans."

Cadet Fetherolf said friends came to his house the night before and were stunned to see him doing homework.

"I told them this is serious," he said.

"Be honest," Sims exhorted. "Who did not do any homework last night?"

Two hands went up.

"I read, but I fell asleep reading," Cadet Franklin confessed.

"I had a game last night, but no excuses," Cadet Juarez said.

When the applications were completed, Sims turned the students over to Elli Ronen, who addressed them with a heavy "Good morning," in an Eastern European accent. There was a mumble in response.

Myers broke in. "When he says, 'Good morning,' you're supposed to sound off. Let's try it again."

"Good morning, sir!" they said.

"You don't have to shout," Ronen assured them. Then the lesson began with a review of division, then fractions.

"Yesterday, we made a review of whole numbers," he began. "Who has a problem with fractions?"

Half the class raised hands. He began fractions with an analogy of a broken plate.

"The only difference, when you break a whole number, all the pieces are equal," Ronen said. They listened.

In six weeks, the students will receive 108 hours of academics from Ronen. They will work with Sims 40 hours to learn how to sell themselves to employers. They will drill under Forrest 32 hours.

They'll live by rules. On Tuesday, Forrest collected hand-written papers on amoeba and Einstein's theory of relativity as penance for infractions.

At the end, they'll have a graduation, then choose their own directions in life. Statistics from past classes suggest that 30% will join the armed forces, 20% will do nothing and the rest will find jobs or return to school.

They'll all know how to say "Good morning, sir."

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