Cadet of the year receives honor from Air Force chief of staff

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Russell Petcoff
  • Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs
An Air Force ROTC cadet at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology received the 2009 Air Force Cadet of the Year Award from the Air Force chief of staff during a ceremony at the Pentagon April 5.

Sponsored by the Air Squadron of the United Kingdom, the cadet-of-the-year award goes to the outstanding cadet in either the Air Force Academy, AFROTC or Officer Training School. In accepting the award from Gen. Norton Schwartz, Cadet Col. Ryan W. Castonia, who is the cadet wing commander at AFROTC Det. 365 at the Cambridge, Mass., school, said the award is a reflection of his MIT detachment.

"I feel very blessed and honored to receive this award," said Cadet Castonia. "This award recognizes the outstanding training and support that the cadre at Detachment 365 provides."

He credits the "fantastic mentors and leaders in the NCOs, officers and civilians" who encouraged him to "aim for the top."

In describing the cadet, General Schwartz cited the ancient Greek word "arete," which means excellence. He said Cadet Castonia is "an example of this kind of quality." The general reminded the audience filling the secretary of the Air Force's conference room that one of the service's core values is Excellence in All We Do.

"I know I'm embarrassing you somewhat, but it's something to be proud of," General Schwartz said. He noted the cadet will graduate June 4 from MIT with bachelor's and master's degrees in aeronautical engineering, and is co-captain of the MIT varsity tennis team.

Representing the Air Squadron, Royal Air Force Air Commodore Ian Elliot, United Kingdom Air Attaché and assistant defence attaché at the British Embassy here, presented Cadet Castonia with a coin recognizing his accomplishments.

Cadet Castonia stated one of the things he is most proud of is to have been selected as a combat rescue officer trainee. He plans on becoming a CRO after he is commissioned this June.

"My initial plan was to fly, but that changed when I learned about the Air Force role in personnel recovery," Cadet Castonia said. "Master Sergeant Vincent Meno (former personnel manager at the detachment) talked to me one day about CROs and (pararescue jumpers) and gave me some information on what they do. I immediately fell in love with the mission and began to pursue a CRO selection."

The detachment commander praised the Whitehall, Mich., native.

"Cadet Castonia is a mature, intelligent and very well-rounded young man," said Col. Lawrence W. McLaughlin, Det. 365 commander. "His academic record is superior. When many students are struggling at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, one of the toughest engineering schools in the nation, he is getting all 'A's.

"Even with all his accomplishments, he has remained humble," Colonel McLaughlin added. "I have met few individuals in my career who can excel at so many things and make them all look easy."

Cadet Castonia also cites the influence of his parents for his success.

"My parents taught me from a young age that if I was going to do something, such as play a sport, join an extracurricular activity or even just mow the lawn, that the expectation was that I would commit to working hard and giving it my all," he said. "I guess the saying 'If it's worth doing, it's worth doing well' really sums it up.

"My parents were also very adamant about aiming high and setting aggressive goals," said Cadet Castonia, who is the first person from his family to go to college.

Before starting college, he had ambitious plans. "When I told them I was thinking about applying to MIT, Harvard, Columbia and (U.S. Air Force Academy) as the first person in my family to go to college, they never even blinked; they told me to go for it," he said.

Colonel McLaughlin said it was difficult to narrow down Cadet Castonia's strengths that led to this honor.

"The more I think about making this list, the harder it gets to pick three or four things," Colonel McLaughlin said. "It is truly the combination of all the accomplishments and how he was able to successfully manage his time and energy is what makes him stand out for this award."

The colonel highlighted the cadet's 4.0 grade point average, participation in the Design/Build/Fly competition and his leadership in the cadet wing, physical training and intercollegiate tennis. He founded the Aero Engineering team for Design/Build/Fly that came in fourth, out of 70 entries, in 2009. This annual competition centers on designing, building and flying remote-controlled aircraft. The competition is among engineering students in student branches of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

Cadet Castonia's name will appear on the Air Squadron Millennium Sword's display case in the Pentagon. The sword was presented to the Air Force in 2000 by members of the Air Squadron as a symbol of "a century of Anglo-American friendship and cooperation in the cause of peace," according to the sword's plaque.

The Air Squadron was founded in London in 1966 by a group of friends who shared a passionate interest in flying light aircraft, the organization's Web site stated. It has sponsored the cadet of the year award in the United States since 2000. Two founding members were Thomas Sopwith, maker of the famed Sopwith Camel from World War I, and Sir Douglas Bader, a legless RAF pilot in World War II credited with "no less than 21 kills," according to Air Commodore Elliot.

In addition to the Air Force, Air Squadron officials award cadet-of-the-year honors to the top cadet at RAF Cranwell, training site for RAF officers, and cadets of the South African Air Force.

(Scott Ash contributed to this story.)