It’s been excited to read posts by Class of 2026 parents about Jacks Valley. The best part, of course, is that my daughter isn’t there. 🙂
For the academy – and for the Air Force at large – Jacks Valley is important because it introduces important skills to the Basics and reinforces key traits like teamwork and perseverance. For the cadre, this is an important learning opportunity, too, honing the leadership skills they will employ once they commission, especially leading their charges through difficult times, facing (literal and figurative) obstacles they may have never faced before.
In addition, for everyone involved, this is also a bonding moment. The Class of 2026 will learn that while they may have been singularly successful before they arrived in Colorado Springs, achieving at USAFA will be a group effort. No one gets to Commissioning Week by themselves. But the Basics will also bond – in a much different way. They will learn the practical application of Chain of Command while learning that all the yelling and seemingly unreasonable demands have a purpose and are designed to help them.
So yes, Jacks Valley is important to the Air Force Academy.
But it’s also important to the Academy parents. One of the unique bonds among academy parents is the shared experiences, the milestones, and the traditions. Each USAFA class (with some COVID-related exceptions) goes to and from Jacks Valley. Each one will have their own experience, yet along with I Day, it helps lay the foundation for a shared experience that creates an instant bond with otherwise total strangers. True for cadets, yes, but also true for parents.
Before and after I Day, parents of all classes share their experience with the incoming class, then engage with that class when they share the most recent iteration. No matter the experience of a Class of 2026 parent, there is almost certain to be a parent from a previous class who can relate. The same goes for Jacks Valley.
As academy parents, we tend to mark time by these milestones. That first year is broken down from I Day to Jacks Valley to A Day (with phone calls in between) to Parents Weekend, etc. Jacks Valley is an integral moment for academy parents – we live through the urban legends leading up to the march there (some of my daughter’s cadre kept telling them “Oh Jacks Valley? It doesn’t really exist.”), we pore over the Webguy photos hoping for a glimpse of our basic navigating the obstacle course, then anxiously await the post-Jacks Valley phone call to get debriefed. Through all of this, we deepen our bonds with parents from other classes, comparing notes, comparing and contrasting both the experiences of our Basics and our own experiences.
Of course, once our Basics complete Jacks Valley, we can engage in the age-old tradition of discussing if it was a “real” Jacks Valley experience or if you really want to start a spirited conversation, “who had the last real Jacks Valley?”
This exercise is also reinforcement for academy parents to embrace the “your experience is the right experience” mantra. I knew the toughest part of BCT for my daughter would be the first few weeks. Not because of the incessant yelling and nitpicky details (uniforms, rooms, etc.), but because of the marching. She had learned during her time at the Prep that she was, in fact, awful at marching, which drew a lot of unwanted attention. Climbing, jumping, and crawling in Jacks Valley would be a welcome diversion for her.
Our Basic’s brother said, “This is really going to be like a vacation for her, because she’s actually going to be doing stuff and not all that other stuff that makes absolutely no sense.” He turned out to be 100% correct. Skimming the Webguy photos, it was easy to see she was in her element and even though she came back with a cold, it was clearly a much better experience than the first half of BCT.
I hope the Class of 2026 parents embrace this part of their training and that they continue to strengthen the bonds between parents of other classes. Parents Weekend just a bit more than a month away and even though we’ve never met, we’ll have plenty of shared experiences to discuss.
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Class of 2026 parents, I made this playlist for my daughter’s class, but you all may find it a fun listen as well …