More than 1,100 incoming freshmen arrived at the Air Force Academy Thursday for six weeks of basic training before officially becoming cadets.
And for the second consecutive year, COVID-19 has forced significant changes in how the appointees move through their in-processing day. Appointees were given a mask right after saying goodbye to loved ones in a vehicle drop-off line, provided a squirt of hand sanitizer when entering buildings and told to social distance when possible.
The first group of 51 appointees raised their right hands and took the Oath of Office to “support and defend the constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic,” becoming basic cadets. Senior leadership including the dean of faculty, athletic director, commandant of cadets and the superintendent introduced themselves.
“Welcome to the finest service academy in the United States, “Superintendent Lt. Gen. Richard Clark said. “We’re very excited to have you here.”
Clark encouraged the basic cadets to push hard, focus on what they are doing and to listen to their cadre as they make the switch from civilian to military life.
“We look forward to watching you on this journey the next four years,” Clark said.
Brig. Gen. Paul Moga, commandant of cadets, told the basic cadets that although he has to share them with the dean and athletic director over the next four years, “but for the next six weeks you’re mine.”
Nerves, excitement and even fear were easily noticeable for many of the basic cadets, who were often screamed at by upperclassmen when not following orders.
The class of 2025 began with 1,126 appointees and is 29.7% female and 36.4% minority.
“I’m nervous but really excited to get started,” said Jack Engelke, 18, of Stuttgart, Germany.
His father flew C-5s and Learjets for the Air Force.
“He is so excited for me,” Engelke said. “I always wanted to go to the Air Force Academy.”
Engelke plans to major in mechanical engineering and hopes to get a pilot slot when he and his classmates graduate and likely commission into the Air Force or Space Force as 2nd Lieutenants.
Travis Dugan, 21, of Elizabethtown, Kentucky, is prior enlisted Air Force and Coast Guard and loves the idea of working as a developmental engineer for the Space Force.
“This is a huge day,” Dugan said. “I’ve been working for this for four years since I graduated high school.”
Amelia Cass, 18, of Seattle, Washington, wants to be an aeronautical engineer in the Space Force and hopes to one day visit Mars.
Madigan Kinsey, 18, of St. Louis, Missouri, plans to major in aeronautical engineering and would like to be an engineer or a pilot.
Her family has a strong military history including her grandfather, who served in the Air Force.
“I wanted to go here since middle school,” she said. “I’m excited. I’ve always wanted to serve.”
Andrew Fedora, 18, of Sacramento, Calif., said attending the Air Force Academy is “a dream come true because I’ve always wanted to serve.”
Daniel Enoch, 18, of Raleigh, North Carolina, will be playing lacrosse for the Falcons.
His father is retired Army and Enoch said only gave him a little grief for joining a different military branch.
“He is proud of me,” Enoch said.
Jinju Thompson, 18, of the Northern Mariana Islands – a U.S. commonwealth in the Pacific Ocean east of the Philippines and south of Japan – was struggling to stay warm with temperatures in the mid-70s under overcast skies while wearing shorts and a T-shirt like most of the basic cadets.
While taking in the view of the Air Force Academy, Thompson said she is anxious to see snow.
“Looking at these mountains is breathtaking,” she said.
Thompson’s grandfather was a flight surgeon in the Air Force and she is looking forward to follow in his footsteps to become a doctor.
“I’m so honored to be here,” Thompson said. “I’m excited to represent my island and I’m excited to represent the United States of America.”
Avery Kreischer, 18, of Juneau, Alaska, will be majoring in biochemistry and plans to become a dentist. Her brother and father both went through the Coast Guard Academy.
She is excited to be at the academy.
“I feel like this is an opportunity only a few get to experience and I’m thankful to be one of them,” Kreischer said.