Cadet exchange program combines talents, opportunities


The saying goes "to truly know someone, you must walk a mile in their shoes" but until recently, Air Force Reserve Officers’ Training Corps and Air Force Academy cadets had little crossover in their paths to becoming Airmen.


The AFROTC Exchange program gives cadets on both sides an opportunity to walk in each other’s shoes: ROTC Cadets can attend the Academy for a semester and Academy cadets can spend a semester at a civilian university.


“Each side has their own 'perks' and each learns discipline in different ways,” said Cadet 2nd Class Brandon Angleton, a junior at Florida State University on exchange at the Academy. “For me, it’s not about being a cadet who can be both, but a cadet who understands both sides and can help the commissioning sources come together.”


Exchange program officials hope giving cadets broader experience yields an understanding and appreciation for the talents and opportunities each commissioning source offers.


“It was very easy to work with them," said Cadet 1st Class Nicholas Blohm. "They are very receptive to training, because they have to be.” 


Blohm is an Academy cadet who spent last semester with AFROTC Detachment 842 at the University of Texas at San Antonio. 


“They don’t get the military life every day like we do, they’re not around it all the time, like we are here," Blohm said. "They have to ask for it, they have to search out opportunities for it, so they are a lot more open to it when it comes.


“The main thing I learned was just how special this place is," he said. "We get to hear some of the most incredible speakers in the world and we have amazing leadership and development opportunities. The AFROTC cadets I encountered would love to have the opportunities I’ve had.” 


Angleton and Blohm both said one differences between the two programs is the amount of oversight cadets have.


“The opportunities and instruction we have at the Academy can be taken for granted until you are away from it for a while,” Blohm said. “When I got to UTSA, I faced decisions every day that could have jeopardized my career. It really made me appreciate the Academy and the honor code a lot more.”


Blohm became an Honor NCO when he returned to the Academy and shared his experiences from the exchange to enhance appreciation for the honor lessons and Honor Code with underclassmen.


Angleton said a good AFROTC cadet maintains standards when no one is looking.


“We’re in uniform and in the military environment one day for the week, so six days of the week no one is looking," he said. "You have to hold yourself to that standard.”


Angleton witnessed cadets grow after an honor violation, thanks to the Academy’s honor system. He said he would like to see something similar for ROTC.


“An honor system like the Academy's could aid in the rebuilding of cadet’s mindsets and increase the amount of cadets to continue through the AFROTC program,” he said.


According to Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson, diverse experiences and perspectives compliment cadets becoming officers of character capable of leading tomorrow’s Air Force.


"The AFROTC Exchange program exposes our cadets to diverse environments, professional relationships and experiences," she said. "Education comes in many forms and we believe the opportunities our cadets are exposed to are invaluable to their development as future leaders."


Growth and improvement are not limited to just cadets. Academy leadership receives regular feedback from exchange participants to improve both programs. For instance, the Academy’s Pathways to Excellence team used feedback from the Academy and AFROTC cadets to look at ways to improve the Schedule of Calls.


Program feedback has also influenced other initiatives at the Academy, including the Elective Absence Program, which allows cadets more flexibility and autonomy when balancing military and academic commitments.


Academy cadets can request a sabbatical to pursue service, internships, and educational and other experiential opportunities through the Cadet Intermission Program. The Pathways to Excellence team uses ROTC Exchange feedback and examples from the active duty Air Force and civilian institutions to create the CIP pilot program in 2015.


The ROTC and the Academy are exploring ways to expand the program, including more partner schools and giving more cadets a chance to participate in the exchange.