A somber moment amidst celebratory preparations

All across the Air Force Academy, May is the month for many. Of course, the Firsties and their families are preparing for the ultimate celebration – the moment they’ve been working toward for the past four years, commissioning and their first assignment as an officer.

But the 2/Cs and 3/Cs are excited, too. The 2/Cs ascend to the top of the Cadet Wing, preparing for their final summer as cadets and returning as the leaders for the rest of the cadets. The 3/Cs have an exciting summer ahead, visiting Air Force bases around the globe and getting a real, first-hand look at what their lives may look like when they finally commission. Oh, and there’s the little matter of their starter loan, where they face some real “adulting” decisions about money.

And let’s not forget the 4/Cs who recently shed the Doolie burden after Recognition. While they may not be looking forward to CST, they know it’s an important step toward “normal” (or what passes for normal at a military academy). They understand that when they return in August, they will no longer be at the bottom of the pecking order.

All in all, exciting times.

But the real world intruded on all the excitement and joy of May with a story that has become all too familiar – a cadet passing away.

Too familiar, you ask? Without question. Not long after the calendar flipped to 2023, the USAFA found itself wrestling with the sudden passing of Hunter Brown. The passing of someone so young with so much promise should be a once-in-a-lifetime experience but we cannot forget that it was almost exactly a year ago that we were reminded that “there are no answers, only reasons to be strong,” with the passing of Christopher Scott Ryong Adams.

Yet, here we are again, grappling with the incomprehensible.

Jesse was about to turn that corner and begin the Parade of Lasts beginning with his last summer of training and ending with a moment some eight years in the making, earning a commission as an officer in the United States Air Force. Every cadet has their own story, and their own path, including Jesse. Most cadets go right from high school to USAFA, put in four hard years on The Hill, and get that coveted commission. Jesse’s path was much more circuitous, as noted in the Instagram post – three years as an enlisted munitions expert and a year at the Prep before the final four laps to the finish line.

But his Parade of Lasts passed without notice – his last time crossing The Terrazzo, the last meal at Mitch’s, the last formal parade. It seemed there would be a year full of those before getting to The Last. There won’t be.

I would like to say these three deaths in the past year are a fluke, an aberration. But since my son’s first year at the United States Naval Academy, these stories have been a regular occurrence. A Midshipman and a West Point cadet taking their own lives, a Mid passing during a PRT, and a beloved football player found slumped over in his room. There were others, of course. All gone far too soon, all far too young, all with far too much promise in a world that desperately needs more bright lights and symbols of hope.

While many pause and ponder Jesse’s passing, the ceaseless rhythm of military life continues, perhaps serving as a reminder that even though much of life at the academy is dressed in pomp, circumstance, and pageantry, it is preparation for a serious role – leader in the world’s greatest military. Serious decisions will be made, often with no “good” solution, just as often with dire consequences.

And so the celebrations will go on with joy but not without a moment to remember those moments are not promised to everyone.

One thought on “A somber moment amidst celebratory preparations

  1. So beautifully said . Brought tears to my eyes and reminded me of my son’s experience at USAFA. During COVID isolation, they lost two cadets to suicide. I watched graduation (virtual) knowing there were parents missing out on the moment. While parents complained about a missing a “real” graduation, I couldn’t help to think how those parents would have gladly accepted any ceremony their child could have attended. And so life moves on.


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