If there’s one phrase I’ve heard military academy parents use repeatedly, it’s “prayer marathon.” Whether it’s the stress over receiving a congressional appointment, the anxiety of waiting to hear about an appointment, or the worries that crescendo at Induction Day and continue, if we’re being honest, all the way through commissioning in one form or another, it never seems to stop.
As the Air Force Academy’s Class of 2025 continues to slog through BCT, many parents are wearing out their worry beads and judging from the Facebook posts I’m seeing, getting into the marathon rhythm. Count me among them. In fact, here are few things that routinely find their way to the top of the list in terms of prayers and meditations.
MY BASIC CADET
Duh. Of course I’m praying for and worrying about my cadet. I try to keep the worry off to the side which, quite frankly, drives my wife nuts. She likes to worry … about everything, so BCT is a field day. I’m very much a pragmatist and like to compartmentalize, so that gives the appearance that I don’t worry.
The verse I recently shared with my Basic Cadet is one that I’ve repeated over and over since my son’s I Day at the Naval Academy.
I became familiar with this verse when the group Jars of Clay hit it big with their debut CD and the single “Flood” (which I used in the Summer Playlist). I love how the verse acknowledges that you’re going to get beat up, pressed in from every side and it’s to be expected. But you have the strength to over come it and get through the ordeal.
YOUR BASIC CADET
Listen, once they take the oath of office, they are connected and through BCT they become bonded. Like all good units, they are stronger than the sum of their parts and reliant upon each other to succeed. We all want each one of these kids to succeed and the more of them that remain focused and moving forward, the better off the collective will be. I find myself turning to the Old Testament when I think about the Class of 2025’s initial USAFA test.
He gives strength to the weak. And He gives power to him who has little strength. Even very young men get tired and become weak and strong young men trip and fall. But they who wait upon the Lord will get new strength. They will rise up with wings like eagles. They will run and not get tired. They will walk and not become weak.”Isaiah 40:28-31
BCT or Plebe Summer or whatever West Point calls it, it’s meant to bring the newbies to their knees. Someone explained to me that the idea is to tear them down so they can be rebuilt into military leaders. That doesn’t mean they are all being cast in the same mold; instead, the best of their traits will be sharpened and other parts built up so they can be the best leaders possible. At the Naval Academy, we were fond of saying “Your Mid Is My Mid” and I full expect that to translate to “Your Cadet Is My Cadet.”
It’s both frightening and heartening that the initial training at military academies is left to the upperclassmen. One one hand, they still have fresh memories of the process and know what parts matter and what’s important. They can definitely empathize.
On the other hand, well, let’s be honest, they aren’t exactly grizzled veterans. I recall my son telling me about his I Day and learning how to salute, a task handled by newly minted Marine officers. Yep, pretty intimidating. At the time, he recalled, the Plebes were intimidated, I mean, these were actual officers. What they didn’t know was that these officers were just a few years older and had only received their commission a few weeks prior. It’s a big responsibility for the cadre. These first few weeks are pivotal for the incoming class and getting them off on the right foot with the right attitude will go a long way toward ensuring success.
I often ponder The Art of War, the classic work of Sun Tzu, something I became familiar with when I moved into management and leadership positions. I have found the writings profound and applicable to many parts of life. When I think of the cadre, I sometimes dwell on this passage:
Regard your soldiers as your children, and they will follow you into the deepest valleys; look on them as your own beloved sons, and they will stand by you even unto death.Sun Tzu
While I know the cadre will never treat the Basics as we parents would treat them, I am hopeful they understand the gravity of their charge and the lasting impression their actions over these few weeks will have on these young men and women. Because Sun Tzu also teaches this:
Victory usually goes to the army who has better trained officers and men.Sun Tzu
And that training is in full effect.
The cadre will prepare the Class of 2025 to take its rightful place in the Cadet Wing and then the upperclassmen will play key roles in further development. But there remains a chain of command, which means folks from the Superintendent on down have serious duties, too. It’s a great honor to serve at our military academies, but it is also a great challenge, one that they certainly do not take lightly.
For them I am wish the most delicate of balancing acts – caring for our Basic Cadets and treating them like the awesome young men and women they are while at the same time fire-testing them with challenges that will prepare them to be the greatest leaders in the world’s greatest military. That combination may seem counter-intuitive, but as a great man once said, “if it were easy, anyone could do it.”
A leader takes people where they want to go. A great leader takes people where they don’t necessarily want to go, but ought to be.”Rosalynn Carter
I know the leadership has a clear vision on where this class ought to be and pray for their leadership to be so inspiring that the Basics strive to get there without hesitation.
MY FELLOW 2025 PARENTS
In my five years associated with military academies, I have been blown away by the parents I’ve met, both virtually and in-person. I’m amazed at the diversity in the way they handle the ups and downs, in awe of how many of them manage challenges that would likely knock me off my feet, and impressed at the honesty they express. Everyone is on the same trip, but we are all taking different journeys and supporting each other along the way is, for many of us, the only way to keep moving forward.
For some parents, this is “all good.” And for some that will continue for four years with nary a negative thought or word. For others, there will be four years of hand-wringing. Many will be somewhere in between on a very broad continuum. And every single one of them is handling it the correct way. My mantra – your experience in the right experience.
I’ve been through three I Days and didn’t really like any of them; in fact, the first was my worst day as a parent. Some folks I’ve met absolutely loved I Day at both USNA and USAFA. My son came home from USNA a lot (once he had the privilege to do so). I know other parents who literally didn’t see their son or daughter for two years – their Mid would spend holidays with friends and weekends with significant others. Whatever your situation, I’m rooting for you. If you’re sad or worried, I hope you find peace and brighter days ahead. If you’re full of sunshine and smiles, please share a case of whatever you’re drinking. Ha ha! Seriously, I hope that feeling continues and, more than that, I hope you share it and it becomes infectious among our peers.
You’ve raised an amazing kid. That’s why they are at USAFA. Seems like an odd reward for being a great kid, right? Being berated 24/7 and told that the line you’re walking isn’t straight enough. It will pay off in the end. And it will pay off in no small part because of the work you put in as a parent. Hang in there. And remember …