Keith Gibbs Keith Gibbs

Mother knew best

Boot camps for kids must be closely watched

By Kevin Uhrich 11/03/2011

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I  had what could be called “behavioral problems” as a kid, finding myself in trouble for any number of reasons — acting up, tardiness, smoking, gambling, fighting and generally not paying attention. 
The nuns at my Catholic elementary school had the answer to my shenanigans back then, which was much like the age-old solution chosen today by frustrated parents who subscribe to a new, drill-instructor type of boot camp for their troubled children — beating respect for authority into them.
In my case, it seems nearly all the good sisters at St. Mary’s Elementary School in my hometown in Pennsylvania had decided to make me their personal punching bag. I was big for my age, and slaps to the face, beatings with yardsticks and wooden pointers and closed-fisted swipes to my back and head were common. All the nuns pulled hair. Some yanked or slapped our ears with cupped hands. Others gave us “cheekers,” grabbing both cheeks as we sat in our desks and bending us backwards so that our heads were almost hitting the desk behind us. But none of this worked. If anything, I became more rebellious.
Come eighth-grade, Sister Flavian had my number. Along with punching and slapping us all, she also got psychological occasionally. One day, one of the bigger kids, who was shy and not very popular, sheepishly walked to the front of the room and asked Flavian for permission to go to the lavatory. Incredibly, she said no, forcing the child to stand in front of the other boys and girls until a large wet spot appeared on the front of his pants. 
Of course, I never told my parents about any of this. Mom and dad loved the Church and devoted their lives to it and the school. I know they loved me too. But I thought they would blame me if I said anything, saying I deserved it, which I thought I did. 
When mom went to school on parent-teacher night, Flavian pulled her aside. “Mrs. Uhrich, I really think you should beat Kevin more at home,” she said, to which mom asked, “Do you beat him at school?” 
“Why, yes,” Flavian said matter-of-factly, “every day, and you should too.” 
With that, mom went off. “If you ever touch him again, I’m pulling him and my other kids out of Catholic school and calling the police,” she said. When mom got home and told me this story, I knew she was on my side. Not surprisingly, I was never beaten again. What that sadistic nun did was criminal, and she knew it, even if I didn’t.
After watching a videotape of teenagers being tortured at one of these boot camps, where adults wear drill instructor costumes and literally beat discipline into children, I was both horrified and sickened. This particular camp in Brea was operated, in part, by Kelvin “Sgt. Mac” McFarland, who currently faces trial on kidnapping, extortion and other charges in relation to one of the young children attending his program in Pasadena, the Family 1st Growth Camp. He’s denied those charges. Free on bail, McFarland is expected to appear in court on Nov. 16.
As it turns out, McFarland wasn’t the only one in town running a boot camp. The other one, Commit II Achieve Boot Camp, is run by the nonprofit Sarge’s Community Base, Inc., operated by Keith “Sarge” Gibbs, McFarland’s former boss, who also oversaw the camp in Brea, where police believe the videotaped discipline occurred two years ago. McFarland has told another reporter that he wasn’t there. However, he can be seen in the video, though his face and those of the other “instructors” are intentionally obscured.
In the recorded incidents, which can be viewed at the Pasadena Star-News Web site, a child is seen carrying a tire around his neck as one faux DI runs up to him and starts barking indecipherable orders into his face. A second “instructor” joins in the hazing as the child tries to get away, then a third and a fourth. They all stand around the child’s head and spit separate orders simultaneously into his face and ears. By this time, the youngster is crying, on the verge of throwing up and screams, “Someone make it stop!” 
Another scene, supposedly from the same camp, depicts a group of teens, all sweating, forced to drink water while they are throwing up. Although a voice on the tape has been identified as that of Gibbs, he told KFI’s Bill Carroll, and later Pasadena Weekly City Reporter André Coleman, that he wasn’t there.
Did these wannabe teachers/babysitters/drill instructors step over the line in their sadistic treatment of these kids? Did the parents of these youngsters know what they were getting their children into when they signed them up? 
It seems my mom had it right; it’s ultimately up to police to investigate and determine if crimes were committed in cases like this. And now — thank goodness — the cops are finally in the process of doing that.

The cautionary tale above is a good illustration of why strong, responsible leadership is absolutely necessary in local schools, including Pasadena City College. Not that they really need our support, given that each of our candidates for the PCC Board of Trustees already has the backing of most community leaders, but we strongly urge the reelection of incumbents Bill Thomson, Jeanette Mann and John Martin. With their proven records of fiscal prudence while maintaining staff levels and academic achievement in the face of massive budget cuts, voters would be foolish to do otherwise. 


