When the finals are done and the students are out, the summer experience begins. Swimming pools, vacations, and late night video games usually make up the typical college student’s summer.
At the Air Force Academy however, things are a little different; you forgo the pool for a parachute, you trade your traditional family vacation for an operational training experience with your brothers in arms, you give up countless hours on the PS3 for invaluable hours with Boeing space and communications systems. These are just a few things that cadets at the US Air Force Academy experience during the summer months.
Over the summer, Air Force cadets are required to take leadership programs at the Academy, or at one of many military installations throughout the world. Either before or after a leadership program, most cadets in the upper three classes have approximately three weeks of leave as opposed to the typical three months that average college students get. At times, there are exceptions for cadets who volunteer or who are required to attend summer school; in these cases leave periods are forfeited.
The summer experience of a cadet is not as bad as it may sound; in fact, some cadets experience things others can only dream of. Cadets could possibly find themselves being told to “STAND IN THE DOOR” of an aircraft several thousands of feet in the air, or grappling with veteran special operations warriors, or even get the chance to witness the inner operations of a billion dollar corporation.
Take junior Air Force wrestler Jerry McGinty, for example. McGinty spent a good portion of his summer at Cannon AFB, New Mexico, an air special operations base host to special forces warriors and the horses they ride in on. McGinty had the chance to spend time and learn from elite special forces airmen on a training mission.
“The best part of the experience was riding on the CV-22 Osprey where we performed multiple touch and go’s (take off and landings),” said McGinty. “It really motivated me to keep pushing here at the Academy, because the Air Force has a lot of great opportunities. It also inspired me to become a CV-22 Osprey pilot so I can work directly with special forces units.”
Senior wrestler Marcus Malecek had the opportunity to work alongside industry-leading engineers and businessmen at Boeing.
“I spent the first five weeks of my summer working with Boeing Space and Communications Systems in El Segundo, CA,” claims Malecek. “I worked with Boeing representatives in multiple nations including Japan, The United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Norway, Spain, France and NATO.”
Malecek had the opportunity to brush shoulders and work with some of the brightest engineering and business minds in the world, an experience that will likely pay dividends long into the future.
“The experiences at Boeing gave me a great look into the business world,” says Malecek. “I was a part of a $90 billion business; it gave me a great feel for real-life Air Force acquisitions. I learned how contracting and business works for the Department of Defense and got the private sector perspective as well.”
Only certain things in life are more daunting than the inner workings of a multi-billion dollar corporation, or more exhilarating than soaring through the sky with air commandos in a CV-22; one of those things may be hurling yourself out of a plane at 4500 feet with nothing but your training, a parachute, and nerves of steel to guide you to the ground.
Sophomore wrestler Drew Romero experienced the rush of hurtling to the earth at free fall speeds during his summer experience when he attended the Airmanship-490 course at USAFA.
“You get up there, then they tell you to stand in the door – there’s no backing out,” stated Romero. “When I left the plane the adrenaline was more intense than I’ve ever experienced, but all the training and procedures instinctually kicked in, and I was able to make it down safely and calmly.”
[C3C Drew Romero (bottom center) receives pre-jump briefing] C3C Drew Romero (bottom center) receives pre-jump briefing
Romero was one of several cadets to earn the coveted basic parachutist badge; better known as jump wings, awarded to military members who complete the airmanship training course and five successful free fall jumps.
When Romero wasn’t preparing for unassisted flight, he spent his time alongside his cadet brethren as the element firefight leader during Expeditionary, Survival and Evasion Training (ESET).
“It was a great experience to lead my fellow classmates; I would say it’s one of the toughest jobs,” claims Romero. “I’ve expanded from my experiences and now I am more prepared to execute the duties I am appointed, accomplish the mission and care for my team. I’ve also learned how to control my emotions and face my fears head on.”
Malecek also diversified his summer experience in expeditionary survival and evasion training as a squadron commander, taking charge of the intelligence and training (IT) squadron which consisted of 33 cadre.
“My time as a squadron commander gave me great leadership experience and really helped develop my organizational skills,” claims Malecek. “The experience taught me how to manage and organize large numbers of people, as well as how to be a better leader at the squadron level.”
Malecek earned the outstanding squadron commander of the period for his exceptional display of character and leadership ability.
As these young warriors prepare to transition into their leads in the operational Air Force, they look to share their thoughts and experiences with those who commit to following in their path.
“Work hard at everything you do to open up these opportunities for yourself,” says Malecek. “When the time comes to apply for these things, just put your name in the hat. You never know what you might get.”
McGinty added, “Go in with an open mindset and be prepared to ask a lot of questions. There are plenty of people that want to elaborate on the lessons they have learned in the Air Force, so have open ears.”
Romero addressed the challenges of the summer programs with words of encouragement to those who vow to follow in footsteps of the warrior airmen that preceded them.
“These demanding programs really bring out the beauty and hardiness that the Academy has to offer. You must earn your spot here every single day,” claims Romero. “Always take advantage of the opportunities you have, control what you can control, and don’t take a day for granted. Believe in yourself because other people believe in you.”