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Soaring in service

LDS Air Force Academy cadets rise to demands

COLORADO SPRINGS, COLO.

After earning an appointment to the Air Force Academy and enduring two demanding years there, sophomore Jonathan Flynn is resigning.

The majority of the LDS cadets at the Air Force Academy take time from their demanding schedule to attend a weekly institute class.
The majority of the LDS cadets at the Air Force Academy take time from their demanding schedule to attend a weekly institute class. Photo: Photo by Garth Reid

But he intends to be re-admitted in two years, graduate and become an officer in the U.S. Air Force.

For an LDS cadet at the Academy who wants to serve a mission, that's the way it has to be.

Cadets can resign from the Academy without obligation after their freshman or sophomore year. Once they begin their junior year, they are committed to military service even if they resign.

Jonathan, who is from Yorktown, Va., said, "You have to resign completely and you're out of the Air Force." He will soon leave for service in the China Hong Kong Mission.

Casey Hawkins, of Tremonton, Utah, jokes with other cadets as members of the Air Force Academy LDS Cadet Choir prepare to perform in the Assembly Hall on Temple Square.
Casey Hawkins, of Tremonton, Utah, jokes with other cadets as members of the Air Force Academy LDS Cadet Choir prepare to perform in the Assembly Hall on Temple Square. Photo: Photo by T.J. Kirkpatrick, Deseret News
Members of the Air Force Academy LDS Cadet Choir.
Members of the Air Force Academy LDS Cadet Choir. Photo: Photo by T.J. Kirkpatrick, Deseret News

As for getting back into the Academy after his mission, he said, "There's no guarantee, but pretty much all [Latter-day Saints] in good standing come back [after their missions] and are accepted with no problem.

"I'm not too worried about getting back in. My grades are pretty good. Conduct-wise, I don't have any problems."

For all cadets, the requirements to be admitted to the Air Force Academy are rigorous. Then once they arrive, they face demands not common among their non-AFA peers.

For more than 100 LDS cadets currently enrolled, it can be even more challenging, such as the requirements to serve a mission.

Senior Ryan Norris from Sandy, Utah, who served in the Brazil Sao Paulo Interlagos Mission, said, "People think it would be hard to leave [for a mission] and come back to the Academy after two years, but if I hadn't done the mission, the whole Academy experience wouldn't have been worth it for me."

But as it is, he said the Academy has been "absolutely amazing" as he approaches his assignment in Minot, N.D., as an Air Force officer.

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf and Lt. Col. Keith N. Bishop pose for a photo.
President Dieter F. Uchtdorf and Lt. Col. Keith N. Bishop pose for a photo. Photo: Photo courtesy of LDS Church

AFA faculty member Lt. Col. Keith N. Bishop, a member of the Church, shared some differences in expectations of students at the Academy compared to those at most other institutions of higher education.

The lives of cadets "are so structured and they have so many responsibilities," he said. They have to meet physical fitness standards, and the number of credit hours needed to graduate is higher.

"The semesters are longer and the cadets get no time off in the summer to go on vacation or get a job to earn some money," he continued. "They get a three-week leave period, but it's not uncommon for them to give up leave to take a class to lighten their academic load."

The Air Force Academy LDS cadet choir performs in the Assembly Hall on Temple Square. While sharing talents, choir members boost the image of the Church and the U.S. Air Force.
The Air Force Academy LDS cadet choir performs in the Assembly Hall on Temple Square. While sharing talents, choir members boost the image of the Church and the U.S. Air Force. Photo: Photo by T.J. Kirkpatrick, Deseret News

He said all cadets are required to take two calculus classes as well as many other demanding courses such as aeronautical engineering.

Some LDS cadets who attended other universities before enrolling at the Air Force Academy shared their thoughts on the differences.

Freshman Peter R. Crawford, who attended BYU for a semester before serving a mission and then entering the Academy, claimed almost everything is different between the two schools.

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, second counselor in the First Presidency, speaks to LDS cadets during his visit to the Air Force Academy in January.
President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, second counselor in the First Presidency, speaks to LDS cadets during his visit to the Air Force Academy in January. Photo: Photo courtesy LDS Church

"At BYU, I lived with my best friends and I wasn't doing something for school every minute. That's not the case here. A lot more has to be done, and I have a lot less control over my time."

He added, "Spiritually, I miss having religion as an academic class like at BYU," though he said the institute class for cadets is "a great program."

He concluded, "I have to say that my time at BYU was the most fun in my life, but I would give it up again for the opportunities that are available here."

Senior Marcus A. Alvidrez, who served a mission to Argentina and attended New Mexico State University for a semester before entering the Academy, listed several differences between the schools. They included:

Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles speaks at a devotional during the annual BYU Education Week, Aug. 18, 2015, in Provo.
Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles speaks at a devotional during the annual BYU Education Week, Aug. 18, 2015, in Provo. Photo: Tom Smart, Deseret News,
Missionary service is common among LDS cadets at the Air Force Academy. Among them are, from top, junior Carli Frasier, who served in the Taiwan Kaohsiung Mission; center, sophomore Jonathan Flynn, who is called to serve in the China Hong Kong Mission; and bottom senior Ryan Norris, who served in the Brazil Sao Paulo Interlagos Mission.
Missionary service is common among LDS cadets at the Air Force Academy. Among them are, from top, junior Carli Frasier, who served in the Taiwan Kaohsiung Mission; center, sophomore Jonathan Flynn, who is called to serve in the China Hong Kong Mission; and bottom senior Ryan Norris, who served in the Brazil Sao Paulo Interlagos Mission. Photo: Photo by Greg Hill

Camaraderie: "The lifestyle at the Academy fosters the need for a closeness between friends and associates such that you can trust everyone regardless of personal feelings."

