No single moment: A collective experience at the Academy

Cadet 1st Class Christian Brechbuhl (U.S. Air Force/Courtesy Photo)

Cadet 1st Class Christian Brechbuhl (U.S. Air Force/Courtesy Photo)

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- As my time at the Air Force's Academy comes to a close, I find myself thinking just how impossible it is to pick a 'best" or "favorite" experience.

There is no single moment for me to pick because I've experienced a multitude of wonderful experiences here.

During my four-degree, or freshman year, I would have answered that the best part of my Academy experience was moment during Basic Cadet Training when we learned to act as a team. We had been told to form-up with our rifles (we knew that meant the dreaded rifle run was just moments away) and just as we were ready to run, one of our cadre stopped us.

He turned us around, placing the smallest person at the front of the flight. He said, "this way you will stay together." I didn't know it at the time, but that was the moment my Basic Cadet Training flight learned to work as a team. I remember looking back on the moment a few weeks later and thinking how cool it was that this institution could develop leaders who were capable of creating a team out of 27 headstrong high school students.

Throughout my sophomore year, I would have answered that Recognition was the best part of my Academy experience.

The culminating event of our freshman year was finally here and boy did it live up to our expectations! Recognition challenged us more than we thought possible; it was physically and mentally demanding, and the feeling of accomplishment was like no other, but the best part of Recognition, the part that impressed me the most, was how the upper three classes came together like a well-oiled machine to plan such a complex and demanding weekend. I wanted to be a part of that team!

My favorite experience during my junior year was my summer corporate internship in Guam. Not only did I spend four weeks in a tropical paradise, I had the privilege of being embedded as a middle management team member in a highly complex environment. In Guam, I learned how to lead a team I had nothing in common with and how to lead in a non-military environment. I learned the value of diversity as I watched how the leadership team, comprised of Guam citizens and corporate experts from the mainland, played on each other's strengths. I learned each group's failures and we became a more effective team because of our diverse backgrounds. The leadership lessons I learned in Guam will benefit me for years to come.

Ring Dance at the end of junior year was one of my happiest moments at the Academy. I never thought I would place such value in my ring, but as we sat in Mitchell Hall eagerly awaiting the traditional ring christening, it became more and more apparent these were not just rings. They were symbols of the hard work, long hours and friendships made during the past three years and the responsibility we would soon hold as first class cadets.

If asked what my favorite experience was as a "Firstie", the answer would have changed several times. My experience as a Basic Cadet Training cadre stands out. Watching the Class of 2017 transform from civilians, prior enlisted Airmen and preppies to cadets ready to join our wing under the watchful eye of my classmates was incredibly rewarding. Along with this, I pinned my sister's four-degree shoulder boards during her class' Acceptance Day parade.

During our firstie year, we were able to spend more time with our friends, lead a 4,000-person wing, and of course, celebrating Hundreds Night. Hundreds Night was a great experience because it gave us the opportunity to celebrate our friendships and accomplishments and look forward to the future as we wore Air Force Specialty-specific uniforms.

Today as the Class of 2014 graduates I would say the best part of my Academy experience was not a single moment, but the sum total of everything I've been privileged to do these past four years.

To our world-class faculty and staff - thank you! Keep up the amazing work. I couldn't have asked for a better set of teachers, mentors and friends. Even for those of you who might not think so; from the Academy Military Trainers who spent the past few weeks congratulating my classmates and I on our upcoming graduation, to the Cadet Support Flight that has been there for me throughout the four years: you may not see us every day, but you do make a difference.

To the newly-minted upper three classes: take advantage of the opportunities the Academy has to offer, from summer programs and academic year leadership positions to the daily interactions with faculty, staff, and each other. Make the most of your time - it's shorter than you think.

To my fellow graduates: good luck with your new careers. Be proud of what you've accomplished here and have the humility to know that we have a lot more to learn. I can't wait to serve with you in Big Blue!