Cadets relish sweet revenge over Army

SOUTHWEST ASIA – Cadet 1st Class, Harold Parker, United States Air Force Academy, holds the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing Guidon high after finishing the final lap giving the Falcons a victory over Soldiers here July 22. The Falcons finished the seven mile guidon relay race in 36 minutes and 52 seconds. Cadet Parker is a senior at the USAFA, Colo., and hails from Virginia Beach, Va. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Stephen Linch)

Air Force Academy Cadet 1st Class Harold Parker holds the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing guidon high after finishing the final lap in a 7-mile guidon relay race July 22, 2009, at an air base in Southwest Asia. Cadet Parker is a native of Virginia Beach, Va. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Stephen Linch)

SOUTHWEST ASIA – Cadet 1st Class, Harold Parker, United States Air Force Academy takes the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing Guidon from Cadet 1st Class Ridge Flick, USAFA, as he begins the final lap here July 22. The Falcons took the lead in the seventh lap over the Soldiers and held onto it giving them the victory. Cadets Parker and Flick are seniors at the USAFA, Colo. Cadet Parker hails from Virginia Beach, Va., and Cadet Flick hails from Dallas, Texas. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Stephen Linch)

Air Force Academy Cadet 1st Class Harold Parker takes the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing guidon from Cadet 1st Class Ridge Flick as he begins the final lap of a 7-mile guidon relay race at an air base in Southwest Asia July 22, 2009. The Falcons took the lead in the seventh lap over the Soldiers and held onto it for the victory. Cadet Parker is a native of Virginia Beach, Va., and Cadet Flick hails from Dallas. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Stephen Linch)

SOUTHWEST ASIA – Cadet 1st Class, Ridge Flick, United States Air Force Academy takes the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing Guidon from Cadet 1st Class Clayton Bryant, USAFA, as he begins the ninth lap here July 22. The Soldiers took the lead in the second lap and were overcome by the Falcons in the seventh. Cadets Flick and Bryant are seniors at the USAFA, Colo. Cadet Flick hails from Dallas, Texas, and Cadet Bryant hails from Charlotte N.C. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Stephen Linch)

Air Force Academy Cadets 1st Class Ridge Flick and Harold Parker pass a 380th Air Expeditionary Wing guidon during a 7-mile relay grudge match against Army at an air base in Southwest Asia July 22, 2009. The Academy team of 10 runners beat Army by more than a minute. Cadet Flick is a Dallas native, and Cadet Bryant hails from Charlotte, N.C. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Stephen Linch)

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- They didn't get mad. They got even, and then some. 

Twelve cadets on an Operation Air Force trip in Southwest Asia were out for revenge at the state of the second grudge match. The cadets were defeated by a mere second in the first 7-mile relay. 

Before the first contest, the cadets had been traveling for more than 20 hours on the journey from Denver to the Southwest Asia. With little more than two hours of sleep, they took up the challenge for the first race in the early morning hours of July 4. 

The team's motivation was simple, said Cadet 1st Class Dan Hill from Cadet Squadron 2: "We just wanted to beat Army."

The grudge rematch was a totally different story. The Academy team of 10 runners bested the Army by well over a minute. 

"It felt really good to beat them," said Cadet 1st Class Clayton Bryant from Cadet Squadron 15. "There was a lot of smack talk from Army during the race, so it was fun shutting them up when we beat them." 

The race drew several hundred spectators. 

"There was no doubt in any of our minds that we would win," said Cadet 1st Class Josh Whiteheart. "The whole week Army talked trash and never gave us a shot at winning. We just smiled and used that as motivation to make them eat their words because we knew who would have the last laugh." 

The cadet team of 10 was selected from a total of 12 cadets. The Army culled their best runners from 220 soldiers. 

The 30-day Operation Air Force experience gave the cadets opportunities to see Air Force operations up close. 

"I really enjoyed seeing our Air Force in real action," said Cadet 1st Class Ridge Flick from Cadet Squadron 27. "Watching planes take off and knowing that they were heading for Iraq and Afghanistan was an incredible experience. It really made me appreciate why we work so hard while we're at the Academy." 

Cadet Hill, too, said he appreciated opportunities to see the Air Force in action. He was especially impressed with those who cared for the KC-10 fuel tankers. Maintenance personnel on the flightline work 12 hours a day, six days a week in 120-plus degree heat and 90-percent humidity. 

He pointed to their acute understanding of the importance of their mission. If planes had no fuel, American lives could be lost. 

"Their pride is uncanny," he said. "In the heat and sun, they know something is bigger than themselves." 

The Prep School grad is anxious to leave the classroom behind and enter the Air Force full-time, knowing full well deployments will come his way. 

"My 'family' is over there, my brothers and sisters, and I want to be with them," he said. 

Cadet Whiteheart said he was disappointed he couldn't do more hands-on activities. 

"But I definitely walked away from deployed ops with a new perspective of how real the fight in the (area of responsibility) actually is," he added. "Every resource and asset is purposely used to ensure the mission is done." 

He said he had high regard for those who are serving halfway around the world "so family and friends can sleep peacefully at night." 

The group of cadets is still gunning for Army at home. West Point has defeated Air Force in lacrosse for the last three seasons. 

"With a little luck, we'll be able to come away with another victory over Army," Cadet Flick said, noting the next matchup will be in Falcon Stadium. "I'm sure our football team will have no problem with them this fall, too."