Nearly 1,000 cadets will graduate from the Air Force Academy next Wednesday in a ceremony that features a speech from America's Defense boss and a performance of the Air Force Thunderbirds flying team.

The 9:30 a.m. event will draw thousands of spectators to Falcon Stadium, including keynote speaker Defense Secretary James Mattis. Long lines at the stadium and traffic tangles in the northern reaches of Colorado Springs are expected to accompany the event.

Here's a schedule for those heading to the stadium and for those trying go through the neighborhood:

It's more than a graduation

Getting finished with the Air Force Academy is almost as complicated as gaining admittance to the exclusive school.

Big events include the graduation parade at the Academy on Tuesday, which starts at 9 a.m. The night before graduation, there are hundreds of smaller events as cadets pin on their new lieutenant's bars and are sworn in as officers.

Bird watching

The Air Force Thunderbirds will fly into town Monday, making a pass over the academy at about 10 a.m.

They'll practice for the graduation show on Tuesday starting at 11 a.m. This will lead to road closures on the academy and traffic tangles in the northern reaches of the city as rubber-neckers try to drive and watch an air show at the same time.

The Thunderbirds will be back for graduation, flashing over the stadium at about 12:30 Wednesday as cadets toss their hats skyward.

If you want to see them, stake out a parking place early. Don't park on Interstate 25 unless you're trying to meet a Colorado State Patrol trooper and are prepared to make a hefty donation to the state's public safety endeavors.

Avoid the rush

If you don't already have tickets, sleep in and watch it on gazette.com. If you're headed to the event, get an early start. Gates to the academy will open at 7 a.m. and early birds could avoid long lines at stadium gates.

If you go, be ready for airport-like security and a long day in the sun. Temperatures are expected to hit 80 degrees in the Pikes Peak region Wednesday, so a floppy hat and sun screen are survival tools.

"Event spectators will pass through metal detectors to get into the stadium and may have their personal items inspected," the academy said in a news release.

Packing food and water to the stadium means a hassle. Food must be carried in clear 1-gallon bags. Only sealed bottles of water are allowed.

Take the long way

Getting through the city from Monument to Woodmen Road could be an adventure as graduation crowds head to the academy Tuesday and Wednesday.

You're best driving bets to get to work in the north end of town are taking a big detour to the east, or sleeping in.

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Watch it from home

For complete coverage of Air Force Academy graduation, check gazette.com Wednesday morning. Offerings will include live video, photo galleries, a live blog and more.

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Contact Tom Roeder: 636-0240

Twitter: @xroederx

Senior Military Editor

Tom Roeder is the Gazette's senior military editor. In Colorado Springs since 2003, Tom covers seven military installations in Colorado, including five in the Pikes Peak region. His main job, though, is being dad to two great kids.

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