Cadet Sponsor Program 'pays it forward': 3 cadets share sponsor stories

Lt. Col. Mike Zeman, cadet sponsor, stands with Cadet 2nd Class Everett Joiner, C3C Ben Kopacka, his son Jack Zeman, and 2nd Lt. Dallis Joiner, a 2015 Academy graduate. Zeman, who is a 1997 Air Force Academy graduate, has sponsored cadets since 2007. (Courtesy Photo)

Lt. Col. Mike Zeman, cadet sponsor, stands with Cadet 2nd Class Everett Joiner, C3C Ben Kopacka, his son Jack Zeman, and 2nd Lt. Dallis Joiner, a 2015 Academy graduate. Zeman, who is a 1997 Air Force Academy graduate, has sponsored cadets since 2007. (Courtesy Photo)

Cadet sponsor and retired master sergeant, Tracey Lundy, cooks dinner for Cadet 3rd Class Jenna Gustafson July 10, 2015. Sponsor families give cadets the opportunity to enjoy home cooked meals, as well as a place to unwind. (U.S. Air Force photo by Harry Lundy)

Cadet sponsor and retired master sergeant, Tracey Lundy, cooks dinner for Cadet 3rd Class Jenna Gustafson July 10, 2015. Sponsor families give cadets the opportunity to enjoy home cooked meals, as well as a place to unwind. (U.S. Air Force photo by Harry Lundy)

Cadet 3rd Class Jenna Gustafson, does laundry at her sponsor's house July 10, 2015. She is sponsored by Harry and retired master sergeant Tracey Lundy. Sponsor families give cadets a place to do laundry, eat home cooked meals and study in a relaxed environment. (U.S. Air Force photo by Harry Lundy).

Cadet 3rd Class Jenna Gustafson, does laundry at her sponsor's house July 10, 2015. She is sponsored by Harry and retired master sergeant Tracey Lundy. Sponsor families give cadets a place to do laundry, eat home cooked meals and study in a relaxed environment. (U.S. Air Force photo by Harry Lundy).

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- Local military and civilian families have until August 14 to apply to become sponsors of cadets at the Air Force Academy.

The Cadet Sponsor Program allows active duty, reserve, National Guard and retired captains and above or NCOs in the grade of E-6 or above, Defense Department civilians in the grade of General Schedule Grade 5 or above, and civilians to sponsor a cadet during their time at the Academy.

"The program is designed to provide cadets with a home-away-from-home and cadet sponsor families are needed to help new cadets adjust to cadet life during the upcoming academic year and beyond," said Arcy Jacildo, the cadet sponsor program manager. "The program gives our community an opportunity to mentor and support cadets and give them an extra layer of support."

Applying sponsors will need to complete a background check.

The Cadet Sponsor Program benefits sponsor families as the relationships they form often go beyond a cadet's time here, Arcy said.

Cadet 3rd Class Jenna Gustafson
Cadet 3rd Class Jenna Gustafson is sponsored by Harry Lundy, an Air Force veteran and Academy Public Affairs staff member, and his wife, retired Master Sgt. Tracey Lundy.

"The Academy, especially during the freshman year, is designed to drag on one's mental capacity for optimism and academic endurance," Jenna said. "Former Cadet Wing commander Jake Sorter was 100-percent correct in his belief that the more you can get away from the Academy's environment to decompress, the better you will be because you will recharge enough to deal with the pressure."

Jenna spends as many weekends at the Lundy's home as possible.

"I had a fabulous experience because they are very down-to-earth and understanding people who like to laugh," she said. "I think it is really great that cadets can connect with people who become our home-away-from home and our second families."

Cadets appreciate all their sponsors provide, Jenna said.

"We look for very simple, outrageously-appreciated things from a sponsor," she said. "We crave a room to ourselves for quiet time and studying with a cozy bed, home-cooked meals and fresh produce, hilarity and a place to do our own laundry. We crave just having a house, as opposed to a dorm room to go to on the weekends, clean bathrooms and luxuries like baths."

Jenna said cadet sponsors provide more than sanctuary.

"A sponsor offers so much more than just place to crash - they offer a great life-resource and place for us to gain more insight from adults," she said. "Who wouldn't leap at a chance to make valuable new friends while preserving their sanity??

Harry and Tracey became cadet sponsors while Harry was serving in the Air Force.  
"We thought it would be fun and interesting," Tracey said. "We thought this would be what we would do to keep in touch with what is going on in the Air Force."

The Lundys purchased their latest home with the Cadet Sponsor Program in mind. Since then, they have sponsored five cadets.

"It proceeded the way we thought," Tracey said. "We are here if and when the cadets need us. It is fun when they come over - I like to listen to them talk about school, life and the Air Force. I enjoy meeting cadets from different parts of the country. It's interesting learning about their lives. If you have a heart for the cadets then this is a program that allows you to be a part to their lives."

Tracey said the Cadet Sponsor Program helps the couple appreciate the value of service to others.

"We need to consider others in our lives," she said. "Are the cadets coming over this weekend? What kind of foods do they eat or want? One of our cadets is very particular with her diet; when she comes over I want to have the foods here that she can eat. We have had a couple of cadets who had some health issues and we checked on them from time to time. Are they in sports and how involved do we want to be? We are always here to offer advice, but I think when they come over they just want to rest. The cadets are so busy, especially when you factor in special activities. They need to take time to rest."

Cadet 2nd Class Everett Joiner
Cadet 2nd Class Everett Joiner has been with his sponsor family, Mike Zeman and Nikki Zeman, since his freshman year. Lt. Col. Zeman, a 1997 Academy graduate, is a powered flight training instructor at the 70th Flying Training Squadron.

The Zemans' also sponsored Everett's brother, Dallis Joiner, a 2015 Academy graduate.

"They have two children and it's like being at home," Everett said. "I'm a part of the family. Mike was a grad and is able to relate to what we're going through."

Everett said he visits the Zeman's twice a week.

"I see them for dinner during the week and on the weekends," he said. "I've babysat for them a few times, too."

The Zeman's have sponsored cadets since 2007.

"We enjoy it, but it's not just one cadet - you're sponsoring their friends who come with them," Mike said.

Mike didn't have a sponsor during his time as a cadet because he grew up in Denver.
"Back then I thought it was so cool that people would sponsor cadets, so when we moved back to Colorado Springs, my wife suggested we become sponsors," he said. "It's a great way to pay it forward."

Mike said sponsoring cadets is a commitment.

"They become a part of the family and they are good role models for our kids," he said. "Since we've had cadets from the same family for six years we are also friends with their parents and we get to spend time with them when they visit Colorado." 

Cadet 2nd Class Gabrielle Briggs
Cadet 2nd Class Gabrielle Briggs didn't have a sponsor during her freshman year but an acquaintance's brother, Ralph Anderson, who lives in Colorado Springs with his wife Jan Anderson, are now her sponsors.

"My sponsors are not military and it's nice to have a break," Gabrielle said. "I was looking for someone to go to church with and now I go with them. It's nice to have someone who cares for you.

Gabrielle is the first cadet the Andersons' have sponsored. 

"It has been fun getting to know Gabby," Ralph said. "It was easy getting to know her and she was very receptive. She's comfortable with us and does laundry here and enjoys hanging out and getting a break. The satisfaction of being supportive of a cadet is good and we've learned about the academy. Gabby is in the Wings of Blue and it's been fascinating to hear about the challenges she's faced."

Visit www.usafa.edu/cadetFocus/cadetSponsor or email cadet.sponsor@usafa.edu for more information.