“WAKE UP! PANTS ON, DOORS OPEN!” I awoke to these orders my last full day at the Air Force Summer Seminar. Throughout the week, anticipation for this final day underlined all discussion.
I visited the Air Force Summer Seminar to better understand what Academy life was like and to see if I wanted to have a career in the armed services. After last year’s college night, I started considering either going to a service academy or applying for an ROTC Scholarship. With a little research, I found the Summer Seminar Program on the Air Force web site. A few months later, I was in Colorado Springs at the Air Force Academy, spending one of my first weeks of summer experiencing life as a cadet.
Traveling that first day to one of the best schools in the country was exciting. Once I landed in Colorado Springs, Air Force Cadets directed me to the shuttle that would take our plane load of well qualified high school students from across the country to the Academy. To attend the Seminar, each student had to apply online, reporting all extracurricular activities, grades, and standardized test scores.
Upon arrival, we were given a brief tour of the campus, which consisted of eighteen thousand acres of sprawling terrain. We walked on the Terrazzo, a large marble-concrete area that Cadets walk on to go between classes, toured the dorm rooms, and saw other iconic buildings, like the Cadet Chapel and the Academy Library. Overlooking the Terrazzo, Pikes Peak stands tall at fourteen thousand feet. The Air Force Academy’s high elevation proves to be difficult for most candidates, and I was no exception.
Each morning, the seminar students started their day with personal training–PT in military shorthand–which consisted of pushups, sit ups, and running laps around the Terrazzo. Later in the day, we ran a mile for our Practice Candidate Fitness Exam, in addition to performing chin ups, sit ups, pushups, a shuttle run, and a basketball throw. Running a mile is pretty typical; however, with the burden of the previous workout combined with the altitude change, running a mile turned out to be a daunting task. This was only a taste of what cadets have to deal with each time they come back to the Academy.
When I wasn’t doing “PT,” I was in one of my classes. In most of the classes, we followed the typical class schedule and curriculum. However, if a pilot was teaching the class, all progress stopped. Nearly every student there wanted to be an Air Force Pilot; thus, we wanted to know every step in the process to become a pilot.
At dinner before our last day, we were given a sheet of information to memorize verbatim. This included the preamble to the constitution and information about different planes in the Air Force fleet. In addition to this mentally taxing task, we were instructed to clean our rooms for inspection the following day. In our element meeting that night, our element leader delineated the exact layout where each piece of clothing needed to be in our drawers. All students went to bed apprehensive about the following day.
Normally I am a deep sleeper who sets three alarms if I have to get up for something important, but nothing will ever motivate me to get up quicker than a group of irate cadets pounding, kicking, and yelling at my door. I rolled out of my bed, threw on my shirt, and grabbed my name tag for morning “PT.”
As instructed the night before, I took a left turn out of my door to our element’s rendezvous point. This turn isn’t a regular left turn. As a “Doolie,” the term used for freshman at the Air Force Academy, when a cadet wants to take a left turn, the cadet walks straight to the point at which he or she may want to turn, then rotates his or her feet ninety degrees to face left, and continues walking.
The Air Force Academy has outlined an exact way to do everything: how to sit in a chair, how to chew food, how to set down a knife and fork, how to ask for condiments at the table, how to address an upperclassman, how to hold a book bag (yes, I do mean hold; freshman are not allowed to wear their backpacks on their backs, so they hold their bag in their left hand in order to salute upperclassmen), and how to walk to class. I was a “Doolie” for only four hours, but I was called out twice by my element leader, once for not looking straight ahead and another time for smiling at our toast before breakfast (“Breed to Succeed!”).
The Air Force Academy is notorious for being hard, and cadets are not supposed to enjoy it, especially freshman year. Each aspect of cadet life is designed to better prepare officers for life after the Academy. Officers must be able to think under pressure, so when we are asked a question as a “Doolie,” it is often yelled to add stress.
Attending the Summer Seminar gave me insight into military life should I choose to attend the Academy. However, I now believe that the Academy life is not for me.