For more than an hour and a half, the line never grew shorter despite steady progress at the front in processing candidates — and their paperwork — for class 9 of Sunburst Youth Academy.
Stragglers hauled bags of personal belongings from the parking lot across the lumpy grassy area to the far end of the line long after the scheduled arrival time of 8 a.m.
Nearby, a truck delivered a load of sand to a construction site that will increase the number of classrooms within shouting distance of the Academy headquarters in Building 21. The new classrooms are expected to become available for class 10, and will make it possible for the Academy to support two platoons of female cadets instead of only one. There are already two platoons of male cadets.
Every single one of the candidates waiting to be processed is in serious trouble of one kind or another, but has chosen to grasp the hand-up represented by the Sunburst Academy to help turn his (or her) life around.
The Academy’s founding director, Lieutenant Colonel Chad Vogelsang, has left for Washington, D.C. The intake for class 9 was handled by the experienced staff of the Academy’s new director, Major Joel Armstrong.
Cadets from the just-graduated class 8 crisply supported full-time Academy staff by running errands, setting up extra tables and chairs and showing the nervous newbies that it’s possible to survive and thrive.
Once a candidate stepped through the back door of Building 21, he (or she) was directed to an intake table manned by active-duty military personnel. Each candidate’s Academy paperwork was individually checked. Missing paperwork was noted.
The candidate received a time to arrive on Sunday: 8 a.m., 11 a.m. or 1 p.m. (The candidates can bring missing paperwork on Sunday, when they will say good-bye to family. The separation is wrenching to both candidate and family.)
For now, the candidate is directed to the medical intake table. Like all students, Sunburst Academy candidates must be up-to-date on their immunizations, including TDAP. If they aren’t, or can’t prove they are, then the Academy will see they get immunized.
Further, any required regular medication will be managed by the Academy medical staff. Cadets are not allowed to self-medicate.
The last table was manned by the Orange County Department of Education. Each candidate had yet more paperwork to fill out. One particular sticking point: getting an inter-district transfer from the candidate’s prior school district. Many districts are slow to grant the transfer.
But paperwork problems won’t keep any of these candidates out of the Academy. The staff members are veterans at handling paperwork jams and snafus.
The only person who can keep a candidate out of the Academy at this stage is the candidate. Attendance is voluntary, and some get cold feet at the last minute.
Once all the paperwork is take care of, and lunch is eaten, the candidates will take their meager personal belongings to their assigned sleeping bay and secure them.
Military personnel will deploy trained dogs to ensure that no contraband is snuck in.
Today, the candidates will go back home with their parents.
On Sunday, the parents will go home without them.
And the candidates will begin to seriously ask what they got themselves in for.