Nearing the end of my sixth year as a military academy, I can definitely state that it’s definitely a roller coaster ride. But like a lot of roller coasters (at least if memory serves), the biggest up and down is at the beginning then things kind of smooth out. Don’t get me wrong, there are still plenty of thrills and chills, but watch out for that first one, it’s a doozy.
So it goes at the academies. I recall the runup to my son’s I Day at the Naval Academy and, like the beginning of a good roller coaster, it was ripe with anticipation and excitement. Then I Day happened and we began careening down, often out of control, hanging on for dear life until Plebe Year ended.
Having gone through this rodeo once before, Catie’s Doolie year was filled with a lot fewer surprises for both us and her. Don’t get me wrong, there were some tear-filled video chats and plenty of parental angst. I know a lot of people refer to their Cadet as a “warrior,” which may well fit but she’s still my little girl and she still needs her dad to hug her every so often.
But Recognition is behind us and, much like my son’s experience after his Plebe class accomplished Herndon, there’s been a dramatic shift in mood. I know there will be some ups and downs, but there’s a reason they break life at a military academy into thirds (that first summer, Doolie academic year, then the other three years). And now we can take advantage of something we can count on – the ceaseless rhythm of academy life.
It’s something I’ve really come to appreciate. For good or ill, in the midst of joy or anxiety, life at USAFA will roll on. We are just about to May and some cadets are wringing their hands over academics while others are coasting to the finish line. Some are not entirely pleased with their summer training schedule and some got everything they hoped to get. But here’s the thing – finals will happen, Firsties will graduate and begin their next chapter while C2Cs will also begin a new chapter, ascending to lead the Cadet Wing. And before you know it, the Class of 2025 will show up along with a whole new batch of parents wondering about phone calls and letters and fretting about everything we all fretted about that first summer.
There’s a certain comfort to it. The great football coach and TV announcer John Madden wrote about it in his first book, “Hey, Wait A Minute, I Wrote A Book” (which I highly recommend, even if you aren’t a football fan). He talked about making travel plans for football teams and he observed that if he didn’t share the itinerary with the players, they would get out of sorts. On the other hand, if they knew what was going to happen next (2 p.m., bus ride to airport, 5 p.m. flight to Chicago, 8 p.m. bus ride to hotel, midnight lights out), they would be calmer and more relaxed. Knowing what’s next, even if it’s in general terms, makes it easier to deal with the current situation.
I’ve seen it with my kids. The anticipation of Recognition – not knowing exactly what was going to happen – was more stress-inducing than the actual event. Once she received her summer training schedule (subject to change, of course), I could see her relax just a little more. Same thing with changing companies. Leading up to that, she’d fret a bit about it, but now that it’s in place, concerns about August have dissipated.
Let’s face it, as USAFA parents, we have to deal with a lot of unknowns, everything from travel plans to service to selection. That’s why it’s important to embrace what we can, including the rhythm at the Air Force Academy. It may not always be catchy, but at least we can dance to it.
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In case the headline gave you an earworm, here you go …