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Ever been to boot camp? And I mean a REAL boot camp? Well, I attended boot camp at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas. Even so, AF boot camp is yet still regarded -- by the other two-an-a-half U.S. military services (the Navy is actually one and a half service, as the Marine Corps has a boot camp infrastructure distinctly seperate (yet also intertwined with) from its own department-head Navy) -- as the "wus" boot camp of the Armed Forces mostly because the average Air Force enlistee is generally (self-)considered more cerebral than the other two services (the Squid-Force usually laughs quite dirisively at such contentions). Intentionally, the Air Force wants to (still? I hope) keep it that way.

Let me tell you something, if you want your (or any) child to develop a life-long conviction of service to the living, you certainly don't want to make them suffer through any (quasi)military-grade boot camp. This is because the primary purpose of virtually all (para) military training centers (especially those that have an infantry-focus) is to functionally dehumanize its cadets in order to afterward reassemble their psyche into a more effecient human killing machine.

Because however, there is no distinct military-mission agenda within these pretend boot camps, the only thing they really end up doing is just screwing over the minds of their captive child-combatants.

Private boot camps as illustrated in your articles this week are -- functionally -- just child-abuse institutions. Since they are not military-education programs, the only REAL reason that any of them have for existence is to destroy the prevailing personality of all incarcerated children so that they can then re-construct that personality into a more pliable and compliant victim.

At least in the Armed Forces boot camps, the trainees can be no younger than 17 years of age. At age 17, most people have at least a remote idea of who they are going to be (this includes sexual orientation). These faux-military boot camps however, seem to be taking in children as young as 15 and 16 (and perhaps even younger)! And since these fake drill instructors obviously seem to really enjoy what they're doing, doesn't anybody in authority ever wonder just how ecstatically these Smokey-Bear cap wearers are getting their rocks off?

Sounds more to me like a cloned "Evil Santa" version of the Boy Scouts.

Want to get just an idea in general of what boot camp life is about? Get a copy of the book "Maggot".


posted by DanD on 11/03/11 @ 11:50 a.m.

Dear Kevin Uhrich,
I am a 17-year-old girl that has been in 17 foster homes in the 2 ½ years that I have been in the foster care system. Luckily, 1-year ago I was placed with my current foster mom that is loving, caring and committed to me. In March of 2011 I was introduced to Keith”Sarge’ Gibbs and his organization. In my initial introduction to Sarge, he explained how his organization works and why he has dedicated 7-years of his life helping at “Risk Youth” that was me! As a once troubled teenager I can easily feel when a person truly cares about children, as he was explaining his organization to me I could tell that he was sincere. It touched my heart that a person who knew nothing about these kids and had no hidden agenda, and would give up time from his life to help “at risk-youth”, who like me at one point in time, did not have anyone to guide us down the right path.
In your article you made reference to both of your parents “Mom and Dad”. Most children do not have both parents at home, and the same can be said for most foster homes. Like me I came from a single parent home prior to being placed in foster care. Once in foster care I was placed in 17 different homes and out of those 17-homes only 1 had both parents.
Respect: In your article you stated that “drill-instructor type of boot camp for their children beating respect for authority into them”. I’d like to talk to you about “beating respect”. As a child coming up, I always heard the word respect, respect your elders, respect your teachers, etc. However, I never really learned the meaning of respect until being placed in my current Foster Home and being introduced to Commit II Achieve Youth Boot Camp. Where respect, discipline and structure is the core focus. What I’ve learned about respect is that it is earned not given. If you want someone to respect you, you have to first learn to respect yourself. Question, how did I learn to first respect myself? I had to first learn the things I was doing to myself were not respect. This was self-sabotage and self-destructive behavior. At one point in time I was doing drugs and always running away from placement, I had dropped out of school and had no, absolutely no direction, all I wanted to do was party. I thought it would never affect me and I also thought I had respect for myself. My foster mom was quick to teach me the effects and how that was a disrespect to myself and my body. I had come to the realization that I wanted more for myself. Once I return to school I realized I had done so much damage, however, I was given the support from my foster Mom and Sarge that returning to school and changing my life was obtainable. After I learned that, and being giving the tools I needed to succeed I have stopped all drug and alcohol use an am now an Honor Roll student.

posted by Tania.Tafoya on 11/04/11 @ 04:20 p.m.

