February 16, 2014 Updated: February 16, 2014 at 7:16 am
The first Air Force Academy cadets chose the falcon as the school's mascot for its speed, courage, keen eyesight and alertness - characterizing the combat role of the Air Force.
It might be a bit shocking for the academy's first graduating class, the Class of 1959, to know that an Army mule rider from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., is among the 11 Air Force cadets caring for the school's 12 falcons today.
Army mule rider Samantha Dorminey grew up in Upton, Ky., and started riding and caring for horses as early as age 5.
"My dog was just hit by an Amish buggy," she said to one of her fellow falconers to emphasize the small size of her hometown.
"He's okay, though," she said.
With her equestrian background and both parents retired from the Army, Dorminey seemed destined to be an Army cadet and the Class of 2015 mule rider for West Point's two mascots, Ranger III and Stryker.
In 2012, when Army hosted Air Force football at Michie Stadium at West Point, Dorminey found a new calling when she met the cadet falconers of the Air Force Academy.
"Ever since then, I've been a little of a groupie," she said while preparing fresh quail to feed Oblio, a tundra peregrine.
"I definitely miss the mules," Dorminey said, "but I couldn't pass up the opportunity to do something completely different in a new school."
Dorminey began this semester at the Air Force Academy shortly after the new year as part of the academy's exchange program with West Point, where she will return in the fall.
She volunteered to be on the falconry team, though she speaks a little apprehensively about the possibility of an Air Force cadet taking care of her mules at West Point.
"I'm really, really protective of our guys," she said of Ranger and Stryker. "But I think it would have worked out if someone really cared enough to learn them."
Dorminey's fellow Air Force cadets and falconers echo her feelings, accompanied, however, by some chiding and the occasional "Go Air Force!" quip.
Dorminey stops what she's doing to look in the direction of that commonly repeated cheer and replies, "Heck no! Go Army!"
"It's pretty cool," said cadet Angelia Villarreal, academy sophomore and falconer. "It's a kind of cultural immersion for us. We get to learn about her mascot, and she learns about ours."
Dorminey said she learned everything from the cadet falconers and that all her time working with horses and the Army mules did very little to prepare her for working with the birds.
"Learning patience is the only thing that translates," she said.