Conquering Recognition: ‘4 degrees’ overcome annual challenge

  • Published
  • By Ray Bowden
  • U.S. Air Force Academy Public Affairs

Freshmen earned the title of “recognized cadet” March 11 after completing two days of intense challenges here known as Recognition.

Recognition is a rigorous annual event freshman, or “four degrees” here, must navigate before earning the status of cadet and the "prop and wings" pin worn on their uniform cap.

The challenge began March 9 with hundreds of four degrees exercising, sprinting across campus and following the loud directions of senior cadets.

Commander, Commandant of Cadets Col. John Price said Recognition rests heavily upon cadets but relies on an institutional-wide effort to succeed.

“The upperclassmen who organize the event prepare months in advance to build a challenging but rewarding program for the four degree cadets,” he said. “Our upperclassmen dedicate themselves to inspiring and encouraging the four degree cadets to take to heart their commitment to serve their nation, and their dedication to the Air Force and their fellow cadets.”

Price said completing Recognition signifies a cadet’s willingness and ability to take on higher levels of responsibility.

“They’ve shown they’ve earned the right to wear the Academy prop and wings and embody the discipline to uphold our rigorous academic, military and physical standards without continual oversight,” he said. “By being ‘recognized,’ they’ve demonstrated the grit and perseverance they must personify to become an Air Force officer and a leader of character.”

The four degrees earn other privileges once they successfully complete Recognition. They’re allowed to wear civilian clothing off-duty; they gain limited off-base passes, and they no longer have to walk on the terrazo's marble strips.

Being Recognized’

Cadets 4th Class Hanna Guckenberg and Zane Kessler are assigned to Cadet Squadron 06. They seemed somewhat shocked but proud to be recognized.    

“My first thought after being recognized was ‘I can't believe it's finally over,’” Kessler said.  “For me, it had always seemed a distant dream everyone else at the Academy had already achieved, but something that would never actually happen to me.”

Kessler welcomed the change in routine.

“The months we spent doing our same freshman routine suddenly came to a stop at that very moment, and it felt as if a massive weight had been lifted off my shoulders,” he said.

Guckenberg said she’s proud of how the four degrees surmounted Recognition challenges.   

“Even when we got stressed, we stuck together,” she said. “The whole weekend seems like a blur of screaming and red lights. I woke up Sunday morning to reveille and jumped out of bed to start putting on [my uniform] before realizing Recognition was over. I'm glad I got the opportunity to show the upperclassmen how determined I am to not only earn privileges but also to lead others.” 

Kessler said the Recognition challenges made him appreciate how far he's able to push himself.

“After the first evening, I felt I could keep that pace up for a whole weekend, but by noon of the next day I felt as if the gas tank was running on empty,” he said. “From that point on, I didn't focus on making it to the end of recognition -- I focused on finishing the next event and giving 100-percent of what I thought I had left. I found that I could push myself to a higher standard than I thought I was capable of. I can confidently say recognition is the hardest thing I've done in my life so far.”

Guckenberg and Kessler’s advice to next year’s freshmen?

“The more you work as a team with your class the more rewarding it will be,” Guckenberg said. “Everyone has a limit to the number of push ups or flutter kicks they can do, but what really counts is what you do after you have reached that limit. Do you give up and lay on the ground hoping no one sees you or do you keep fighting and ask your teammates for help?”

Guckenberg said the stress of Recognition is manageable.

“Yes' it is supposed to be stressful, and 'yes' you are going to be sore, but if you are able to finish a course and smile when the cadre tell you about the next challenge you will not only get through recognition, you will conquer it,” she said.

Kessler’s advice to next year’s freshmen is to rely on their team.

“I had my teammates’ backs when it came to physical activities, but when we were stressed mentally I had to rely on others for extra support,” he said. “No one individual can be great at everything, but a group can be nearly perfect if they rely on each other.”