Colorado Springs News, Sports & Business

Gazette Premium Content Airmen with academy dreams face basic three times

by tom roeder The Gazette - Published: July 18, 2013

Like pushups, barking drill instructors, and rules - pages and pages of rules?

Then the career path taken by a few dozen airmen at the Air Force Academy this week may be for you.

They've all been through 10 weeks of basic training at Lackland Air Force Base. This week they started a month's worth of basic training at the academy's Preparatory School.

"If you are chewing, you don't have utensils in your hands," the prep school's 240 cadet candidates - a quarter of them former enlisted airmen - were told by a snarling sergeant at lunch on Thursday.

If they're good enough and smart enough, they've got a chance at another two months of basic training next summer as academy freshmen.

The Preparatory School, opened in 1961, is designed to give students who don't meet all of the academy's rigorous entrance standards a chance at admission. It also gives the academy a chance to get the best young airmen in the Air Force into the pipeline as cadets.

The preparatory school's commander, Col. Kabrena Rodda said getting airmen into the academy ensures that the school has a core of experienced leaders in every class.

"It's the gift that keeps on giving," she said.

And giving.

There's no break for the stripes those former airmen once had. In preparatory school basic training and for the rest of their time in the academy, they're in the same boots as kids fresh out of high school.

Pushups. Sitting with feet at a prescribed angle. Chewing every bite seven times.

"I want this 10 months to go by fast," said cadet candidate Jasmine Jordan, a former enlisted Air Force medical technician.

At the school, the former enlisted airmen are expected to help train their classmates with no military experience.

When the drill sergeants bark, the experienced airmen sometimes have a tough time not laughing at the reactions of the uninitiated.

"For us, it was just as tough at Lackland," said cadet candidate Elbin Hernandez, who came home from a deployment to the Middle East.

Hernandez said he was motivated into the program by comrades who spotted his potential. If he can make it through the program and come out on the other side, he'll be a lieutenant with a top-notch education and a bright future.

In five years.

But Thursday, the airmen were looking at the opportunity, not at the grind.

"You're making yourself better every day for five years," said cadet candidate Tyler Cerge, who a few days ago was a crewman on a reconnaissance plane.

The preparatory school is aimed at improving them. They'll get enough math and English training in 10 months to make them ready to compete at the academy, which is consistently ranked as one of the nation's best engineering schools. They'll also learn the honor code that cadets live by and get military training that will make next year's basic training that much easier.

Cadet candidate Victoria Rodriguez joined the program after two years in a civil engineering unit with stripes on her sleeves. She admired leaders who helped make her better.

"I want to be a mentor," she said.

Cadet candidate Ryan Kelly flew all over the globe as a load master on a transport plane. He sees the program as a way to get into the pilot's seat.

"The only difference was education, and opportunity," he said before returning to his second basic training, which will prepare him for his third.

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