Left, left, left, right. Right or Left. I’m a little over a month into my new home in the dorms at the University of Montana Western and already I think that cadence will be stuck in my head forever. It’s my constant morning wake up call at I’ve-never-bothered-to-check-the-time in the morning. A constant reminder throughout my day of their presence. At night, I’m rocked to sleep by the sounds of the cadets enjoying what must be their only free time throughout the day. I live next to a military academy.
Clark Hall, which is right outside my ever open window, is home to the Montana Youth Challenge Academy. A quasi-military academy for at-risk teens in Montana. It’s one of 35 Youth Challenge Academies spanning throughout 27 states Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico. The particular division I'm all too familiar with at this point, was established outside my window in 1999 and has since put through 35 graduating classes. That’s what their website says. Here’s what I know.
The cadets in MYC are at risk teen. It’s meant to whip them into shape to become normally functioning citizens. Some of the cadets are here willinging, others are here under court mandate, some who fall under the “willing” category are probably here on someone else's will, but they don’t keep track of that sort to thing. The cadets are both male and female, in what seems to me a pretty even amount. Though their not technically part of the college, you can find them marching around campus at any given time. Either on the tundra doing exercises, going back and forth from meals, or marching back to Clark Hall from God knows where. We’re not prohibited from talking to the cadets. I’m pretty sure they're not prohibited from talking to us. But we all, more or less, pretend the others don’t exist. In fact, despite crossing paths with them nearly everyday I’ve only had one instance of actually talking to any of the cadets and in that case, it was merely a comment about how we were both walking straight through a set of sprinklers that were doing a fantastic job at watering the sidewalk.
I know most of the students at Western don’t think highly of MYC cadets, and unfortunately, from conversations I’ve heard out my window in the wee hours of the night when they actually have time to talk to each other, I know they know it to. If it’s not the rather annoying cadence they’re always chanting as they march, it’s the idea that they make our small campus less safe. One of my friends in particular, lost her car keys the first week of school and still blames the MYC cadets for stealing them (It should be noted her car hasn’t been stolen yet). Despite this (and I think my roommate and I have a particular reason to hate the cadence) I don’t mind them. In fact, I’ve come to appreciate their presence.
My dorm room gets hot pretty quickly, though my roommate and I have a fan, it’s tiny and isn’t suitable for cooling down the space on it’s own. So our window is almost always open to varying degrees. This, of course, makes it extremely easy to hear whatever is going on next door, weather it be the marching or the conversation. At first, this was a problem for the both of us. The marching, along with it’s cadence is annoying and seemingly unending, and the talking that happens during the cadets free time is loud, and often includes cadets running past our window yelling at each other. But we, or at least I, have gotten used to it. The marching has become a comforting norm for me. If the cadets are marching, the world must still be spinning. It’s become a part of life here, the kind that turns a living space into a home, and with my family and friends half way across the country it’s nice to feel like I have a place where I am.
Another unique thing about living next to the MYC Academy is, as I mentioned before, I hear them talking all the time. And you know what, they talk about the same things as anyone else. One night, I heard a guy begging his commander to let him run laps around the hall to get exercise, the same way I’ve heard football players talk about working out for the next game. One Saturday, during some free time the cadets get in the afternoon, one of the cadets fell asleep in the grass outside Clark Hall only to be woken up and per usual, relentlessly teased by his friends. That same night, one of the female cadets came running up to the metal door right across from my room, that is as far as I know a unused entrance to Clark, and began punching it in anger. I watched another cadet came running up behind her to calm her down. One cadet likes to whistle the famous mockingjay tune from the Hunger Games, and on several occasions, I’ve heard the cadets mocking the same cadence that apparently drives them crazy as well.
If I’ve learned anything, the cadets are human, no different than you or I. They have hobbies, and friends, likes and dislikes, and it bothers them that they're judged. Most of them come from troubled families, troubled lives. But they're trying their best to stay on track and do what’s right. We shouldn’t be judging them, no one should. Especially not the students of the college. The kids are just like us, maybe even more disciplined. They deserve as much respect and kindness as anyone else, but they don’t receive it because they’re marked by their past. For that reason, I wish everyone had my view. My view of the military academy outside my window.