Member Spotlight: Doug Dagarin of ALERT Academy

Jaclyn Lewis  ·  Apr 30, 2018

Doug Dagarin helps shepherd fathers using what he has learned from his walk with God the Father.

He’s the Eastern Region Leader of ALERT Cadet, a father-son discipleship program for boys ages 8-17 that is part of ALERT Academy. ALERT Cadet’s goal is to help fathers grow their family relationships and impart a Biblical worldview in the context of those healthy relationships.

After Doug’s sons, Stephen and Andrew, aged out of ALERT Cadet, Doug wanted to build up others the way that he’s been built up through the program and through the life experiences God has given him.

Doug and his wife, Barbara, have six adult children and 15 grandchildren.

“God has been awesome in our family,” he says. “The older I get, the more I realize that there’s nothing of value in this life except the relationships that we have with Jesus and with one another. That’s really all we have. The rest is just fluff.”

Doug says that, since meeting Christ at age 26, he has realized that his old perception of God as a cold, distant being was inaccurate.

“He’s a relational God,” Doug says.

He says that this discovery of his father-son relationship with God is what has strengthened his relationships with his children and given him a shepherd’s heart for the families in ALERT Cadet.

“It’s my heart to help fathers have the tools they need to connect with their sons and to raise them to Biblical manhood,” Doug says.

Fathers are also encouraged to apply the principles they’re learning in ALERT Cadet to their relationships with their daughters.

Doug first got involved in the ALERT Cadet ministry in 1996, when he and his older son, Stephen, joined the program. He experienced firsthand how healthy family relationships make it possible to impart a Biblical worldview to children.

As one example, when Doug’s younger son, Andrew, was an ALERT Cadet,  Andrew would faithfully keep his ALERT Cadet journal and share his journal entries with his dad.

“We’re talking about a young man, ages 13 to 16, who on an almost nightly basis was sharing his heart with me about what God was showing him, which sometimes became a springboard to talk about what was going on in this life,” Doug says. “Those were formative years in his life. And to this day, at age 22, he and I can talk about anything. I wouldn’t have that if we hadn’t laid that foundation.

“That’s who God is. We can’t impart Christianity or the Gospel without convincing a person that Jesus is a relational person. We were created for relationship. Jesus died for that relationship, and that’s what He’s all about. That can be more easily communicated by a dad whose heart is turned toward his son or daughter.”

The ALERT Cadet program consists of three main components to help facilitate this kind of healthy discipleship relationship between fathers and sons: instructional handbooks, service projects, and father-son camps.

As sons complete material and achieve milestones, they are awarded ranks, ribbons and other special awards displayed on the ALERT Cadet uniform. ALERT Cadet families close in proximity form units and participate in unit activities together. “Remote families”—ALERT Cadet families who are too far from other families in the program to form a local unit—have the option to wear uniforms and participate in regional activities or ceremonies if they wish. When sons age out of the program, ALERT Cadet gives these young men leadership opportunities in their unit and at camps.

“You can see that we are a military-style organization,” Doug says, “only because we see that, for the great majority of young men, that venue really turns their crank. Not that they’ll all want to go out and be soldiers. I’m not a military person. The uniform doesn’t turn my crank. We just find it functional to create a sense of belonging and a way to recognize sons for things they accomplish.”

As part of Doug’s support to ALERT Cadet families from eastern Canada to Virginia, he prioritizes staying in touch with and visiting ALERT Cadet families, especially remote families.

“I love to see the family dynamics, sitting around the supper table for hours sharing stories and sharing my heart,” says Doug. “I just love leaving somebody’s home thinking I did something.”

Three times a year, Doug attends home education conferences to spread the word about ALERT Cadet and encourage families.

“We get families who come up to our table and we talk with them about their struggles and successes as home educators,” Doug says. “Sometimes they end up leaving the table and we never even talk about ALERT Cadet. I just try to build them up as successful families.”

Additionally, Doug puts on two father-son camps a year.

One is a three-day service camp, with group devotions, one-on-one father-son time, recreational time, and a significant service project. At one service camp, Doug says that the campers will buck (cut) logs, then split, haul and store 15-25 cords of firewood for a private school.

“We’re trying to create in young men a ministry mindset more than a vocational mindset,” Doug says. “We want a young man to know that he’s on this earth to serve.”

The other camp, designed for members of the Leadership Training Corps (LTC), is structured to help older sons and fathers learn how to respond in difficult situations by formulating and executing a strategic plan.

“My job at an LTC camp is to help dads grasp what it means to teach critical thinking,” Doug says. “Then what he’s experiencing with his son at the camp he can take home and apply with his entire family.

“We have a common failure, as parents who have a strong desire to protect our children, to overprotect our children,” he continues. “It’s one of my desires to help dads see the need to create freedom within healthy boundaries to let their sons and daughters make choices, be there to support them and to help them clean up their messes, but not try to keep them from making the messes.”

Additionally, Doug emphasizes the importance of encouraging young men and women to be cultural “game changers” by following the design laid out in 2 Peter 1, prioritizing the development of virtue over acquiring knowledge to gain worldly advantages.

“To me, Biblical manhood or womanhood is understanding the significance of creation as a God-ordained event which defines our purpose, our identity, and becomes our means of fulfillment through appropriate relationships and proactive engagement of our culture and environment with the person of Jesus,” he says.

“I don’t want young men and women to accept the rules as they are. I want them to define what the Biblical rules ought to be, live by those rules, and implement them wherever they can.”