'Wings of Honor' crew films Academy cadets

  • Published
  • By David Edwards
  • Academy Spirit staff writer
When the doolies of Cadet Squadron 10 arrived for in-processing, the unexpected was waiting for them. And so were the cameras.

Little did these Academy newbies know, they were about to become movie stars, the cast in a documentary called "Wings of Honor." The rigors of Basic Cadet Training, the culture shock, the transformation of these youngsters into leaders in the crucible of the Air Force Academy -- all of it will be on film.

Veteran cinematographers Ed Done and Alan Hayden are collaborating on the production, which will culminate in a feature-length documentary and an abridged version suitable for classroom viewing.

In a summary of production highlights, Mr. Hayden wrote: "We have come to know many of the young freshmen cadets and cadre members as well, as they share their dreams and hopes, fears and challenges. We have recorded them in their most trying and their most triumphant moments."

The film has been in the works for several years. Originally, the celebration of the Academy's 50th anniversary sparked the idea.

Mr. Done's film crew followed BCT in 2005 and shot footage of that year's cadet class. But a lack of funding halted production and prompted the Association of Graduates to seek outside help.

Eventually, Boeing came through with a contribution of $1.25 million. Although the producers still had the material shot in 2005, they would be following an entirely different group of cadets, so they decided to begin anew.

"We're not here trying to say it's a great place; we're not here trying to say it's a bad place," Mr. Done said. "We're trying to tell the story of these cadets.

"This place is beyond its stereotype. When you mention 'military academy,' a lot of people have preconceived ideas of what goes on. I'm still amazed at the breadth (the cadets) are exposed to."

This isn't the first time the Academy has been the focus of media folks trying to tell the story to a national audience. Academy-themed shows have aired on the History channel, and Rocky Mountain PBS produced its own documentary called "Jewel of the Rockies." The Academy also features prominently in the fiction of Kim Ponders and forms the basis of the recently published "Skies to Conquer" by Diana Schemo.

The filmmakers of "Wings of Honor" hail from Colorado, but they've had to take time to familiarize themselves with the Academy. Mr. Done is a professional cinematographer whose previous work includes a number of shorts. Filming is taking place now for another of his projects, a movie titled "The Highwayman," which is based on Alfred Noyes' famous poem of the same name.

Mr. Hayden works as a project manager, director and editor at Denver 8 TV, the television station of Denver's city and county government. He said he had long been familiar with Mr. Done by reputation, but "Wings of Honor" is their first collaborative effort.

In a recent filming session, the production team covered an element meeting at the California Pizza Kitchen on Briargate Parkway. Four freshman cadets wearing their dress-blue uniforms sat around a table with higher-ranking cadets dressed in civilian clothes.

Camera operators milled around the cramped quarters, dodging servers and trying to find the best angle. Producers interviewed cadets, and good-natured banter continuously bounced around the table. Soaking it all in was retired Col. Dick Rauschkolb, an Academy adviser who has taught several of the cadets featured in the documentary.

Both he and the producers marveled at the lofty accomplishments and the untapped potential of the teens and twenty-somethings they will one day introduce to viewing audiences.

"They're kids, but when they're in uniform and that sort of thing, they're adults. It's a fascinating mixture," Mr. Done said. "The scope grew from what we were hoping for in the beginning."

Filming will continue through the remainder of the academic year and into the beginning of the summer. Colonel Rauschkolb and the producers are sounding out potential distribution outlets, and their plan is to have the film ready for release by the spring of 2012.

Colonel Rauschkolb said PBS and the Discovery channel have already expressed interest in airing the documentary.

The marketing plan also includes sales of the shorter film to school districts and the general public, meaning the project could turn a profit.

The filmmakers emphasize that their work is not intended to portray the Air Force Academy per se. They are instead focusing on a select group of cadets to present a microcosm of the Academy.

"We want people to get a true appreciation for the growth of these cadets," Mr. Hayden said. "To see the passion and the drive these people have is going to be very exciting, and that's beyond even the visual imagery."

He believes the subject matter alone will be compelling enough to pique the interest of viewers.

"The Academy is not for everyone," Mr. Hayden said. "But we hope it's a film for everyone."