Please note that not at any given time has anyone “beaten respect for authority into me”, and as far as this happening in the Commit II Achieve Youth Boot Camp, this could not be further from the truth. I have never witnessed any mental nor physical abuse from Sarge or any of his Drill Instructors (DI). First let me say that my foster sister has been in the Commit II Achieve Youth Boot Camp for over 2-years, and she has never reported or complained of any abuse. As for me, I went to drill weekend about 2-weeks ago for 3-days and 2-nights and this is what I experienced.
Drill Weekend: Upon arriving at the drop-off point for the parents I was immediately instructed to “fall in” behind the other cadets that were there, I was instructed to drop my gear (personal belongings: sleeping bag and backpack) Then you are to stay in formation mean while the drill instructors check your bag for items that are not allowed to be taken on drill weekend. After that is done you start exercising (pushups, situps, and jumping jacks). Meanwhile waiting for the bus to arrive, the instructors recite the RIDD (Respect, Integrity, Discipline, Dedication).After reciting it a couple of times, they instruct us to repeat it, we do that until the bus arrives. When we get to the destination, everyone sets up the tents and sleeping bags and gear are put in a spot together. When everything is put together, we all get in-formation and get ready to start a hike .We hike for a couple of miles. When we stop, the drill instructor, talks to us about choosing the right path in life and how choosing the wrong path can affect our lives. When we get back to our sleeping area, a fire watch list is made. Fire watch is when one or two cadets along with an instructor stay up for an hour to watch the sleeping area for animals or tarantulas. We wake up and we are on a schedule, we have PT (physical training), a run, and followed by breakfast, academics, Leadership Training and Mentoring.

posted by Tania.Tafoya on 11/04/11 @ 04:22 p.m.

Please note there is yelling, however, there is never more than one person , if you fail to comply with the DI, another DI will come over to try a different approach, what are we supposed to expect, it is not day care it’s Boot Camp. At no time did I ever witness any physical abuse when a cadet fails to comply. Kids don’t go there because they have been abiding all the rules and have been good. They need discipline and that is what the organization is giving them. They do break you down to build you back up, this consists of an intense physical workout which is called “smoking’’ After this physical workout all cadets are brought to the ‘hill of confession ‘at this point in time all cadets, are supposed to share why they feel their parents have placed them in boot camp. What I witnessed at that point in time was very powerful; the kids share what they had done and showed signs of remorse. I have never seen anything like that before in my life, I am not an emotional person, and kids were crying, and I had never seen a softer side of the DI. Some kids chose to go away and speak 1-on-1 with the DI’s. Coming down the “Hill of Confession” all cadets are required to walk down the hill yelling how we are going to change our behaviors.
Having gone through this very intense weekend, losing my nice comfortable bed, running water, a roof over my head, computer and my music, I now have a different appreciation for the basic things in life that I have taken for granted.
In reading your article, I was very disturbed by the way YOU were treated, by the Catholic Church, i.e. nuns. Seems to me the Catholic Church and the Nuns need to be investigated and taught how to appropriately discipline a child. These are people who made a commitment to their lord and savior to protect God’s people, to teach and lead them the right way. Like in Boot Camps, as well as in, some Catholic Churches, there are bad apples; unfortunately, it takes something to happen to weed them out. For you, your bad apple was a Nun at Catholic School, Sister Flavian and for Boot Camp it was Kelvin McFarland.
I would agree with you when you said ‘Mother Knows Best”. As a parent, they should know what type of organization they are putting their kids into and who they are being exposed to. Parents should do their homework, research, and always ask questions, never accept the first answer. Parents should also make it very clear to their children, that they are devoted to nothing and no one more than their children, had this been made clear to you as a child, maybe you would have been able to tell your parents what you were experiencing at the hands of Sister Flavian

posted by Tania.Tafoya on 11/04/11 @ 04:23 p.m.

In closing, I would like to say that I do not understand how people have the audacity to say that putting your child in an organization i.e. (Boot Camp) that is committed to helping parents with their out-of-control children, child abuse. It is an organization that helps youth to become better stronger people that can make good choices that will lead them to live a more productive life and member of society. This hopefully would lead to less children in our foster care system, and lower the number of people in our prison system.
IF you would like to further discuss this with me, I can be reached at
Tania Tafoya

posted by Tania.Tafoya on 11/04/11 @ 04:24 p.m.

Camp Fear
Juvenile Boot Camps Don't Make Sense
Advocating the End to Juvenile Boot Camps: Why the Military Model Does Not Belong in the Juvenile Justice System
What Are Boot Camps?

posted by DanD on 11/05/11 @ 10:18 a.m.

Hello im writing to you to tell you about my experience at Commit to Achieve Boot Camp i have two boys who have been there since April and im impressed by the outcome of my childrens behavior there has been change in them and all because of this Kelvin McFarland and his behavior it has put a negative spot on Commit to Achieve boot camp if you have never been to the camp itself then you really dont know how the Sarge and his team care about each and everyone of those cadets so i have to agree with Tania

posted by momof2 on 11/14/11 @ 02:50 p.m.

I love the idea of boot camps, because it help teens reform and empowers them with other life skills to help them in future.. What I don't like about boot camp is the policies for beating someone that isn't even fighting back. If you really want to discipline and punish troubled kids, make them do push-ups, sit-ups, run laps, squats, etc. This page discusses everything about drill sergeants and punishment at boot camps for teens:

posted by Laila Kim on 3/04/12 @ 03:39 a.m.
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