Alaska Military Youth Academy reopens campus for in-residence program

The Alaska Military Youth Academy is prepared to begin their next in-residence class with a staggered arrival of new cadets Aug. 4-6, after shifting to an online training program for the last session due to COVID-19 concerns that have since been readdressed.

Throughout the planning process to determine the possibility of transitioning back to on-campus operations, AMYA leadership followed guidance provided by the Alaska Departments of Education and Early Development, and Health and Social Services, and Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

After careful review, feedback from officials, and development of COVID-19 health and safety protocols, it was determined that the academy may safely reopen the campus to a new class of students.

“The safety of candidates, cadets, and staff is paramount,” said AMYA Director David McPhetres. “We have a solid plan and risk mitigation measures in place to ensure the health of those on campus,” he said.

Requirements for Class 2020-3, beginning Aug. 4, include:

All staff will wear masks when within six feet of candidates or each other, and when within ten feet during physical training activities; increased frequency of sanitization of all facilities between classes and meals; eight infection control kits staged in key facilities on campus which include sanitizer, masks, personal protective equipment, face-shields, and goggles; vehicle occupancy is limited to 25 percent of rated capacity; class size is limited to 150 candidates on day one or 50 per platoon; campus layout provides for physical distancing of platoons with very limited cross platoon interaction for the first two weeks of the program; barracks arrangement for sleeping, showering, and restrooms is adjusted for social distancing; staff and candidates will be screened daily for COVID symptoms or possible exposure at in-processing and while on campus; on-campus facilities allow for physical isolation of candidates with symptoms or those who test positive for COVID-19; Alaska Department of Health and Social Services will be notified if there are any positive cases; any positive test will generate coordination with the parents or guardians on best placement or treatment.

Cadets’ arrival will be staggered for in-processing over a period of three days in place of the regular one-day process, which allows for less interaction and social distancing. They won’t leave campus for the first five weeks of the program. Outside visitation by non-staff members is limited to food or supply delivery with no contact with candidates, only on-line visitation will be authorized and platoons will have staggered meal times to for physical distancing in the dining facility.

AMYA’s Class 2020-03 was originally scheduled to begin July 28, but was postponed due to a staff member who tested positive for COVID-19 on July 21 after being exposed by a family member. The one-week delay to the AMYA class start allowed for contact tracing to determine any other AMYA staff who may have been exposed, and they were notified, isolated, and tested. The risk of exposure was very low, as the member with a positive test was not on campus due to leave and self-isolation for two weeks prior to the positive result. This is the only case of COVID-19 among AMYA staff.

AMYA is one of 41 programs nationwide, all of which are impacted by COVID-19 in a variety of ways that include delayed start, distant delivery, closed campus, and accelerated and virtual graduation.

The quasi-military model at the academy is a proven tool that provides structure and a distraction free environment in which young Alaskans may pursue and develop their academic and life goals.

This voluntary program is provided through a cooperative agreement between the State of Alaska and the National Guard Bureau’s Youth ChalleNGe program at no cost to the candidates. The program begins with a two-week acclimation phase that challenges the candidates to determine if they have the commitment and dedication to become cadets. The candidates have no access to social media, stimulants, drugs, and maintain a regimented physically active schedule that begins at 0600 and ends with lights out at 2200.

They follow a strict manual which addresses behavior, dress, appearance, and discipline. Their meals and snacks are provided by the dining facility at set times during the day. The AMYA mission is to help reclaim the lives of Alaska’s at-risk youth and produce program graduates with the values, skills, education and self-discipline to succeed as adults. That mission is best achieved in the residential setting which has produced over 6000 graduates since the first class in 1994.