Surviving your 1st year: If I knew then what I know now

Cadets walk to class in the U.S. Air Force Academy's Fairchild Hall Aug. 6, 2009. Cadets must learn to balance academic, military and athletic duties during their four years at the Academy. (U.S. Air Force photo/Dave Ahlschwede)

Cadets walk to class in the U.S. Air Force Academy's Fairchild Hall Aug. 6, 2009. Cadets must learn to balance academic, military and athletic duties during their four years at the Academy. (U.S. Air Force photo/Dave Ahlschwede)

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- The transition from basic training to the rigor of academics is one of conformity to responsibility. 

As basic cadets, the teamwork mindset is drilled relentlessly; you rely on your classmates to walk anywhere, greet upperclassmen, and even use the restroom. Taking orders from cadre is second nature, and the thought of making a decision on your own becomes foreign. However, on the first day of class, newly ordained fourth-class cadets will venture out onto the strips with books in hand, alone. 

I remember my first day of classes at the Academy -- I was more nervous than I had been for inprocessing day, and for good reason. I had just entered a world of homework, graded reviews, training sessions, knowledge tests, intercollegiate practices, late nights and early mornings. It was up to me to survive this gamut of Academy challenges and I wasn't sure if I was cut out for the job title of cadet 4th class. 

After some trial and error, and a few failures, I began to realize the things that were truly important to surviving and making the most of fourth class year. Follow these tips and your life as a C4C will be much easier. 

Use your planner! 

Write down everything because even if you think you will remember, you won't. I am an advocate of the week sheet; each Sunday, I outlined what I had to do for each day and taped the schedule to my desk. When it's all laid out in front of you it's easier to prioritize.
Do homework first, and study for knowledge tests second. 

Small intervals are best for knowledge--while you're waiting between classes, 15 minutes before bed, or while you're biking at the gym. 

Get to know your instructors. 

We have the best faculty at USAFA and they want to help you. Schedule extra instruction early in the semester and be proactive about getting help. If you show the desire to learn and improve, it will pay off tremendously when you might really need it. 

Respect your roommate. 

Make an effort to really get to know him or her; you will probably depend on that person a lot. Be kind to your roommate. Everyone is tired and stressed, but, remember, you never really know what someone else is going through, or why something might be hard for them when it's not hard for you. 

Never turn on the overhead light when your roommate is sleeping! 

On that note, sleep! This is your first line of defense against stress, poor grades, and poor performance. It is, unfortunately, the thing you will feel is always lacking most. Make goals about when you are going to hit the lights and try to stay focused during homework in order to reach that goal. 

Be a wingman, and help others when you can. 

Some people are chemistry whizzes and others can shine shoes. I like proofreading papers and I was really good at memorizing knowledge, so I let others know they could come to me when they needed help. Find out who you can lean on when you are struggling. 

Learn your classmates' first names. 

Last names are for basic training. 

Don't fall behind on your squadron duties; most of them don't take very long. 

Taking out the trash or updating the lunch menu won't seem like the most crucial tasks in your day, but your classmate will appreciate it when he's not picking up your slack. 

Lastly, take time for you. 

Whether you play a sport, an instrument, like to draw or lift weights, take time to do those things. You will get caught in the hectic schedule of the day to day and you will need this time to relax and refocus. 

These are just a few things I wish I would have done from day one. So, take the opportunity to learn from my mistakes. You have already begun a difficult, but rewarding, endeavor at the Academy and, sometimes, it's just about surviving.