While many were shooting off fireworks with family and friends on New Year’s Eve to ring in the new year, 10 young men from around the country were celebrating the completion of their seven-day mission at Camp Spehar’s Special Warfare Challenge in St. Helena Parish.
A graduation ceremony was held Jan. 2 at Lion King Ministries Retreat Center in Pine Grove.
Camp Spehar’s Special Warfare Challenge is a seven-day course designed to mentor young men aspiring to enter Special Operations selection programs.
As part of the seven-day challenge, cadets took part in boot camp and special operations training exercises, including personal instruction from five veterans and active duty special operators.
Camp Spehar’s course was led by U.S. Navy SEAL Special Warfare Operator 1st Class Kody Banks and Marine Corps Cpl. Chad Felps.
Banks said the program specializes in teaching course navigation, discipline, teamwork, leadership skills, core values, nutrition, running development, water competency, mental toughness and special operations history.
“These young men signed up for this challenge not knowing what to expect, hoping and praying to discover the potential inside of them and how to reach that potential to become the men that they know they can be,” Banks said.
During the exercises, the cadets had to bond together as they were forced to break through their mental barriers in order to successfully accomplish assigned tasks while being continually exposed to cold, wet and sandy conditions.
Banks said he is dedicated to preparing young men for the challenges of the military.
Graduates of the challenge said the lessons they learned during their time at Camp Spehar have better prepared them for the rigors of special operations and furnished them with the tools needed to overcome life’s obstacles.
Camp Spehar is a nonprofit organization established in 2011 and named to honor Navy SEAL Special Warfare Operator 2nd Class Nicholas Patrick Spehar.
Spehar was killed along with 29 other American servicemen and a U.S. military working dog named Bart when their helicopter was shot down on Aug. 6, 2011, in Afghanistan, Banks said.
Banks said Camp Spehar is dedicated to remembering Spehar and the others killed that day by instilling the warrior mindset and positive core values to those men who aspire to be leaders.
“Nick’s unparalleled attention to detail, devotion to teammates and tenacity during adverse conditions are the driving values that Camp Spehar instills in its students,” Banks said.
Since December 2011, Camp Spehar has held one course per year.
Camp Spehar’s main campus is located at the Lion King Ministries Retreat Center in Pine Grove.
Banks said the owner of Lion King Ministries, Laverne King, hosts Camp Spehar’s annual training as well as many other community outreach programs.
King created youth barracks specifically for the program that lodge 20 personnel, as well as a military-style obstacle course.
“Mr. King saw our vision, believed in us and welcomed us with open arms,” Banks said.
King encouraged the cadets during their graduation ceremony to take with them the lessons they learned while participating in the program. “Be strong, be courageous and do not be discouraged. Our Lord, your God, will be with you wherever you go,” King said.
Camp Spehar’s Special Warfare Challenge 2015 graduates are:
Michael Gauthier, Denham Springs
Nick Kellner, Baton Rouge
Ty Milligan, Belle Chase
Timothy Fernstrom, Canfield, Ohio
Austin Johnson, Denham Springs
Joseph Florida, Baton Rouge
Pierson Pelloat, Baton Rouge
Dylan Achord, Baton Rouge
Kristian Payne, Denham Springs
Kevin Boeringer, Boca Raton, Florida
Editor’s Note: This story was updated on Jan. 19, 2015, to correct Kody Banks’ name.