Cadets commit to the Academy, Air Force

The Class of 2016 committed to the Air Force Academy and the Air Force at a dinner Aug. 12. The commitment dinner tradition was established as a formal ceremony to recognize renewed commitment to the Armed Forces. (U.S. Air Force photo/Liz Copan)

The Class of 2016 committed to the Air Force Academy and the Air Force at a dinner Aug. 12. The commitment dinner tradition was established as a formal ceremony to recognize renewed commitment to the Armed Forces. (U.S. Air Force photo/Liz Copan)

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- During the Class of 2016 commitment dinner Tuesday night at Mitchell Hall, guest speaker Capt. Dana Pounds-Lyon challenged cadets to take their seven year Air Force commitment seriously and to understand the sacrifice inherent in serving a higher cause.

Pounds-Lyon, a 2006 Academy graduate and coach for the track team here, spoke to over 1,000 juniors and permanent party during the benchmark event where upperclassmen officially commit to serving two more years at the Academy and five years in Air Force the evening before fall classes begin.

The captain encouraged cadets to focus on serving others and shared her trying experiences following the death of her husband, Capt. David Lyon, a 2008 Academy graduate killed in action last year.

"I'm humbled and incredibly honored to stand before you tonight," she said. "My intent is to make this commitment milestone personal, relevant and applicable."

In 2002, Pounds-Lyon was recruited to compete on the Academy track team and said it was this opportunity that led her to the Academy.

"The reason I came here was not the reason I stayed, and certainly not the reason why I'm back today," she said. "I was however, committed to letting the Academy and Air Force mature and mold me into who I was meant to be. Eventually I caught sight of the big picture and realized that life was not all about me."

Upon graduation, Pounds-Lyon joined the world-class athlete program where she represented the Air Force and the United States on the national and international stage as an elite javelin thrower.

"It was during this time I realized my friend and teammate, Dave Lyon, was the love of my life and man of my dreams," she said. "He was my strength and encouragement when I missed the Olympic team by two inches in 2008."

Pounds-Lyon was married to Dave less than five years when he was killed during a year-long deployment in Afghanistan. While in transit, a vehicle-born improved explosive device detonated near his convoy Dec. 27, 2013.

"My world, my life, was rocked and shattered," she said. "I sat in disbelief trying to process what I had just been told and what was to be my new reality. It was at this point that I had to ask myself if what I believed was real, specifically concerning my faith, but also the values and principles of this great nation that I swore to support and defend."

Growth is impossible absent of trials and adversity, Pounds-Lyon said.

"I encourage you all to welcome it, embrace it and allow it to strengthen you," she said. "You will never know when you will need that strength. The challenges I've faced throughout my time in the military, pale in comparison to losing the most precious thing in the world to me and have prepared me, and given me the strength to survive and walk through this life, a life I would have never chosen for myself."

There is intrinsic significance in giving yourself to a greater cause, Pounds-Lyon said.

"Dave was committed to a life of service and something so much greater than himself and his career," she said. "His commitment to putting others first ultimately cost him his life."

Pounds-Lyon asked the cadets to personalize and make the Air Force core values relevant to what they stand for.

"Do it for yourself, your classmates and those who, one day, you will lead and serve," she said. "Dave and I often sought-out opportunities to grow and serve. I've learned that when you serve others, you take the focus off your needs and it encourages your heart in the process."

Cadet 2nd Class Riley Vann, chairman of the event, said the captain's message captured the true significance of the dinner.

"This is the day we decide that we're all in," Vann said. "It's not just about doing a few more years of school and five of service. We're committed now and if that means making the ultimate sacrifice, it's part of being in the Air Force."

The commitment dinner tradition was established as a formal ceremony to recognize renewed commitment to the Armed Forces.

"This commitment dinner is what makes the Academy experience different from any other institute for higher learning," said Commandant of Cadets Brig. Gen. Stephen Williams. "It's a commitment to the profession of arms. You should be very proud of that; I'm proud of you for it."