An Academy family affair, times four

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- It was Victoria, the oldest of the four Leake sisters and now a captain, who first blazed the path to the Academy for the rest of her sisters.

Now Cadet 2nd Class Meredith Leake was in middle school when she left.

"It was the coolest thing," said the cadet.

Another elder sister, 2nd Lt. Blair Leake, graduated this year.

Cadet Meredith Leake's turn is coming in 2009.

"While I was here with Blair, we would always see each other at lunch and sometimes meet in the coffee shop during first period," said the daughter of a U.S. Army colonel and self-described Army brat. "Sometimes, we would hang out on the weekends, especially when I was a freshman and there were a lot more restrictions. I loved seeing her around, but everyone was so busy I could go a week without really spending much time with her."

Youngest sister Perri is a cadet 4th class this year and Cadet Meredith Leake hopes to be there for the junior sister like Blair was for her.

There was reflection as each sister made their decisions, but the four sisters never unanimously said one morning, "Let's all go to the Air Force Academy!"

"It was not at all a mutual decision between us sisters, but there was definitely a lot of influence," said Cadet Squadron 37's biology major (Meredith).

"I knew the Academy was hard, and nobody loves it at first, but I saw how much my two older sisters ended up appreciating, and in some respects really loving what they've done here," said the cadet. "I really looked up to my older sisters for going to school here, but wasn't extremely interested in coming myself throughout high school. However, senior year, I got my appointment and didn't want to turn it down; I decided it was the one college offer I couldn't get back and decided I had to come and see myself if this was the place for me, too."

Thus, each sister has passed on their positive experience to the sisters behind them.

But each decided in sequence.

"I always watched my older sisters and thought, 'Awesome, but not for me' until it was my turn and I wanted to see for myself," she said.

They are all different and excel in different areas, definitely competitors and "overachievers."

Their father is a 1975 graduate of West Point and very supportive of the service academies.

She is unsure how their parents, retired Col. John Leake and Mrs. Michelle Leake, feel about the prospect of four daughters in uniform during the War on Terror.

"I know they are supportive of us and if the war is a part of our job, they would support us in anything we had to do with it," said the cadet who calls Springfield, Mo., home because she went to high school there. "Deployment will probably be a reality for most of us."

She has set her sights on becoming a physical therapist and hopes to go to graduate school after graduation.

The Leake family is not unique. The Robillard and Barbee families also have four daughters who have gone through or are going through the Academy and others with two siblings.

Yet, there is something to be said for having family here.

"I loved having Blair here just to have a member of my family to go through the experience with," said Meredith. "You always know your sister will be there for you for anything like homework, or to bring you dinner freshman year when you were restricted, drive you places or just to go get coffee and relax.

"I love having a sister here," she said. "I would do anything for them and they would do anything for me. It's also just fun to share stories about funny or unusual things that happen here when we all get together that just don't happen at normal colleges."