With no cares and no motivation, 18-year-old Robert Parker was a high school dropout. His daily routine consisted of waking up at noon and washing car windows for $4.25 an hour, followed by drinking and partying with his friends until the wee hours of the morning. His parents worked in the casino industry and spent much of their time away from home. No parental figures were present to tell him otherwise.

Nearly 10 years later, this same man has added a very prestigious prefix to his name: United States Air Force Staff Sergeant.

Currently a member of the Nevada International Guard, an Air Force Security Police Officer and, most recently, an Air Force Combat Arms and Weapons Instructor, Parker hardly believes it himself. The program that saved his life, the National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Program, transformed his once troubled youth into a path of endless opportunities.

“I didn’t want to be a loser, and I knew I needed to make a change when I dropped out of high school my junior year,” said Parker, who, although he was from Nevada, attended the closest program site in Mesa, Ariz., at Williams Air Force Base. “The program was really strict and it was emotionally challenging being away from my family. The first two months were more difficult than basic training.”

Parker says that while the Program’s military-like structure and style of discipline was a drastic change from the careless lifestyle he once knew, he found the ambition he was searching for and guidance he craved.

“I gained motivation through physical training. We had personal instructors and were learning in smaller groups. On weekends, we did a lot of community service,” he said. “I had more of a drive, a wanting to succeed and do better. I was getting a grasp of what I wanted to do and an idea of where and who I wanted to be.”

After graduating with honors, Parker finally saw a light at the end of his tunnel. He was even awarded the Adjutant Generals Award. Now, with a five-year-old son and a flourishing military career, Parker looks forward to giving back to the Program that gave him so much.

“I plan to go back and visit, talk to the students, see how they are doingmaybe even leave an impression of my own on them,” he says. “I want to tell them to stick with it and help them realize that if they can succeed with the Youth ChalleNGe, then they can pretty much succeed with anything in life.”