Thirty seven years ago today I joined 1,608 other young people at the Base of the Ramp as it was known — “The Bring Me Men” Ramp at the United States Air Force Academy. It was inprocessing day for the Air Force Academy Class of 1984.
The night before many of us had stayed at the Fillmore House, a Best Western Hotel in Colorado Springs. I sat by the pool next to Bobby, Matt and Chris (a female). I mentioned to them that when my Dad entered the Engineering College at the University of Cincinnati they had told him to look to his left and look to his right and to look in front and in back of him. After five years only one of them would be left. I asked my three new friends how many of the four of us they thought would be at our graduation four years later. All three indicated that they would definitely be there. I said, I wasn’t sure, that I was definitely staying for the first year and I would see after that.
That first summer held 42 days of Basic Cadet Training (BCT) or Beast. It was grueling. We got our hair cut off, our parents were removed, our friends, our cars, all of our personal belongings, no watches and the clocks on the wall were covered. We were stripped of everything physical we could cling to, broken down and then built back up. Many made it, a few did not. We found one guy, a boy from Tennessee, laying in his bed sucking his thumb in the fetal position. He was gone the next day.
Doolie Year: Summer 1980 a tourist snaps my picture at the Chapel
The first year is called doolie (from the Greek doulos) year, which means slave. That was an appropriate term. We could say five things, we walked or ran in straight lines on marble strips, had to square our corners. Served all of the upperclassmen their food first, rated the meal and gobbled down a few bites ourselves, all in 20 minutes. The month of March held what we called, Hell Week, when we were finally “recognized” and given our prop and wings, symbolizing our full acceptance into the Cadet Wing.
The second summer brought SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape) a grueling three week survival training. I managed to get down from 152 pounds to the 140s (at 6 foot 4 inches). In many ways the three degree (sophomore) year was harder than the doolie year. When you are a doolie everyone pays attention to you and you have something to prove. When you are a third classmen, no one pays attention to you and it seems you are just floating. Graduation is a long time away and you are just surviving. The dark ages (January and February), little light and lots of wind, make it even tougher.
Junior year (two degree year) everything changes. The highlight is that you can finally get a car. You can actually get yourself around when you do get a pass. You also get into your major courses, which by and large are more interesting than the core courses (because you chose them). You also get to do the hands on running of your squadron, where you live.
Then comes Firstie year: You are in charge of the Cadet Wing, as much as the officers let you be. In February you celebrate only 100 days until graduation. The Academy is the only place that I know where you begin counting the days until you leave, the day that you arrive.
I am glad that I went to the Academy, but I would not want to start all over again. I made many tremendous friends, lifelong friends. I learned so much and grew in each area of my life. Of those 1,609 who entered on June 23, 1980, 997 of us shook Ronald Reagan’s hand at graduation four years later on May 30, 1984. Surprisingly, of the four of us at the pool, I was the only one who received a diploma on graduation day. I am thankful; 84 Wings to Soar.