DYESS AIR FORCE BASE, Texas --
Immersion – that’s the name of the game. Every summer, the Air Force sends cadets from detachments all over the country to bases for two and a half weeks to get them out of “cadet land” and into the day-to-day action of the Air Force.
Dyess Air Force Base generously hosts one of the largest such groups of cadets, boasting 25 members from 19 different states. Cadets visited nearly every squadron to learn about Air Force operations and which career fields fit their strengths and interests. Most of the cadets are rising sophomores with much of the ROTC road still ahead of them; a few are rising seniors with rated slots, but all had something to learn.
Career Choice / Air Force Specialty Code
Cadet Khai Pham, a senior with a rated position, said of his experience talking with the pilots on base, “I didn’t have a clear idea going in, but after talking with the pilots, I have more insight into what to expect in the next year or two.”
Another senior cadet, Alan Pacheco, who has a rated position added, “Doing mission planning with them, I got a lot more experience on the day-to-day details and specifics.” Cadet Pacheco now has a greater understanding of what his country has called him to do.
When Cadet Summer Spencer, a rising sophomore, was asked how her experience on base influenced her, she answered, “I didn’t know specifically what in the medical field I was interested in, but after visiting the medical center, I realized mental health was the best fit for me.”
Lt. Col. Jesse Arnstein, who leads the Philadelphia detachment at Saint Joseph’s University, encouraged the cadets to get hands on and learn from their inevitable mistakes.
Cadet Andrew Kennedy, of Ohio State University, was chosen as the flight commander and had the busy job of keeping up with 25 young cadets.
“I think everybody here is a really strong leader. Everyone was motivated and wanted to be here. I have had the opportunity to see different styles of leadership and how each person tackles challenges,” said Kennedy.
There was a steep learning curve to this simulated active-duty life, and everyone stepped up to the plate and brought their diverse backgrounds and skills to bear on the challenges facing the group.
Cadets learned convoy procedures, radio communication and how to contact on-base agencies to solve a variety of problems, reifying terms they learned from ROTC, like Base Exchange, logistics readiness squadron and officer in charge.
Cadets were challenged to reflect, analyze and summarize how the trip impacted them and their future careers.
“Every job is vital, from the wing commander to the maintenance Airman who works on a part of a plane. We hear about how every job is crucial to the mission, but seeing it up close really made it hit home,” said Cadet Jessica Lopez.
The trip was not just insightful, it was also fun. Cadets debated before a mock jury in a federal courtroom, with whimsical staff judge advocates that challenged every notion. They chatted with pilots in a locked-off environment, where tradition came to life in the pilot lounge. They also stood feet from a B-1 engine as the awesome sound of freedom shook the earth beneath them and gathered round munitions the B-1 can carry to execute the combat needs of combatant commanders. Cadets got to experience the work-hard, play-hard ethos that is crucial for a budding lieutenant to understand.
The fun and good times also extended off base as cadets learned local history at Frontier Texas and participated in the local patriotic festivities during Independence Day. A few of the cadets shared their experiences with a news anchor reporting from Buffalo Gap. Cadet Benjamin Desrochers was interviewed by the local channel and expressed how much he enjoyed the small town’s lively heritage and patriotic traditions.
Through their time together, both enjoyable and serious, the cadets grew together. The Morale Officer, Cadet Kristin Nielsen, said, “We are all from different states with different backgrounds, but we are all united in our desire to serve the Air Force. We are woven together by our common military bond.”
In the end, it was the holistic experience that defined the cadets’ time at Dyess. From visiting each of the squadrons, to talking face to face with veteran pilots, to the maintenance Airmen in the hangars, to the group commanders, we saw how it all fit together. Everyone, from the pilot in the cockpit to the Airmen fresh from basic military training turning the wrench, plays a vital and irreplaceable role in the execution of the mission.