As family and friends shouted good-byes and snapped photos, a group of fresh-faced Air Force Academy recruits stepped onto a bus bound for the longest 15 minutes of their young lives.
“Everyone on the bus, all eyes on me!”
“Sit up straight! Put your heels together!”
“Are you laughing at me?”
“Was I talking to you? Then don’t look at me!”
On and on, juniors Shane Clark and Brent Maggard harangued the riders in the brutal tones of twin drill instructors.
By the trip’s end, the lesson was clear: Passengers on this bus are no longer their parents’ children. They belong to the Air Force Academy.
Nearly 1,300 aspiring cadets — or doolies — took that harrowing ride as part of the opening day of basic cadet training for the class of 2014.
After hugging parents and friends and posing for photographs, the officers-to-be set off for a grueling month of physical training, marching drills, inspections, weapons training and an introduction to the Air Force Academy’s core values.
They will not be permitted to see their families again until July 31.
The academy’s fall semester begins Aug. 5.
While the cadets’ new reality sunk in, their parents and friends milled around the academy’s Doolittle Hall, enjoying refreshments and waiting in line to shop for Air Force Academy merchandise.
Wiping tears, Dode Simonson, of Fort Collins, said her pride was tempered by a mother’s anxiety.
Her son, Shane, 17, has dreamed of attending the Air Force Academy since visiting the campus as a child. To make that dream a reality, he racked up a grade point average over 4.0 at Fossil Ridge High School and spent his senior year taking college level math at Colorado State University in Fort Collins.
With two wars raging in the Middle East, she would have been happy to send her boy to a “regular” university.
“Early on, I felt that way, selfishly,” she said, standing next to her husband, Randy, and 11-year-old daughter Kira. “But then I kind of resolved myself to it. I need to support whatever he does. It’s time to let go.”
Calvin and Chong Rebel, of Seoul, described their son Calvin Rebel Jr. as bookish, driven and committed to becoming an Air Force physician. But a bit of discipline might do him some good, Chong said with a smile.
“Many universities wanted him,” she said. “I wanted him here so they could keep an eye on him.”
The younger Rebel was born in Texas and later moved to Seoul, where his father works as an Army contractor.
Nearly 11,000 students applied, leaving the elite academy’s acceptance rate at a daunting 13 percent.
The group is likely to be winnowed even further in the days ahead. According to spokesman John Van Winkle, the academy typically loses 50 to 90 cadets before basic training ends, because of injuries and other reasons.
Maggard, a junior, heard that one doolie found the bus ride alone was enough for her. She stepped off and announced she’d be going home.
He shook his head in disappointment.
“It’s sad, because there’s so many people who want to be here and don’t get the opportunity,” he said.
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