Cadets' relatives speak out on Parents' Weekend

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- Friends and family members of cadets flooded the Air Force Academy Sept. 3 - 6 for Parents' Weekend, an annual Labor Day holiday event designed to celebrate the support of cadets' immediate and extended family members.

Larry Wells, a Visitor Center official here, said more than 17,000 guests visited the center alone during Parents' Weekend. 

Among the scores of cadets and relatives here were Michael and Pam Tomczak of Williamsburg Virginia; Sam and Clarke McCollum of Atlanta, Georgia; and Marty and Darlene Straub of Chelsea, Michigan.

The three families all attended Air Force football's 63-7 rout of Morgan State Saturday at Falcon Stadium, but more importantly they said, they were just happy to see their sons and daughters.

Michael and Pam Tomczak
Michael and Pam are the parents of Cadet 4th Class Katy Tomczak of Cadet Squadron 13. Katy reported to the Academy June 25 for Basic Cadet training.

"It's wonderful that the academy allows us to spend the weekend with our cadets and hug and squeeze them and be able to see the changes in them (since BCT)," Pam said. "We are so proud of Katy. When you compare what her friends did this summer to what she did this summer in BCT, it just doesn't compute."

Katy was excited to spend time with her parents and leave the Academy during the extended weekend.

"This was the first time I've gone off base since Doolie Day Out during BCT, so it's exciting," she said.

Before Parents' Weekend officially began, Katy said she looked forward to seeing various relatives and catching-up on news from home.

"I know for a fact that I'll spend the whole time with my parents and aunt and uncle, so that's pretty great," she said. "I'll catch up on all the latest gossip, I'll probably sleep a lot, shop for school stuff, and look at clothes - which I won't be able to wear."

Michael, a retired major in the Baltimore City Police Department, stood with Pam on the terrazzo a few hundred yards from the cadets' noon meal formation Sept. 3. While his former career makes him no stranger to structure, he said he was very impressed with the Academy.

"The organization and discipline here is phenomenal," he said. "I'm not sure how the cadets can do everything they're required to do, but they do it very well and it just seems like they all really look out for each other."

Pam said Michael created precise plans for their Parents' Weekend visit.

"He developed binders for this trip. He's very organized," she said.

Michael and Pam approved of Katy's decision to apply to the Academy.

"We were always very supportive but told her it would be a commitment," Michael said.

"She's always liked challenges," Pam added.

Katy said Pam told her that being accepted to the Academy is like winning the lottery.

"She said, 'Not only will I attend a world-renowned school, but all my tuition is paid for," Katy said.

Katy said regular postcards from her parents inspired her to make it through Basic Cadet Training.

"They have helped me so much to this point and will continue to throughout my cadet career," she said. "They've helped me come a really long way since the beginning of high school. Without their support I would not have been able to be admitted to the Academy."

Sam and Clarke McCollum
Sam and Clarke McCollum are the younger brothers of Cadet 3rd Class Will McCollum of CS 22. They stood near Center for Character and Leadership Development construction site while waiting to meet their parents Sept. 3.

"Parents' Weekend is a good opportunity for parents of cadets to understand the day-to-day life of Academy cadets," Will said. "It also shows them how well we're taken care of."

Clarke said Parents' Weekend gives him a better understanding of the responsibilities cadets' at any level are required to take on. 

"There's a lot going on here - I don't know how they do it," he said. "It's a beautiful campus and good for us to see what goes on here," he said.

For all the festivities, Will said most freshmen cadets most likely had only one thing on their mind during the weekend: sleep.

"It's great that all the parents are here but if they happen to be parents of freshmen, they should expect that all they'll want to do is hangout and catch up on their sleep."

Marty and Darlene Straub
Marty and Darlene Straub are the parents of Cadet 3rd Class James Straub of CS 26. 

"I really like having the opportunity to bring my parents to the Academy and show them around," James said. "My parents were really proud when I was accepted to the Academy, although my mom was definitely a little nervous about me coming here."

Marty said it's impossible not to see how his son has changed since being admitted to the Academy in 2013.

"Obviously, there have been a lot of changes in his life and lots of hard work," he said. "He's doing well and he's in a good place. I know he's being taken care of very well. You won't find that in most other places."

Along with the Falcon Football game, the Straub family visited local tourist hotspots and met James' sponsor parents during the weekend. James caught up on some much-needed sleep.

"Typically, no matter what the plans are, sleeping seems like the best idea," Marty said. 

Getting involved in Parents' Weekend is one way for cadets to show how much they appreciate the support of their families, James said.

"My parents have always been very supportive and it's really helpful to know that they're always on my side."