A day of memories and anticipation for graduating Air Force Academy cadets

The Gazette - Updated: May 30, 2013 at 7:59 pm • Published: May 30, 2013 | 10:50 am 0

The name sounded so familiar when read Wednesday at the Air Force Academy.

"Ambard."

With that call, Timothy Ambard bid adieu to the place where his father was buried.

Timothy Ambard's name was the seventh called to receive a diploma - he was among the distinguished graduates because of his academic and military achievements.

In becoming an Air Force officer, Ambard followed in the footsteps of his father, Maj. Phil Ambard - the only academy airman to be killed in Afghanistan.

Phil Ambard died April 27, 2011, when an Afghan army colonel opened fire on the Air Force officers who were sent to train him. Eight Air Force officers and one American contractor died at Kabul International Airport in Afghanistan.

As the names of other cadets were being read Wednesday, Timothy requested privacy.

The youngest of five children, he joins two of his siblings as academy graduates.

- - -

One might be advised not to mention that Wednesday's Air Force Academy graduation would be the last for Brig. Gen. Dana Born as dean of faculty.

"Don't keep reminding me," she said, chuckling.

Born and Superintendent Lt. Gen. Mike Gould celebrated their final graduation ceremony before their retirements this summer.

Gould, for one, made a point to avoid the word "bittersweet."

"There are no regrets, really," Gould said. "We base that really on the quality of these graduates."

Born, however, used that exact word to describe the ceremony - her last before becoming a professor at Harvard University.

"It's a natural transition," she said.- - -

Call it a miniature melee.

Seconds after 1,024 Air Force Academy graduates threw their caps into the air, a horde of children descended upon the Falcon Stadium turf to scoop up those prized possessions.

It's an annual tradition: Graduating cadets usually place money in their caps - anticipating that children will pick them up after the hat toss. This year's total was $20.13 - an homage to the class of 2013.

Matthew Scheie, 22, wanted no part of it.

He decided against putting money in his cap. In fact, he planned to hold onto his cap after taking his oath.

He wanted only to save that cap for his sister as a memento.

He failed.

"Emotions overwhelm you and you just got to chuck it," he said, his hat lost in a sea of money-hungry children.

- - -

First came a few drops of rain.

Then a few small pieces of hail.

Thankfully, the foul weather stopped there.

A small, intermittent amount of pea-sized hail fell Wednesday during the graduation ceremony. It was short lived, lasting 10 to 15 minutes before a batch of ominous clouds moved east.

As hail fell, an Air Force Academy spokesman said officials checked the forecast before the ceremony.

"Colorado weather - you can't predict it," spokesman John Van Winkle said.

- - -

Sam Raine knows the risks he could face in the Air Force.

Raine, 23, credited his decision to go to the academy to his brother Jack Raine, 25, who is a pilot and flying in Afghanistan.

But Sam Raine also is a bit of an inherent risk taker - though his quiet demeanor might suggest otherwise. He was on the Wings of Blue parachute team and completed more than 500 freefall jumps.

"One of the biggest things you do as a parent is pick them up and dust them off when they fall down, but Sam didn't need to be picked up too often," said Sam's father, Chris Raine.

- - -

For graduates and their families, the diplomas handed out Wednesday served as the culmination of four years of late-night papers, crushing exams and a memorable trip to Jack's Valley.

"When he was 6-years-old, he saw 'Top Gun' for the first time and said, 'I want to do that,'?" Judy Leininger said of her son, Jared Leininger. He will go to Laughlin Air Force Base in Texas for pilot training.

"You know how 6-year-olds say, 'I wanna be a firefighter, I wanna be a policeman,' he wanted to be a pilot and he never wavered, never considered anything else," said Jared's father, Dan Leininger.

- - -

She was a beauty queen. Now she's an Air Force officer.

In January, The Gazette wrote about how Lindsay Cordero took home the National Spirit of America Award at the 2012 National American Miss pageant in Anaheim, Calif. On Wednesday, the newly commissioned second lieutenant took home a diploma from the academy.

Cordero, who was Miss Houston 2012, expects to become an acquisitions officer, though she'll first attend intelligence school in San Angelo, Texas.

"You should see her purse collection," said her mother, Wanda Cordero. "Now she'll shop for the Air Force."

"She's very good at shopping, finding bargains," her father, Luis Cordero, added with a chuckle. "She's deadly in that area."

Jakob Rodgers, Alison Noon and Erin Prater, The Gazette

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