Academy cadets get taste of deployed life

  • Published
  • By Cadet 1st Class Shaina Thompson
  • U.S. Air Force Academy Cadet Squadron 8
Approximately 60 U.S. Air Force Academy cadets are in Southwest Asia, observing deployed operations first hand and meeting deployed Airmen.

Cadets receive leadership training, but it can become limited to what happens in the Academy's training environment. However, the opportunity to experience Air Force operations is available to cadets taking part in the summer program called "Ops" between their sophomore and junior year. The program sends groups of cadets to Air Force bases for three weeks, where they follow officers in different career fields to gain an understanding of career responsibilities. They also interact with enlisted members to gain an view of leadership in action.

This glimpse of what cadets refer to as the "real" Air Force is meant to develop the future officers and help them determine which career fields to put on their preference sheets. But some cadets who want even more experience apply to go on "Deployed Ops." If selected, they have the opportunity to be stationed at a deployed location for a month and experience how the Air Force operates downrange. 

Cadet 2nd Class Stephen Johnson of Cadet Squadron 17 was one of those broadening his perspective through the Deployed Ops program in the month of June.

"With all the activity in the Middle East, I wanted to see for myself what's really going on," said USAFA Cadet 2nd Class Stephen Johnson. "Being able to talk to the professionals who are working in this environment allows me to better understand what's really happening."

The cadets have the opportunity to experience many different Air Force specialty codes, shadowing different officers every week. Cadet Johnson said he'd already met a multitude of people on base in the first two weeks of the program.

"I was exposed to the actual duty day and responsibilities of a B-1B (Lancer) pilot, a weapons officer, doctors, surgeons, and (learned) the importance of behind-the-scenes jobs like civil engineering, maintenance and equipment management in a deployed location."

Captain Thea Alli, a 379th Air Expeditionary Wing protocol officer, is a 2006 Academy graduate who went through Ops during her own time at the Academy. Captain Alli was in charge of coordinating where the cadets spent their time on base during this year's program.

"It's a good opportunity for cadets to see what it's really like, and it's good for us to see what the future of the Air Force will look like since they will be lieutenants soon," Captain Alli said. "Some of the things I learned on Ops didn't make sense to me until years later. You take away more than you think."

This experience allows cadets to gain foresight on what they will be doing after graduation, said USAFA Cadet 2nd Class Keegan Peckham. 

"I will take away how important it is to take every opportunity to help those that help you," he said. "Take care of your people and they will take care of the job."