Operation Air Force initiates cadets here
by Nick Stubbs
For young cadets, Air Force life is distant and unknown. But experiences like those provided by Operation Air Force give them a taste of what to expect and is often the guiding force in their military careers.
This week and the remainder of the summer, groups of cadets from the Air Force Academy and the U.S. Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps are getting their first experience with an active Air Force base. They are getting an up-close and personal look at their futures, says Capt. David Brown, 6th Air Mobility Wing point of contact for the program.
Groups of 12 cadets will spend three weeks "shadowing" MacDill personnel, getting an understanding of different jobs and missions, and hopefully picking up the guidance along the way that will help build a solid foundation for their futures in the Air Force. Captain Brown should know, as just such an orientation when he was a cadet helped him decide to go on to become a pilot.
"It was a very good experience for me," he said, recalling his trip to Moody AFB, Ga. in 1998. "It confirmed for me that I wanted to fly and to serve."
Captain Brown, who has been escorting the first of three groups of cadets, said he already can see how the experience is impacting the future officers.
"They are getting a taste of what they can expect to find in the Air Force and they are really enjoying MacDill," he said. "With the variety here, they are learning a lot about the diversity of the Air Force and base life; it's a little like when you bring family on the base the first time and they don't realize just what all there is out here."
It was the good fortune of the first group to be on base when President George W. Bush visited. If they were not impressed enough by just being here, "they certainly were after that," said Captain Brown, who added that MacDill is a "very desirable" destination for cadets due to the various commands here and its place on the world stage of military operations.
Cadets already have toured the KC-135 Flight Simulator, taken a tour of a KC-135 and went up for an orientation flight while here.
Certain cadets will be assigned to shadow officers on base, helping them understand the different roles of the squadrons and units on base.
"The most important thing is they get to see what team MacDill brings to the fight and get a good feeling for Air Force life," said Captain Brown. "That is invaluable to them as each decides the direction they want to go in the service."
Each cadet is taking away something different from his or her experience, whether the time here was used as a nice break from classes or as a time to focus on career decisions. For John Avery, the cadet leader with his sights on being a pilot, being able to talk to the KC-135 pilots and boom operators has been very instructional.
"It's been a good experience and being able to go over the pre-flight was very interesting," said Cadet Avery.
Cadet Rebecca Gallegos was most impressed by the boom operator on the orientation flight last week.
"I didn't realize a person manned the boom and just seeing the job he does when the plane (to be refueled) comes up was fascinating for me, and also to see his enthusiasm and dedication to the job."
Cadet Nick Sommerman is from the University of Iowa where he is in ROTC. He says he wouldn't mind being assigned to MacDill one day and added he loves Florida. For him, the "sense of community" on base has been a high point of his experience here. "Just to see everyone pulling together here for a common goal has been great," he said.
All three agreed that their decision to embark on a military career has come at the cost of dealing with those who are anti-military or otherwise politically polarized by the war on terror. But it is a price they are willing to pay to serve, they say.
It was a "personal" experience in high school that sparked Cadet Avery's desire to serve, and along with his yearning to fly it is his highest hope that he can achieve both goals in the Air Force.
"I love flying and I only hope that I will get to do something I really enjoy while serving my country at the same time," he said.
If their career plans go as scheduled, someday these cadets will be mentoring other young minds interested in becoming members of the Air Force who have a distant, yet bright future.