Academy cadets learn the Elmendorf way

ELMENDORF AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska -- The third and final period for Operation Air Force kicked off July 16 for the final eight of 35 cadets from the Air Force Academy at Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska.

Operation Air Force is a program aimed at Academy and Reserve Officer Training Corps cadets designed to give them a better understanding of active duty life. As an overseas location, Elmendorf has only cadets from the Academy because ROTC cadets are limited to continental U.S. bases.

Capts. Dyann Schilling and Rob Vitt are the Elmendorf Ops Air Force directors. They ensure everything is set logistically, such as lodging and transportation, but more importantly, they pair each cadet up with a senior NCO or company grade officer for their time here. Those senior NCOs and CGOs facilitate the cadets' base experience. They also supervise them in their daily activities and make sure they are not sitting around idly, because they're expected to work.

"They should be gainfully employed, and depending on which program/year group they're in, the objectives will be different," Captain Schilling said. "During their stay, they have two-to-three mentoring sessions with either field grade officers or Senior NCOs, depending on their program."

An effort is made to pair rising seniors up with an Airmen in their projected career field in order to give them a better idea of what to expect when they join the active duty force. According to the course guide, rising juniors are given more of a broad view of the Air Force in order to help them make a better-informed decision when picking a career field. The goal of the rising sophomore program is to give them a better appreciation for the enlisted force.

Operation Air Force has been around for many years. It has evolved from a tour/orientation experience to more of a work experience.

Tech. Sgt. Carina Rodgers, 3rd Civil Engineer Squadron, has been partnered with two rising sophomores.

"This is a great program," Sergeant Rodgers said. "The cadets see how the backbone of the military runs day-to-day operations and we learn what the cadets go through at the Academy."

The program has helped her appreciate the Academy more, as well as provided the cadets an opportunity to see how the Air Force actually works.

"I can see first hand how every area of the Air Force works together for the good of the mission," said Cadet 3rd Class Jill Larson, one of the cadets paired with Sergeant Rodgers.

Cadet Larson said this will definitely benefit her in the future.

"This is what I want to do with my life and I want to get as much experience as possible."
Cadet 3rd Class Mark Hammond, another cadet assigned to Sergeant Rodgers, was surprised by the amount of work he has been able to do.

"I figured we would only be in the way, but I have gotten a lot of hands-on time," he said.

Cadet Hammond recognizes he still has a lot of things to experience and is taking advantage of this opportunity to experience as much as he can before his opinion of the Air Force is formed.