May 23, 2012
Graduation from the Air Force Academy proved only the first act of a busy week for 2nd Lt. Jason Whitehead.
He can blame academy regulations for his hectic schedule — cadets can’t get married and they can’t have children before graduation.
Whitehead made sure not to waste any time with his Russian fiancée. They were engaged last year, when Whitehead took 14-hour train rides to her father’s house during his study abroad course in Petrozavodsk, Russia.
But Whitehead won’t have to worry about those academy regulations any more. He plans to get married on Friday.
“I’ll be able to relax in June,” Whitehead said, chuckling.
The thousands of graduation revelers at the academy had to wait a while longer for the F-16 Thunderbirds to show up again after their dramatic initial appearance at Falcon Stadium.
Six Thunderbirds streaked past the cadets as they threw their caps into air early Wednesday afternoon.
But the expected air show afterwards had to wait.
The presidential motorcade left the academy shortly after the hat toss and the air show took a break as Obama drove down Interstate 25.
The Thunderbirds came back after a half-hour pause, drawing applause from spectators when they made their return — flying by in the diamond and the arrowhead formations.
Turnover for every entering class at the Air Force Academy begins when the cadets are sent to Jack’s Valley as “doolies.” The Class of 2012 was no different.
The academy said 1,642 people were offered appointments, and 1,348 were processed into the academy.
On Wednesday, 1,073 cadets walked across the stage and received their diplomas.
President Barack Obama mentioned three records broken by the class of 2012.
More cadets plan to go to graduate school from this class than any others in the past. More women graduated in this class as well.
The final record: Largest dodgeball game, which included more than 3,000 cadets.
In many instances, the cadets graduating Wednesday followed long lines of military service in their families.
Graduate Amanda Johnson’s grandfather, Ed Johnson, fought with the 101st Airborne in World War II — leaving granddaughter to carry the mantle of military service in their family.
“She knew she could do it,” said Bryan Johnson, the father of Amanda Johnson. “It’s a huge amount a relief.
“It’s something most people can’t understand,” he said.
Amanda Johnson, of Chicago, Ill., was assigned to Squadron 40 and was one of the last people to walk across the stage Wednesday. The Air Force assigned her to a base in California to focus on acquisitions.
“I’m not very emotional,” said Amanda’s father, who works in the ER, “but I feel like I’m about to burst.”
Not all graduates will enter the Air Force as second lieutenants.
Fourteen international students graduated Wednesday, including a student from Slovenia who was cheered by a delegation from his home country.
Edward Wong said he will be heading back to Singapore to serve in his home nation’s air force.
“It felt so surreal. It doesn’t even feel like it’s really done,” Wong said upon being reunited with his family in the stands after the ceremony. “It’s weird that this is the last thing.”
There were differences in the training each cadet received in their home country and the academy.
Francis Usher remembers basic training in Belize being much harder — mostly because of the lack of sleep he suffered while training. That isn’t to say, however, that he didn’t have a tough go in Jack’s Valley.
“It was more of a mind game than physical game,” he said, of the academy’s training.