37 years ago today, we took a momentous step that forever altered the direction or our lives. Only 1404 young American men were given the unique challenge and opportunity of entering the Air Force Academy with the Class of 1975. For all 1404 of us, those first few days are certainly ineluctably seared into our memories. I had absolutely no clue what was ahead of me this day 37 years ago. I was both scared and excited. I was proud to be the first in my family to make it to college – but the prospect of attending a military institution and undergoing a curriculum shared by only the service academies (and seen by me in bits and pieces in movies) had me bewildered and more than a little shaken – especially with the thought that being screamed at by total strangers was a strong possibility. But I figured that after the first day, the yelling would stop, life on campus would settle into a routine, and I'd wear the parade uniform that I saw in the high school propaganda film (minus the falcon resting on the arm) to classes, and to town in the evenings.
As I said, I had no clue. When that M-80 went off behind us, and the newly arrived BCT cadre (in shiny and impressive Service Alpha) ran through us in ranks, I could only hear the loud pulsing and thrumming of my bloodstream in my ears, and the muffled chaos of every upperclassman around us suddenly gone mad and fully intent on killing each and every one of us violently, in public, and in thoroughly horrible fashion. I knew at that point that I was in the wrong place – that I wanted to be somewhere else – and if it was possible to shrink and become invisible, I'd do it. I remember imagining nothing could be more frightening than waiting for an upperclassman to eventually get to me as they worked themselves down the line. For a minute, it seemed time had slowed down and everyone was in slow-motion. Until one of those upperclassmen reached me. I don't remember what it was he yelled at me – I remember I squeaked in response. That only seemed to make him angrier. I squeaked again – I was so scared, my voice was 2 octaves higher than normal. After an eternity of saying "Yes sir!" until I got my 19-year old voice back, I ended up running in place, getting my arms parallel to the ground, and being yelled at to get my knees up higher and higher. I thought my heart would burst out of terror. After a few minutes (which my time sense registered as forever), it was all over. We were called to attention, and we all fell back into ranks. I looked straight ahead and locked every bone in my body – there was no way I was going to catch another upperclassman's attention. Our BCT squadrons were finally dismissed and our new Element Leader and Element Sergeant either marched us to the meal or back to our rooms. That was the first day of a journey that for me at the time was both unrelentingly awful and incomprehensible. But that journey had its milestones – milestones that gave me a sense of accomplishment and exhilaration.
1. The transition from 1st BCT to 2nd BCT (where my squadron, GUTS, was top squadron, just edging out F Troop).
2. The end of 2nd BCT with the civilized march back from Jack's Valley.
3. The Acceptance Parade when we became members of the Cadet Wing and got our shoulder boards.
4. Spirit Missions during football season.
5. Recognition, when we got our prop & wings (April 15, 1972, tax day, the earliest to date back then that doolies got recognized).
6. Watching '72 graduate, knowing I'd get 3-degree shoulder boards.
7. (2-degree year was a blur to me though . . . except for buying the car).
8. Getting my firstie shoulder boards after '74 graduated.
9. Sitting in Falcon Stadium and waiting for the order, "Gentlemen, you are dismissed!"
As I often say, when I think back on those days, I am thankful for the fine classmates who were with me in the phases of my journey through USAFA – without you, I would never have made it. This was always a group mission. No one makes it through solo. We entered as a class in name, but left there as a class in spirit and camaraderie. Here we are, 37 years later, still connected, still proud of each others' accomplishments, and unhesitatingly referring to one another, when talking to others outside the group, as the best friends we ever made. If time is a test of friendships, I think we're doing quite well. Here's to the Class of '75! Best Alive! (July 2008)