For the last 22 weeks, Brandon Brown didn’t have access to his phone or the internet. At the Alaska Military Youth Academy, he was also cut off from his old way of life.


“Before I came to the academy, I was kind of like your typical slacker,” said Brown. “This place really turned me around.”


Five months ago, he was on track to finish high school one year behind schedule. Now, he will be graduating on time, thanks to the credits he earned at the academy.


“It’s a great feeling,” said Brown.


He said each day was filled with rigorous physical training and studying. At first, making friends was a frustrating challenge. Eventually, however, he formed a strong bond with the other cadets.


“You end up having to deal with them. And honestly, a brotherhood forms after five months,” he said.


Because he was “oblivious” of what was going on outside of the academy, Brown and his fellow cadets relied on more traditional forms of entertainment during their free time.


“We got radio every once in a while. That’s what we looked forward to a lot,” he said.


Brown, from Yakutat, celebrated with family after the graduation ceremony at the Dena’ina Center Friday. His dad was unable to attend due to a canceled flight out of Yakutat. However, his uncle, Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott, watched him graduate from the stage. His mom flew in from Juneau.


“He’s got the will power. He’s got the knowledge,” said Christina Edwards. “He can do whatever he wants to do.”


The program was at risk of losing its funding earlier this year, although that threat never materialized. Deputy director James Jones said he was proud to see the academy continue to change young people’s lives.


“No matter what happens from this point on, they have the opportunity to be successful. They can go anywhere from here,” said Jones.


He said graduates are not required to join the military, although roughly 18 percent choose to do so. The academy started in 1994 and is open to high school students aged 16 to 18.


KTVA 11's Eric Ruble can be reached via email or on Facebook and Twitter.