FORT MYERS, Fla. (AP) — Josh Kelchner has had a lot on his shoulders for a great many years.
The load eased last month when the Dunbar High grad and long-term foster child graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point as a second lieutenant.
"It definitely was a challenge," Kelchner said of West Point. "I always found something to put my attention to — to work and turn it into a positive."
Kelchner was abandoned by his father as a toddler and was neglected by his mother most of his childhood.
He graduated Dunbar High in 2008 and survived 12 foster homes in 7½ years. He also was key in helping his younger siblings who have all been adopted and are doing well.
"He's much more composed now," said Phyllis O'Sullivan said of Kelchner.
O'Sullivan is the wife of John O'Sullivan of Cape Coral, Kelchner's former guardian ad litem, a court-appointed volunteer advocate, who died in January of pancreatic cancer. "He's always carried himself well and he's always been quiet," she said of Kelchner.
She said Kelchner's journey through foster care could have been his undoing with multiple schools and changing conditions the norm, but he sidestepped it all and focused on graduating from the academy.
"Whenever you get harshness you can't think it's your fault," Kelchner said. "You move past it. You don't think it's your fault."
In a February 2008 column by former News-Press columnist Sam Cook, John O'Sullivan described Kelchner:
"Josh always uses his parents as examples of what not to do," O'Sullivan says. "He uses them to motivate him to be better, a more wholesome person."
O'Sullivan says Kelchner could have copped a foster-kid attitude, yet he didn't. "Josh could have said: 'Screw you. I had lousy parents who neglected me.' "
O'Sullivan says. "I told him: 'Yes, you did get screwed. You had lousy parents, and you got moved around a lot. But those are not reasons for you to be a bad kid.'
"He understood those are not reasons for taking drugs, having sex out of wedlock, causing trouble in school, stealing and fighting," John O'Sullivan said.
"People don't realize how damaging their behavior is on their kids," Phyllis O'Sullivan said. "It never leaves you. Josh deals with it the best way he can."
Kelchner, on a two-month break after West Point graduation, heads Oct. 1 to Fort Sill in Lawton, Okla., for three months of field artillery training and to Fort Bliss in Texas to serve in a heavy artillery unit and start his compulsory five years of military service.
"I like the atmosphere and the camaraderie," he said of the field artillery units. "Everybody helps everybody out."
He said he has making the military a career in the back of his mind. "I'm kinda thinking long-term. We'll see how this feels," he said
Phyllis O'Sullivan said that Kelchner relied on her husband quite a bit during his high school and academy days.
"John really pointed me in the right direction," Kelchner said.
Phyllis O'Sullivan also gave credit to the two other families who helped Kelchner: Col. Casey and Esther Haskins, who helped Kelchner at West Point, and Gregg and Linda Woodrell of Naples, where Josh is currently staying.
Gregg Woodrell, owner of Naples House Of Clocks, said Kelchner considers the family's home as his own.
"We're very proud of him," he said, adding that Kelchner is due back in a few weeks.
Phyllis O'Sullivan said Kelchner held her husband in such high regard that during his junior year at West Point, when he had an academic issue and was actually sent home for failing a class, it was difficult for him to tell him what had happened.
"That failure caused him to leave West Point," she said. "It took him two weeks to tell John he was out of West Point."
However, Kelchner and John O'Sullivan worked on his retaking a test to get back to the English course he flubbed. He persevered and got back on track at West Point.
"He went to FGCU for four weeks, every day," she said., "And since he didn't have a car he rode his bike from here, in Cape Coral, and back." She added that he still doesn't have transportation and is looking for a truck.
"You do what you got to do. I wasn't afraid of it, I just didn't think it would take me two hours," Kelchner said, laughing about the biking to school.
Information from: The (Fort Myers, Fla.) News-Press, http://www.news-press.com