Cadet 2nd Class Sydney Croxton, Cadet Squadron 16, Cadet 1st Class Alexander Parmater, CS-16, Cadet 1st Class Jessica Gentry, CS-06, Cadet 1st Class Joseph Cortez, CS-25, Cadet 2nd Class Matthew Clinard, CS-08, Cadet 1st Class Erin Green, CS-08, Cadet 2nd Class Rachel Stanley, CS-14, Cadet 2nd Class Brandon Schoenfeldt, CS-39, Cadet 2nd Class Brandon Roberts, CS-05, and Cadet 1st Class Megan Hoskins, CS-10 pose with World War II veteran Bob Berry. at the Air Force Memorial . (U.S. Air Force Photo)
by Gino Mattorano
Air Force Academy Public Affairs
4/15/2011 - U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- Ten Air Force Academy cadets had the opportunity to walk through history with World War II veterans in the nation's capital April 7-9, as part of the Falcon Heritage Forum.
The forum is hosted by the Center for Character and Leadership Development and historically provides cadets a chance to interact directly with veterans from various backgrounds. For the first time ever, event organizers partnered with the Rocky Mountain Honor Flight, a local organization that provides World War II veterans in the region an opportunity to visit the National World War II Memorial in Washington, to give 10 lucky cadets the chance to interact directly with 29 veterans from America's greatest generation.
"This is the first time we have done something like this for FHF," said Capt Julie A. Mustian, Falcon Heritage Forum program director. "In the past, the veterans came to the Academy and offered the Cadet Wing several short interactive sessions. The 10 traveling cadets, although a smaller group than what FHF usually reaches, were immersed in World War II history for three days, enabling each of them to form an emotional, intimate and lasting relationship with each other and the veterans."
It was an incredibly humbling experience hearing the stories of those who fought in a war that we'll never experience or come close to experiencing," said Cadet 1st Class Megan Hoskins, Cadet Squadron 10. "Their bravery, courage, and own humbleness about their service was so inspiring and it was amazing to see how much of an impact our mere presence had on them. It seemed as though we brought them to life, asking about their stories and providing them the opportunity to mold their future leaders. Not only did the veterans make us feel like superstars, but the manner in which RMHF executed the activities and the incredible welcomes and attention these veterans received from passers-by or from those who came out just to see them, makes me feel better about our population's support for what the military stands for."
Along with the visit to the World War II memorial, cadets and veterans also witnessed a changing of the guard at Arlington National Cemetery and visited the U.S. Navy Memorial - Lone Sailor Memorial, Seabee's Memorial, Women's Memorial, the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial, the Marine Corps Memorial - Iwo Jima Memorial, the Air Force Memorial, the Korean War Memorial, the Vietnam War Memorial, and the Washington Navy Yard.
"The trip turned out to be more than we could have imagined," Capt Mustian said. "With every turn, there was another unique surprise to honor the veterans. Upon arrival at Baltimore Washington Airport we were welcomed on the taxi way by fire trucks with blazing sirens and spraying hoses - literally showering the plane with gratitude for the veterans and their service. Cheers rang out as the travelers and service members from the local Baltimore/DC area created a tunnel of appreciation as we exited the aircraft."
And that was just the beginning. On the return trip, veterans received an old fashioned "mail call" with each receiving letters from friends, family and grateful Americans thanking them for their service. Upon their arrival at the Denver airport, cadets and veterans received heroes' welcomes.
"We were welcomed home by 200+ Americans waiting to offer a true homecoming to the generation that never had one," Capt. Mustian said. "The Cadet Drum and Bugle Corps along with bagpipers serenaded the veterans as people flooded the terminal waving flags and signs to say 'thank you' to some of America's finest. It truly was a sight to see."
Kevin Conroy, an Air Force Academy contractor, was an escort for the trip, and was very impressed with the interaction he saw.
"The cadets experienced in three days something on the emotional and spiritual level of the history and lives of our American heroes, our greatest generation ever," Mr. Conroy said. The veterans seemed quite comfortable in handing the torch of what they once guarded to our Cadets. That, to me, makes me proud to a part of this institution."
Now that they've returned to the Academy, the cadets have been charged with showcasing their experiences to the Cadet Wing on April 27-28 in Arnold Hall.
Participating cadets, veterans, and RMHF members will be in attendance. The Showcase event will premiere the trip video and offer a question and answer session.
"Hanging out with a group of people that were alive in a time where the
country as a whole came together was very motivating," said Cadet 2nd Class Matthew Clinard, from Cadet Squadron 8. "I hope that we can inspire the Cadet Wing to remember that we are here to serve our country and something bigger than ourselves, but also to go out and give back to the American people because so many need help and support."