Caroline Stratton, 11, visits the air traffic control tower at the Air Force Academy Oct. 15, 2010. Caroline became a cadet for a day through the Make-a-Wish Program. Her father, Lt. Col. Chris Stratton, is assigned to the Space Innovation and Development Center at Schriever Air Force Base. (U.S. Air Force photo/J. Rachel Spencer)
Lt. Col. Chris Stratton and his daughter, Caroline, share a private moment during the family's visit to the Air Force Academy Oct. 15. Caroline, 11, was named the Academy's cadet for a day. Colonel Stratton is assigned to the Space Innovation and Development Center at Schriever Air Force Base. (U.S. Air Force photo/J. Rachel Spencer)
10/21/2010 - U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- With apologies to Neil Diamond, the Air Force Academy was one sweet place for Caroline.
That would be 11-year-old Caroline Stratton, the Make-a-Wish Foundation's latest Cadet for a Day. She and her family made the short trek from their home on base, and an Academy entourage escorted her on a whirlwind tour.
The Strattons enjoyed a full day of cadethood Oct. 15. The experience also covered portions of Oct. 14 and 16. Clad in a jumpsuit that fit her small frame perfectly, Caroline hung out with parachutists from the 98th Flying Training Squadron, crammed into a training plane, watched things go bang in the chemistry lab and savored cadet-quality cuisine.
"This is the only place in the world where you get to jump by yourself your first jump," Cadet 1st Class Annette Ehrman told the group during the rendezvous with the squadron's Twin Otter aircraft, which are stationed at Peterson Air Force Base, are brought to the Academy every morning and returned to Peterson every evening. Caroline's brother, Will, slipped a parachute onto his back and assured everyone it was heavier than it looked.
From the airfield, the contingent headed for the Cadet Area for lunch and an afternoon of wow moments. In Fairchild Hall, all the Strattons took part in a chemistry exhibition starring an Academy professor.
"In chemistry, we do a lot of things we can't see with our eyes, so we do experiments to show they're really there," he said.
Most of the experiments that followed involved containers of various liquids. When asked, "What does it look like we have here?" all the kids responded, "Water."
"It looks like water, but it's not," the instructor said. Caroline drew a hearty laugh from the audience when she broke the pattern and answered "chemicals."
The concluding experiment involved liquid nitrogen, which roiled and frothed on the counter. Its effects were demonstrated on a balloon, an egg and a carnation. Caroline picked up another batch of souvenirs, and everyone in the family received a periodic table of elements.
From Fairchild, it was back outside for something unique to the Air Force Academy. The cadet falconers were waiting at the mews along with old codger Cody, a prairie falcon. After being introduced to Cody, the group dropped in on two gyrfalcons, a kestrel and a peregrine falcon.
The cadets accompanying the Stratton family were as impressed by the closeup with their mascot as the visitors were. But feeding time made the honored guest a tad squeamish. Flash-frozen Japanese quail may be a delicacy for falcons, but Caroline wanted no part of it.
Her brush with falconry ended with a live demonstration. A few of the cadet falconers recalled past misadventures involving the falcons. This show went off without a hitch, though.
For Caroline's dad, Lt. Col. Chris Stratton, who is assigned to the Space Innovation and Development Center at Schriever Air Force Base, it was neat to see another side of Air Force life. And from the get-go, it was a family affair, one that will undoubtedly leave a lasting impression.
Nevertheless, the Academy might have a tough time competing with the big prize. Next stop for the Caroline Stratton Make-a-Wish brigade: Disney World.