You’d think having gone through two Induction Days – one for my son at USNA and my daughter’s last year at the USAFA Prep School – this one would be easy. It wasn’t and that’s even before we factor in the massive amount of travel-related insanity we endured from the time we left home, which deserves its own blog post (note to self – take no prisoners on that one).
To be fair, it was easier – a lot easier – than my son’s Induction Day when we had absolutely no idea what we were getting into. It was easier than last year’s Prep I Day, too. But it was not easy.
We finally made it to the Springs Tuesday and spent most of the next two days just hanging together as a family. There were a number of group events, but our Cadet wanted things low-key, so that’s what we did. Not much more than a short stroll on the Ute Valley Trail near the hotel, an afternoon alternating between the hotel hot tub and the chaise lounge chairs, dropping off gear at her sponsor family’s house, and enjoying her last few meals at her favorite places.
During our travels, we came across families clearly bringing a son or daughter to I Day. I resisted the urge to engage in conversation, in part because I knew it would send my daughter into an eye-rolling tizzy and in part because I didn’t want to intrude on their family time. Everyone has their own way of preparing for things like this and I didn’t want to butt in.
I’d also have to resist the urge to offer up suggestions and/or warnings about what lies ahead. Doling out advice during a conversation is fine when you’re asked, but when I dump unsolicited advice as if I’m some sort of sage, I always regret it later (doing so here on the blog feels much different).
For us, I Day was pretty nondescript. I secured a smoothie as my Cadet’s request for her “last meal” and we got dressed and packed out of the hotel. As I suspected would be the case, our daughter had become more pensive in the hours leading up to I Day. She’d been through BMT at the Prep, so she had a pretty good idea what she was in for and, like most people who go through BCT on The Hill, knew she wasn’t going to like it. By the time we were through the North Gate, she was silent and deflected any question or conversation, listening instead to music on her phone.
The drop off was about as anti-climactic as expected, a simple stop, drop, and roll. By the way, anyone else find it appropriate that there were some showers after the drop-offs? A few tears from the heavens for the emotional parents, then some sunshine for the future.
Like most parents, we spent a good portion of the next day playing Where’s Waldo on Webguy, managing to snare about 20 photos, noticing that same sullen and pensive face we saw on the ride to the Academy.
Flipping through those photos and the various posts on the Academy-related social media channels, it was interesting to see the variety of reactions. Some of the new Cadets were clearly just rolling with the punches, slogging their way through a day they knew would be full of yelling and uncertainty. Others, well others made me wince. There’s that look you see on a Doolie’s face (or at USNA, a Plebe’s face) that’s a cross between deer-in-headlights and “Omigod, what have I gotten myself into.” You know that will subside over time, but you know in the moment, the pain is very real.
But after months of build up, I Day is over. BCT is in full swing and most of us are left anxiously waiting for a “real” phone call on July 10 (it’s hard to count the one we got on I Day as a phone call) and Parents Weekend. So what are we supposed to do with ourselves?
A few thoughts:
Talk to friends: Look, I’m going to be totally honest with you. Your friends are eventually going to get tired of hearing you say, “Well, my [son/daughter] is at the Air Force Academy and [insert Academy-related stuff here].” Rip off the band aid now. Talk to anyone who will listen (even if it’s begrudgingly) about your Cadet, your angst, your pride, the whole thing. Of course, this is easy on the USAFA-related Facebook pages, but sometimes you need to get outside the echo chamber to vent. Don’t feel bad, just do it. You’ll feel better.
Side note here, now is the time to get in the habit of wearing Air Force Academy gear as often as possible. It’s the best way to ensure every conversation turns to your child’s journey. As a reminder, if people say you have enough (or too much) USAFA gear, get new friends. You don’t need that kind of negativity in your life.
Write, write, write: I can’t lie, the fact that I can only send plain letters is absolutely killing me. But if that’s all we can do, you better believe I’m going to do it – a lot. I’ve heard people say, “well, my [son/daughter] won’t have time to read all that.” First of all, you’d be surprised how they find time for that. Second, it’s not all about them – this is therapy for you, too. And put out a request to your friends on Facebook (USAFA discourages sharing your Cadet’s address, but you can send it privately). One of the reasons we feel so much anxiety is that we have absolutely no control and, in reality, there’s not much we can do. So if they say you can write, write!
Listen: Find music that gives you comfort. Selfishly, I’d ask you to check out the playlist/podcast I put together for our Class of 2025, but if there are songs and/or artists that put you in a happy place, dial it up. Personally, I’m into cranking it from speakers and filling the room or car, but if earbuds are your thing, rock on.
Pray: If you are so inclined, pray. Pray often. Short prayers, long prayers, prayers alone, prayers with friends. Join the parent prayer pages on Facebook. Let folks in your house of worship know you (and your cadet) need prayers. Pray for you Cadet – to give them peace and confidence and endurance. Pray for your Cadet’s peers that they may develop empathy for one another while creating bonds that will make them stronger as a unit than they are as individuals. Pray for the Cadre – that they may provide true leadership and identify those Cadets who need additional support. Pray for yourself – hey, you deserve it (and, I suspect, you need it). Pray for your fellow parents … ‘nuff said there. If you’re not into praying, try meditating.
Plan: This goes back to the control thing. I’ve found that planning the next time we’re together relieved some anxiety. I think the relief was two-fold – one, I was actually taking control of the out-of-control situation. Second, it allowed me push aside the anxiety-ridden now and focus on a much happier moment in the future. So whether it was mapping out my drive to Annapolis or looking for places to stay or see after we picked up our daughter after the Prep School graduation, I found that process helpful. Side note here – plan to get to USAFA as often as you can. When your budget and logistics allow, get there – even if you don’t get to see your Cadet much (e.g. A Day), get out there (and hopefully with COVID restrictions lifting that will mean more time actually on base). I found that the more familiar I became with Annapolis and the USNA campus, the more comfortable I felt about my son being there. And, of course, we learned from COVID that nothing is set in stone – we skipped several big events at USNA thinking, “we’ll wait ‘til senior year.” And, well, you know the rest. Anyway, get out there.
Finally, enjoy the moment and this time. That may seem counterintuitive, but here’s a truth we were told during our son’s Plebe Summer that held true and I am betting will apply to our time at USAFA – time at military academies is broken into three units – BCT/Plebe Summer, Doolie/Plebe academic year, and the other three years leading up to commissioning. Don’t let a third of your USAFA experience disintegrate by wishing away this summer. Hang in there. Tens of thousands of Cadets have survived BCT and the odds are extremely good that yours will, too.