U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- The global COVID-19 pandemic may have changed how more than 1,100 young men and women arrived at the Air Force Academy and began Basic Cadet Training June 25, but the school’s top officer is confident the precautions will pay off.
Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria, the Academy’s superintendent, said while the coronavirus has presented challenges to the Academy, there are strict plans in place to protect the basic trainees and the school’s staff and families.
“We are dedicated to keeping everyone safe and healthy but need your help,” he said, while speaking to new trainees in the Holaday Athletic Center. “Follow our health and safety guidelines, wear your masks and social distance whenever possible.”
Each trainee is to be tested for the coronavirus, quarantined and monitored for two weeks, among other precautions.
Despite those precautions, Silveria called the arrival of the new cadets a “favorite day.”
“I get to greet the best and brightest young leaders this country has to offer,” he said. “You are here not only because you’ve accepted this challenge, but because we are confident in your abilities and potential.”
Successfully completing Basic Cadet Training’s six weeks of mental and physical training is among the first steps the new cadets will take toward earning a commission as an Air or Space force officer.
Excited but Nervous
Four new trainees are apprehensive about the challenges of Basic Cadet Training but said they’re happy to begin their Air Force careers.
Daphny Wilches, from Tampa, Florida, has wanted to attend the Academy since she was a child. The 18-year-old plans to pursue two academic majors at the Academy: computer engineering and cyber science.
“I’m looking forward to pursuing all opportunities and meeting everyone,” she said.
Milton Wilches, Daphny's father, a retired Air Force staff sergeant, supports his daughter’s decision to attend the Academy.
“She’s got what it takes, and our family is very excited for her,” he said.
Daphny Wilches knows Basic Cadet Training will be tough but said she plans to “take it one day at a time.”
“I’m going to try to be the best I can in the moment and be encouraging,” she said.
Jon Clark, 19, of Charlotte, North Carolina, is a 2020 graduate of the Academy’s prep school. He hopes to become a C-17 globemaster pilot.
“That’s my main purpose for coming here,” he said. “My father is a retired Army lieutenant colonel and taught me love and respect for the military.”
Evan Haskins, 18, is from Pellham, New Hampshire.
“I’m excited but nervous about finally getting here,” he said. “It still doesn’t feel real.”
Haskins said becoming an Academy cadet has been a lifelong goal.
“I’ve wanted this for so long, since elementary school,” he said.
Master Sgt. Jared Flores, the Cadet Wing’s Group 2 superintendent, is among the enlisted military trainers who guide and mentor the cadet cadre. He said the Academy’s enlisted training cadre represents “the boots on the group perspective” for the cadets who lead basic training.
“The NCO corps is vital to the Academy,” he said. “The cadets couldn’t accomplish the Academy’s mission without us, and we couldn’t accomplish it without them.”
Silveria encouraged the new trainees to commit to the school’s climate of dignity and respect, where discrimination and intolerance is unacceptable.
“We expect all of you to embody our core values: integrity first, service before self and excellence in all we do,” he said.
Silveria, a 1985 Academy graduate, said BCT will be difficult but the cadet cadre will do everything they can to ensure each new trainee succeeds.
“You’re not alone and never will be,” he said. “We have an outstanding professional staff and faculty dedicated to supporting you.”