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Freshman cadet says challenges led to deeper commitment to Air Force Academy

Cadet 4th Class Joshua Payton

Cadet 4th Class Joshua Payton is assigned to Cadet Squadron 13 at the U.S. Air Force Academy. He's seen here in June 2018 just before joining the line of young men and women who reported to the Academy for Basic Cadet Training. (Photo by Ray Bowden)

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- It takes a lot to get admitted to the Air Force Academy but it took a lot more for Cadet 4th Class Josh Payton of Cadet Squadron 13.

“I did in-fact go to the Prep School twice,” he said. “I didn’t reach the minimum GPA requirement to graduate.”

Graduation from the Air Force Academy’s Preparatory School does not guarantee admission to the Academy but historically, a large percentage of prep school grad have been admitted to the school.

Payton said the staff at the Air Force Academy Preparatory School supported his petition for a second chance.

“[Former Prep School commander] Colonel Jacqueline Breeden supported me,” he said. “She said my work ethic and grit is something they look for at the Academy. Not only that? My teachers, military instructors and Academy military trainers at the Prep School all vouched for me.”

Breeden now command’s the 305th Air Mobility Wing at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey. She said Payton’s challenges were all academic.

“He met or exceeded all other recommendation and appointment criteria,” Breeden said. “The entire Prep School faculty and staff was supportive and impressed with his tenacity, dedication to self-improvement, and appreciation for the opportunity the Prep School presented.”

Payton’s application for a rare second chance at the Prep School was approved by the Academy’s previous superintendent, retired Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson. He said he knows he was given a rare opportunity so he was almost pathologically driven to succeed.

“The driving factor motivating me to get an acceptable GPA or better than last years’ was the doubt I knew some people had in my ability to succeed,” he said.

Payton’s 20-month Prep School experience inspired him to appreciate the possibilities and meaning of military service, he said.

“The reason I remain here is to prove the point that no matter where you come from or whatever you've faced in life, if you have grit, focus, and motivation you can accomplish and get any and everything that you want in life. Hopefully, at the Academy I can just be an inspiration of some sort.”

Payton graduated the Prep School in May and soon after, received his acceptance letter to the Academy.

“I cried because I couldn’t believe it,” he said. “I was extremely happy and proud.”

Payton said he doesn’t take Breeden or Johnson’s support lightly.

“Giving people a second chance is a huge leadership lesson I will continue to remember,” he said.

These days, Payton dreams of becoming a fighter pilot and is on the Academy Spirit Team’s roster. He and the his CS-13 squad mates look forward to Recognition Activities March 7-9, when freshmen cadets vie for the title of “recognized cadet” after two days of mental and physical challenges.

Maj. Marcus Durham, CS-13 commander, said Payton is doing well.

“He's certainly fought his way through a big challenge before he was accepted and now that he's here, we have a whole host of new challenges for him to overcome,” Durham said. “Through this process, we'll test and expand his limits, showing him what it means to serve in the Air Force as a leader of character."

Payton said he appreciates the support of his cadet squadron leadership, his former Prep School leadership and the support of his family and friends.

“I look back at how the challenges I faced at the Prep School prepared me academically,” he said.  “I know I have a lot of people invested in me so I know I need to do everything I can to make sure I graduate.”

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