Academy grad receives Air Force's Cadet of the Year Award, says ‘focus is on the future’

  • Published
  • By U.S. Air Force Academy Athletics Communications
  • U.S. Air Force Academy Public Affairs

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- The Air Force announced Jan. 20 that it selected a 2020 Air Force Academy graduate and athlete as its Cadet of the Year.

Second Lt. Jeff Gerlica, a drone pilot in training, was an operations research major, vice wing commander, and four-year baseball letter-winner during his time at the Academy.

The award recognizes the best cadet in an Air Force commissioning program, and selected Gerlica from a competitive pool of Academy, ROTC and Officer Training School cadets. 

“It was a great honor just to be in the conversation for this award, but to be selected is something that I will forever be grateful,” Gerlica said.

Gerlica was the Cadet Wing’s vice wing commander, the second-highest cadet position, during summer 2019, when he led summer operations for 4,000 cadets.

During his senior year, he served on advisory boards for former Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria and Commandant of Cadets Maj. Gen. Michele Edmondson, and influencing the Cadet Wing’s response to the coronavirus pandemic and the class of 2020’s graduation plan.

Gerlica also served as an Academy ambassador to Congressmen and women, the Secretary of the Air Force, Air Force generals, West Point’s commandant, the CEO of Starbucks, and aviation staff at Google.

He was team captain of the Academy’s 2020 baseball team, appeared in 28 games as a pitcher, made four starts and totaled 30 strikeouts over 46.2 innings. While the corona pandemic shortened the season, Gerlica was on pace to reach career personal-bests in appearances, innings pitched and strikeouts in a single season. During his final appearance for the Falcons, he pitched a scoreless inning in a 17-12 win over Utah Valley.

“I was fortunate enough to build relationships with mentors that pushed me to lead and better the people around me,” he said. “I would not be in this position of not for the commanders, coaches and teammates that I have been surrounded by in the Air Force.”

Gerlica finished his academic schedule with a 3.90 fall GPA and 4.0 spring GPA as an operations research major. He also completed a Capstone project with three other classmates scheduled for publication in Industrial and Systems Engineering Review. The Capstone used machine learning to quantify the defensive shift in baseball, aiding improving the baseball team and research conducted in the human performance lab.

“As great as this award is, my focus is on the future,” he said. “The job is not finished. Following the Air Force Academy, we have the opportunity to directly affect the mission of our nation’s defense and contribute daily to something bigger than ourselves. That is why I joined the military, and that is where my focus has been and will be.”