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Cadet program visits Eielson

EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska -- If the 21 hours of daylight were not enough of an indication, let me share a recent discovery – it’s summertime! 

I recall with longing the last days of school before summer – slumped in my desk, counting the minutes until I could enjoy those precious American pastimes: baseball, fishing, and most certainly, laziness. 

Yet, the longing I speak of is actually quite familiar; you see, I attend the United States Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs, Colo., so it was just a few short weeks ago that I was drooling over my notes and flight cap. 

The Air Force’s continued commitment to education makes this ‘longing’ common to many, but for USAFA cadets, it has changed the nature of their summer plans – perhaps the summer sun smiles a bit differently at Eielson. 

Twelve cadets from the USAFA (two rising seniors and ten rising juniors) are here for three weeks to perform various duties they may encounter as young lieutenants. 

Each summer, USAFA and Reserve Officer Training Corps cadets around the nation are sent to Air Force bases around the world. 

Each will be paired with enlisted personnel or officers to experience a training event known as Operation Air Force. 

The program is designed to expose cadets to the operational Air Force environment while enabling them to identify potential career fields of interest. Most of the cadets do not yet know their Air Force Specialty Code, so this program affords them the opportunity to really figure out what they want to do “when they grow up.” 

Eielson’s dirty-dozen are currently exploring the duties and responsibilities common to maintenance, base operations, services, medical, contracting, intelligence and public affairs. 

Maj. Mark Hoover, 354th Operations Support Squadron operations flight commander, who is also the Eielson facilitator for Operation Air Force this summer, has made an effort to expose the cadets to all mission elements while still letting each investigate their fields of interest. 

The quality mentorship gained from this experience is invaluable, and the exposure to the Air Force culture is immeasurable. 

As part of the program, the 12 USAFA cadets have received incentive flights as a way to orient them to a possible piloting career. 

To date, the cadets have seen air refueling of both B-2s and F-22As onboard KC-10s and KC-135s during the Northern Edge exercise, and some have even sat shotgun in the F-16. 

“This program has really been great. To see all the things the Air Force does in such a beautiful setting is truly remarkable,” commented Cadet 1st Class Donnie Naiman, the cadet in charge of the contingent. 

The cadets have sincerely enjoyed the natural beauty of a summer in Alaska as they learn valuable career lessons and develop as future leaders. 

I recall with longing those last days of school before summer - but I was daydreaming about more than American pastimes: I thought about the incredible opportunities I could enjoy at Eielson AFB and how 12 people could work together to explore their futures. 

It is summertime, and I cannot think of a better way to spend three weeks than experiencing the wild blue yonder and becoming more equipped to cross into the blue as a lieutenant.