Normally, I avoid blogging about personal, family matters; today bear with me as I “brag” blog about some personal memories and experiences from Graduation Week at the US Air Force Academy (USAFA). Our son, Michael, graduated this past Wednesday, May 27, 2009 from the USAFA. Michael was simultaneously commissioned as a second lieutenant- he now enters active military duty in the defense of our nation.
Before detailing the events of the graduation, let me take you down my memory lane. Over 40 years ago, my grandmother worked as a civilian at Ellsworth Air Force Base, Rapid City, SD. One day, she delighted us with tickets to the air show of the mighty Thunderbirds – little did I imagine then that today my son would have hopes of flying fighter jets. Furthermore, as little girls, my sisters and I would swing wildly back and forth while singing the following at the top of our lungs (you may recall this song was sung to the tune of the Air Force Song): “They took the blues from the skies/ and the pretty girls eyes/ and a touch of old glory too/ and gave it to the men /who proudly wear /the US Air Force Blues.” Today our son wears these blues.
A decade later, I came very close to joining the Air Force ROTC while attending college at UND – Grand Forks, ND. The physical and preliminary testing & paperwork were well underway; however a week prior to signing the papers, I received an offer from 3M Co. for a Student Co-Operative employment opportunity as a process engineer. It was during this co-op stint that I met my husband, Dave; following graduation, we married and both worked at 3M as engineers. Thus, today’s connection to the Air Force actually was obtusely aligned a long time ago.
Graduation Week flooded me with these memories and established new ones. Graduation week also re-emphasized how opportunities and life choices are often more momentous than we appreciate at the time. I know that Michael is a far better choice for the Air Force than I would have been! We are thankful for the path that God continues to provide for us all.
What was Graduation Week like? Well, it began with almost our entire family camping at the FAMCAMP on base of the USAFA; friends, aunts and uncles, nephews, cousins attended as well. While the weather was cold, rainy and troublesome, we endured. Not only did we endure, we enjoyed the moments filled with pomp and circumstance.
The week began with Sunday Mass in the Cadet Chapel. In place of the homily, the Catholic Chaplain welcomed Dr. Thomas Jones as a baccalaureate speaker. Dr. Jones is a scientist, pilot, author, former NASA astronaut, and Catholic. He was able to witness the beauty of the whole of creation- including the stars, planets, asteroids, and the earth while on his four space missions into orbit. Dr. Jones talked about his gratitude for the prayers for the safety of the flight prior to launch. Before one mission, he was particularly consoled by a mass reading from Jeremiah which promises that God protects us from danger… He also related a memorable moment during one space mission in which he and the two other Catholic astronauts (3 of the 5 astronauts on board were Catholic) received the Holy Eucharist at the moment when daylight suddenly flashed into the shuttle windows. The sudden brilliance underscores the nature of the Eucharist according to Dr. Jones and all Catholic believers. Furthermore, the beautiful blue earth underscored to him how the Blessed Virgin protects us with her blue mantle.
His mission walk in space reinforced how insignificant man is compared to the cosmos and to God’s glory; nevertheless we are lovingly created in the image and likeness of Almighty God. Dr. Jones ended with the caution that certain risk taking is necessary in a world fraught with problems and challenges; however, the risks and the benefits must be considered cooperatively. Jones feels we are in a risk averse culture but repeats the philosophy of JP II: be not afraid.
We were able to talk to several officer professors in the Physics/Meterology Department. They threw a wonderful open house for the graduating cadets who majored in these areas. Our son is now a meteorologist – he has wanted to be one for over a decade! We were also blessed to have the presence of a priest friend –Father Scott Carl-who said several daily masses during the week.
We had fun at a party thrown by our son and two other cadets: David Abraham and Joseph Atherton. Members of the different families were in attendance and it was a creative mix of good food, slide show, and conversation. The next night we were grateful to pin the shoulder boards on Michael during his commissioning ceremony. His commissioning ceremony took place at the Superintendant’s residence. This historic compound was built by Albert Carlton – a pioneer who made a fortune from the gold mines of Cripple Creek, Colorado.” After retiring to the Broadmoor, the Carlton’s wanted a summer home; they purchased property and built the home in 1930. The home was completed in 1931 and Albert died shortly thereafter. Mrs. Carlton added onto the property and made it her permanent residence. After her death, the property exchanged hands becoming a country club prior to being purchased by the federal government in 1954.
The compound features a number of exquisite, stucco structures built according to the “Spanish Colonial Revival Style; this includes classical iron work decorating the windows and balcony; harmony with the surrounding environment, gently sloping tile roofs, and continuity between the interior and exterior of the structure.” It was originally outfitted with furnishings from Mrs. Carlton’s European trips. We ventured into the dining room, the sitting room, the grounds, the game room, and more.
Graduation day felt like a festivity with tightened security. We witnessed the obvious presence of secret service agents, police dogs, and military police all around the grounds. This heightened security was due to the presence of Vice President Joseph Biden and the Secretary of the Air Force Michael B. Donley. VP Biden delivered the Graduation Address; the address was a mixture of politics, personal witness, and encouragement to the newly commissioned officers. He made a few blunders during the address; for instance he commented that while visiting Afghanistan the previous week he descended to 900,000 feet- none of us thought that was possible! He also poked fun at the President regarding Teleprompters. It was encouraging to learn that his son, Bo, is also serving in the military and is currently positioned somewhere in Afghanistan. Hopefully, he will be watching our sons and daughters backs as promised in part due to increased awareness of the needs of military personnel via his son’s experience.
Over 1000 cadets were called forward to receive their diplomas, shake the VP’s hand, and swear an oath to the country. This process took over 2 hours but was never boring! Within a split second of throwing of the hats, the mighty diamond formation of the Thunderbirds roared overhead without prior warning or sound. Their thunderous engines were clearly heard as they passed the stadium. The crowd cheered almost as loudly. The air show followed graduation; it was choreographed to wonderfully patriotic American songs. It was a grand finale to a wonderful day. My brother Kevin so profoundly questioned how these beautiful machines could also be so horrendously deadly. The F-16’s have delivered many bombs and missiles to enemy combatants.
These were the memories of Graduation Week. Fun, excitement, fatigue, cold, memories, pride filled the week. We are proud of Michael. Thanks to family and friends who have supported him over the years. Thanks to Kathy, Kevin, Patty, Brandon, Kaydance, Fr. Carl, Michelle & Kaan, Jackson, Kristian, Lindsay & John, Matthias, Kelly, Patrick, Kyra for coming to Graduation Week!