Cadet candidate takes nothing for granted

  • Published
  • By Don Branum
  • Air Force Academy Public Affairs
Most cadet candidates at the Air Force Academy Preparatory School had the benefit of a stable home during their childhood years.

Yohance Salimu is not most cadet candidates. A native of Los Angeles, he spent his high school years in shelters with his younger brother after the family lost their low-income housing in 2008 in the early days of the Great Recession.

"I didn't think a recession could hurt the poor," Salimu said. "When you already have so little or nothing at all, what can a bad economy take from you? But it took our home."

Salimu first found out about the Air Force Academy a year earlier, when he was in eighth grade. He conducted a research project on aeronautical engineering and found out the Academy had one of the top programs in the country. He invested his efforts into getting accepted into the Academy, joining his high school's robotics team and taking part in other after-school activities.

But those activities did more than just prepare Salimu for the Academy and the Prep School: They also helped him maintain an image to his teachers and other students.

"I lived one or two hours away from school," he said. "I used to have to figure out public transportation. At the end of the day, I'd just ask folks, 'Can you give me a ride to the train station?'"

When he did mention his situation on occasion, his friends had a hard time believing him.

"My life was a reality to me and just a story to everybody else," he said. "I tried not to let it affect the things I did. The only thing I really had to sacrifice was sleep."

Salimu said life at the Prep School has taken some getting used to, especially when it comes to keeping his room in inspection order.

"I used to be all about getting the job done," he said. "Now, I have to be about the way to get it done."

Doing the right things the right way is something Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz has previously called "blocking and tackling." The comparison is apt for Salimu, who was a walk-on defensive end and nose guard for the Prep School Huskies football team. Walk-ons are athletes who are not specifically recruited by a college to play for the college football team.

"I like not being obligated to do something I think is fun," he said. "Being a walk-on gives me a different perspective. It's mostly about being fun, which is why I'll look into the Falcons football team."

Aside from the football possibilities, another benefit not lost on Salimu is one that most of us take for granted.

"I'm happy just to be eating," he said. "I don't show it, but I hide a big smile every time I think about being able to eat three meals a day. When people complain about it here, I fall into that a little bit, but I honestly think about how much better a situation I'm in right now."

Salimu said he plans to attend either pilot school or graduate school after graduating from the Air Force Academy, with a major from the Academy in either aeronautical or astronautical engineering. Prep School graduates are not guaranteed entry to the Academy but do enjoy an appointment rate of about 90 percent.