The United States Air Force Academy (USAFA, pronounced you-saw-fa) recently launched a slick new recruiting site, “Why the Air Force Academy?” Videos and interviews with cadets and professors cover the topics of Cadet Life, Academic Life, Athletic Life, and Campus Life. I can practically hear alumni sniggering,”Campus life? What, cadets get a life now?” Actually, the interviews are well done and tell the absolute truth–if you know how to read between the lines. As a courtesy to the Class of 2015, who might be reviewing the site for some last minute motivation before they enter USAFA this coming Thursday, 23 June, I elaborate on the parts of the videos that you might miss. Oh, okay, in full disclosure I am just posting this because all “grads” love to poke fun at USAFA public relations pieces.
Take a look at the title video. In your mind, underline some of Dr. Samuels’ words: “I think you need to think carefully about it. . . . But it’s also not for everybody. . . . They are ‘on’ everyday.” Make that 24/7. Another professor adds, “We are training our military.” Translation: you could die. Or at least expect to miss a lot of Thanksgivings and Christmases. Dr. Samuels adds that the academics are just as rigorous as Stanford. He should add, ‘but you do not get enough time to delve into academics as you do at Stanford.’ One of my classmates quit USAFA so he could go to Stanford, for just that reason. I did like Cadet Wallace’s statement, “I’m still me, but I’m a better me.”
Move on to the videos on Cadet Life. I think they are missing some appropriate visuals, so I provide a few below. These photos are much more the “norm” of cadet life, at least your first year.
Under Academic Life, the professors stress how academics are tied to hands-on applications. Air Force officers who graduated from other colleges refer to USAFA as the “Tech School” or “Vocational College” for good reason. This is not the place for pure theoretical research. However, in my favorite class of all time, Engineering 490, our interdisciplinary team modified a golf cart so it operated by remote-control. That sounds simple, today. But imagine doing it in 1979 without the internet, no personal computers, and computer chips so large that they resided in a main frame that filled a room, and only using punch cards to communicate with it. Now that was fun!
Here are the words to underline: “Expect the unexpected,” “You are going to be tested beyond your limits” (have you ever exercised until you vomited, then got up and exercised some more–and did it all over again the next day?), and “It’s a privilege to be here.” I know this sounds contradictory. Think of super lows and super highs following each other as fast as on any roller coaster.
Next, the videos on Athletic Life require some elaboration. Note the part where the cadet says that marching on before the football game starts and then running into the stands is the “funnest part of the game.” Then, as a freshman, you have to stand there (and I mean STAND) for the next three hours. In uniform. In the heat. In the blizzard. Intramurals really are the part of the day when cadets “unwind.” In other words, you do not have time to unwind on the couch, but only while you are sweating, pushing your body, and being fiercely competitive.
Finally, let me put the “Campus Life” video in perspective. Clubs are fantastic for the thrill seeker: rock climbing, shooting , sky diving, skiing, falconry, soaring, fencing, etc. But you do not have enough time to pursue more than one or two, and even then you have to compete with other cadets to get a chance to participate. I joined the ski club, which toured all the Colorado ski resorts most weekends–yet I only got to ski two or three days per season. Words to underline: “We do everything together” and “Every squadron has its own unique personality, way of life.” Woe be to the cadet who cannot fit in with his or her squadron. The cadet showing off his dorm room TV, PC, guitar, refrigerator, and sound system? I am pretty sure he had to be a senior to be allowed all that stuff. What is common is mandatory compulsive-obsessiveness (yes, cadets do line up books by descending height), inspections of your room, “spirit missions,” and “nuking” each other (with shaving cream, shoe polish, etc) to celebrate class or personal milestones.
Instead of addressing “Why the Air Force Academy,” let me speak to “Who.” If you can watch those official videos critically, and end up feeling invigorated by the chance to test yourself and being part of something bigger than yourself, as well as willing to serve in the military, then by all means, GO to USAFA. It will help you find your better you.