Character development: "This is a major objective of the Academy, while NMSU cared strictly about academics."

Physical fitness: "We have to stay in shape at the Academy, being tested regularly and being placed on probation and a rehabilitative program if the standard is not met."

Work: "At other schools, you can have another job; here, however, the Academy is your job."

Junior Casey G. Hawkins, who went to Utah State University prior to the Academy, summed it up thusly: "At USU, you had to have permission to take more than 18 credit hours. Here, you have to have permission to take less than 18 credit hours. You have to attend all classes. … We march to class."

With basketball adding to Air Force Academy demands, Raimee Beck relies on the Church for added support. A co-captain, she was the Falcons' leading scorer and rebounder last season. Many LDS cadets enjoy extracurricular activities.
With basketball adding to Air Force Academy demands, Raimee Beck relies on the Church for added support. A co-captain, she was the Falcons' leading scorer and rebounder last season. Many LDS cadets enjoy extracurricular activities. Photo: Photo by Johnny Wilson

The LDS cadets enrolled at the Academy are members of two wards of the Colorado Springs North Stake: Cheyenne Mountain Ward (YSA) and Pikes Peak Ward (YSA). All are young single adults because cadets are not allowed to be married.

The typical rigors of college life didn't intimidate junior cadet Raimee Beck. Dealing with them at the Air Force Academy is more intense, and Raimee welcomes the challenge. Playing a leading role on the Academy's NCAA Division 1 women's basketball team adds time and energy commitments to the challenge.

But on top of all that, she stalwartly abides by her faith.

Raimee, a junior from Blackfoot, Idaho, doesn't hesitate to add to her schedule Sunday worship, Monday institute of religion class, and personal scripture study and prayer, convinced they make the rest of her life at the Academy more manageable.

In fact, in a Church News telephone interview, she said, "I don't know how people get through the Academy without the gospel."

Of course, many do, but her feelings and faith are shared by other LDS cadets who have added a commitment to serve their country to a strong commitment to serve their Father in Heaven.

Carli Frasier, a junior from Anza, Calif., said of a typical day at the Academy, "We're up at 6:30 a.m. and breakfast is mandatory. I have classes all morning. We march to lunch. Then we have a military class. Then I have more classes in the afternoon. We play intramurals or go to the gym in the early evening. We have dinner, then do homework. If you're part of any clubs or groups, you just add those in where you can."

Standing in front of the Air Force Academy chapel are sophomores, from left, Matt Ward, Billy Lawrence and Samantha Berthiaume. They and other LDS cadets perform impressively at the Academy.
Standing in front of the Air Force Academy chapel are sophomores, from left, Matt Ward, Billy Lawrence and Samantha Berthiaume. They and other LDS cadets perform impressively at the Academy. Photo: Photo by Raphael Watson

A returned missionary from the Taiwan Kaohsiung Mission, Carli regularly attends an institute class at the Academy chapel on Monday nights and rehearsal for the Air Force Academy LDS cadet choir on Tuesday nights.

She echoed Raimee, saying, "I don't know how I would get through the Academy without the Church."

The missionary zeal of LDS cadets is indicated by the fact that well over half currently attending the Academy are either returned missionaries (44), or have recently received mission calls (25).

The majority of the LDS cadets at the Air Force Academy take time from their demanding schedule to attend a weekly institute class.
The majority of the LDS cadets at the Air Force Academy take time from their demanding schedule to attend a weekly institute class. Photo: Photo by Garth Reid

All 25 cadets who have mission calls will be learning a foreign language, including three who will serve in North America. Fifteen will serve in Asia; six in Mexico, Central or South America, and one in Ukraine.

Lt. Col. Daniel M. Gillespie, an LDS member of the AFA faculty, reported in a submission to the Military History Symposium at the Academy last September on the contribution returned missionaries make to the Academy.

He stated: "The Academy has a robust program to expose cadets to foreign cultures and languages through language and cultural immersion trips and the Academy exchange programs. None of these, however, can match the exposure a missionary experiences while living in a foreign country, interacting with the local citizens and living as they do, and speaking their language for two years."

LDS Air Force cadets attend institute.
LDS Air Force cadets attend institute. Photo: Photo by Garth Reid

John W. Hasler, who teaches the institute class in a downstairs room of the Air Force Academy Chapel each Monday evening, said LDS cadets commonly excel in academics and leadership at the Academy. More than 70, about two-thirds of the total LDS cadets, attend the institute class and "bear sweet testimonies that they are blessed academically because of their attendance at institute," he said.

Jonathan said his faith has helped him at the Academy where most cadets have a more worldly background. "You just keep your standards," he said.

And by doing so, LDS cadets continue to excel at the Academy as they serve their God and their country.

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