By Steven A. Simon , Graduate and Donor Liaison
/ Published November 03, 2009
U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. --
It has been 30 years. Hopefully, the statute of limitations has expired on any crimes we may have committed. Maybe it hasn't, however. Most of my unindicted co-conspirators, perhaps intending to remain so, managed to ignore my recent letters asking for inputs. Those few hapless compatriots I was able to contact conveniently couldn't remember anything about the incident. Guess that leaves me to tell the story, as best I can remember it ...
Quite a few Air Force Academy graduates spend their first years as officers at F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, Wyo. That group includes about a dozen of us who graduated in the Class of 1977. As Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colo., was one of the Academy's closest athletic rivals, we had developed a healthy respect for them. As Cheyenne didn't have as much as a shopping mall in the late 1970s, we lieutenants spent a lot of time in Fort Collins.
In 1979, the big white letter "A" on the hill behind the football stadium attracted our mischievous attention. A group of six or eight of us mused that it would be cool to add an "F" to the hill, changing the "A" for "Agriculture" to "AF" for "Air Force." In fact, the perfect occasion for executing such a clever scheme just happened to be coming up: the Oct. 27 Air Force at CSU football game.
Frankly, once we conducted some rudimentary research, the project promised to be tougher than we had anticipated. For one thing, the letter is much larger up close than you would think when you look at it from town. Second, the terrain up there is steep, rocky, and overgrown. Third, we would probably get caught. For fledgling military officers, getting arrested is not generally considered a good career move.
Undaunted (and no doubt fortified with beer courage), we were determined to proceed. We figured 35 gallons of white house paint would just about do it (or that's all we could afford to buy with the money we'd scraped together -- I forget which). A fellow officer had one of those huge tank-like Americanmade family sedans with a trunk spacious enough to play racquetball in. It easily held the paint, so, despite the owner's mild protestations, the sedan became our transport vehicle. Bonus: the car was green, which on the road between Horsetooth Reservoir and the "A" would ensure our invisibility. We secured the use of a few paint sprayers and bought string and wooden stakes, and we were ready to go.
On the Friday evening before the big game, we drove to Fort Collins and inconspicuously wound our way up to the Reservoir. At the twilight's last gleaming, shrewdly dressed in dark clothing, we went to work. It took a couple of hours to walk the area and figure out where to place the "F" and then to stake the stakes and string the string. Some retreated to Cheyenne for a short night, others of us stayed in Fort Collins, but we all reassembled on the hill early the next morning so that, by the dawn's early light, we could go to work with the sprayers.
The plan was that our mission would be complete and we would be long gone by the time it was light enough for workers at the stadium and elsewhere in the city to see our handiwork. As I recall, it didn't work out that way. The staked-off area grew larger as we labored, the paint cans got heavier, and the time sped up. The sprayers, supernaturally detecting our urgency and nervousness, repeatedly and persistently clogged up, further delaying the process.
I was sure our prank would be spotted and we would be apprehended. Fortunately, we finished our task without being detected. Ecstatic, we retreated to celebrate our audacious accomplishment. The "F" wasn't as large or as dark as the "A," but it certainly made the intended statement. The site for the post-prank, pre-game celebration was Washington's Bar and Grill. As beer was involved in the inception of the plan, it was only fitting that it be a part of the conclusion.
Air Force football was in a down period then, struggling through its sixth straight losing season. First-year head coach Ken Hatfield, having just succeeded the totally-out-of-his-element Bill Parcells, had yet to hire Fisher DeBerry or latch onto the wishbone offense that would propel the Falcons to football success for the next couple of decades.
Air Force lost 20-6 to CSU that day, part of a 2-9 season, but the loss didn't in any way diminish our exhilaration at the success of our spirit mission. The "AF" hovered over the stadium that day, and for several days thereafter, visible from as far away as Interstate 25, until the "F" gradually faded into the hillside.
We had done it and survived. Best of all, we weren't even the prime suspects. As we walked toward the stadium just before kick-off, we followed a group of CSU students. One noticed and pointed to our creation. Another shook his head and muttered, "Damn ROTC students."