Adult & Teen Challenge Offers Specialized Program for Military Personnel
Jeff B. Gautier’s childhood memories center around the culture of drugs to which those around him were addicted.
An overdose at 19 launched his search for purpose, which led him to enlist in the North Carolina National Guard. Seven years into his career, however, the military cited his failed drug tests in refusing to reenlist him.
At 27, he became a meth and opioid addict. But neither the military nor his heroin, meth, and pill addiction addressed the burden of trauma on his life.
His mother told her down-and-out son to reach out to his brother who had once struggled with addiction and who had successfully completed Sandhills Adult & Teen Challenge (ATC) in Elizabethtown, North Carolina. The program brought him to faith in Christ and empowered him with skills to overcome addiction and thrive in sobriety.
Twelve months in ATC also brought Gautier, 35, to Jesus, freed him from his addictions and gave him a purpose in life.
“I felt called to help others like me,” he says. After finishing his own stint in the program, Gautier served as an intern at Sandhills before joining the staff, in time becoming a local center director.
In November, the Sandhills program named Gautier as the director of its new offshoot Military Specialization Program, a 30-day faith-based residential recovery program designed to address alcohol and drug addiction in active-duty service members. The program also offers a 16-week residential recovery program for veterans.
Program participants receive licensed clinical counseling services, group therapy, and continued fitness training for active-duty service members to meet armed forces standards.
ATC has historically offered “one size fits all” programs for adults and adolescents, both male and female, notes Russ L. Cambria, an Assemblies of God pastor and church-planter who is executive director and CEO of the Sandhills Adult & Teen Challenge.
While ATC has long helped veterans overcome addiction, “The Military Specialization Program is the first one of its kind that focuses on unique needs of veterans and active-duty personnel regarding mental health issues,” he says.
Those issues include feelings of fear, deep loss, suicide, brokenness, helplessness, isolation, financial hardship, lack of identity, and post-traumatic stress, “which often result in their addiction,” Cambria says.
A 2017 study examining the National Survey on Drug Use and Health data found that veterans were more likely to use alcohol in a one-month period, and to report heavy use of alcohol, than their non-veteran counterparts. Additionally, 65 percent of veterans who enter a treatment program report alcohol as the substance they most frequently abuse—a figure nearly twice that of the general population. That same National Institutes of Health study also found that substance use often precedes suicidal behavior in the military.
In North Carolina at Fort Liberty (formerly called Fort Bragg), U.S. Army Assemblies of God chaplain James R. Damude has witnessed the tragic results.
“I’ve seen alcohol contribute to suicides in my career. Without the alcohol abuse combined with whatever else is going on in the soldier’s life, those soldiers would probably be alive,” he says. “Consider, too, how much more resilient the soldier would be if he renewed his relationship with Christ and found a good church home.”
The chaplain says that the military itself offers secular alcohol treatment programs that focus on learning responsibility, staying away from trouble, and awareness regarding warning signs of excessive drinking.
In contrast, “The Military Specialization Program is going to change the whole person—both their spiritual life and their personal life—and that’s going to change everything about a soldier,” Damude says.
“That’s the only change that’s lasting,” he says. “Other programs cover up the real issue: the spiritual deprivation we all have without Christ.”
As soldiers and veterans graduate from the Military Specialization Program, Damude believes their testimonies of life change and overcoming addiction will spread word quickly.
“Once we get soldiers there and God moves in their lives, I don’t think they’ll have a problem with marketing and advertising,” Damude says.
While the Military Specialization Program campus is a half-hour drive from Fort Liberty, soldiers and veterans of any U.S. military branch living anywhere needing help with alcoholism or addiction are eligible to enroll.
Upon completion of a planned dorm, the current 14-bed program on 28 rural acres will expand to accommodate 30 beds. The facility includes a 4,000-square-foot multipurpose building named for Nathan Horvatich, who served 20 years in the United States Army before his death from alcohol-related suicide.
Among the Military Specialization Program’s supporting churches are First Assembly of God in Asheboro, which donated $90,000 to buy and renovate the on-site program director’s home, and Revelation Church in Bladenboro, an Assemblies of God congregation pastored by Anthony Hardin, Gautier’s mentor.
Adult & Teen Challenge president and CEO Gary W. Blackard , himself a former Marine, says the Military Specialization Program vision includes adding locations in the Midwest and West.
“Our role at the national office is to come alongside those ATC corporations who have been called to serve this population, providing resources, leadership and strategic planning support,” Blackard says.
Since Assemblies of God pastor David Wilkerson founded the faith-based non-profit 65 years ago, Adult & Teen Challenge has grown to more than 215 residential centers in the United States and Canada. Its mission is to provide adults and teens freedom from addiction and other life-controlling issues through Christ-centered solutions that include effective mentoring, discipleship, and life-skills training.