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LEAD - An Airman's opportunity for education and commission

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- Similar to West Point and Annapolis, the Air Force Academy is the Air Force's own four-year military academy that educates and trains young men and women in academics, leadership, military training, character and athletics. Academy graduates receive a Bachelor of Science degree and commission as a second lieutenant in the Air Force.

In 1995, then-Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Ronald Fogleman initiated Leaders Encouraging Airman Development, or LEAD, which is an ongoing effort for unit and wing commanders to nominate their best and brightest enlisted Airmen to compete for admission to the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo. Each year, the Air Force Academy accepts up to 85 Air Force active-duty Airmen and 85 Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard Airmen.

"Generally speaking, Airmen offer an experienced perspective to the cadet corps," said Lt. Col. Jeffrey Lum, Academy Admissions Diversity Recruiting Division Chief. "Their leadership, core values and work ethic are invaluable to the Air Force Academy, and that is why we seek them out for appointments."

As current members of the Air Force team, Airmen have already gained valuable experience and built a firm knowledge base about Air Force life, etiquette, doctrine and procedures. Some Airmen have already decided they would like to make a career out of the Air Force. Regardless, attendance at the Air Force Academy is an option worth learning more about.

"As an enlisted member, you have gained valuable knowledge, experience and discipline," said Col. Chevalier Cleaves, Academy Director of Admissions.
"At the Air Force Academy, prior enlisted cadets are an important asset to the growth and development of their fellow classmates. We're seeking motivated Airmen who excel at their duties, who desire a challenge and who desire to lead. If you would like to advance your career as an officer, earn a prestigious education, and experience amazing and unique opportunities, the Academy is definitely an option worth considering."

Enlisted Air Force members also have the option of attending the Air Force Academy Preparatory School, located about five miles from the Academy campus. Each year, 50 slots are reserved for Airmen at the Prep School. The duration of the Prep School is 10 months, and it provides extensive instruction in English, science, math, as well as military training and athletic development.

Air Force Academy Cadet 2nd Class Anthony Langdon was enlisted for three years as a bioenvironmental engineering technician at Moody Air Force Base, Ga., before entering the Prep School. Now beginning his third year at the Academy as a political science major, he said, "It was mentally tough for me when I first got to the Academy because I was 23 years old and getting yelled at by younger people who had never been a part of the Air Force. But after a few days I understood my role and was able to look at the situation in a different perspective. Everyone comes here from different backgrounds, and just because I was prior enlisted, this was still my first time as a cadet. I wasn't any different from anyone else. We were all just starting together."

Cadet 2nd Class Marvin Poquiz, a previous senior airman who worked in an air mobility squadron at Elmendorf AFB, Alaska, is now a systems engineering management major. Also in his third year at the Academy, he reflected by saying, "Being 24 years old as a junior, I'm four to five years older than many of my friends. Many of them came here straight out of high school and haven't lived on their own and been independent. I enjoy being able to give them a different perspective and relate my own experiences and stories when they need advice."

The benefits of attending the Academy are endless, but here are some of the more obvious ones: While at the Academy, cadets attend classes as full-time students and earn a monthly salary; gain valuable leadership experience to help prepare them to become Air Force officers; and are required to stay healthy and active. Cadets also receive free room, board, meals and medical and dental care. After graduating from the Academy, there are no student loans, and graduates are guaranteed a profession as an officer in the Air Force.

The Air Force Academy is credited as having one of the most prestigious academic programs available. Not only do cadets have 32 academic majors from which to choose, but the classes take place in settings with state-of-the-art technology and lab equipment. The classes are small, usually 15-20 students per class, providing more time for personal thoughts and discussion. The instructors and professors afford every opportunity for success. When not teaching a class or in a meeting, they're available for extra instruction, and many provide their personal phone numbers and e-mail addresses for after-hours questions.

The Academy education is tailored to develop future Air Force officers with innovative, analytical and resourceful minds. Each cadet completes a core curriculum in a variety of subjects to include sciences, engineering, humanities, social sciences, military studies and physical education.

Cadet Langdon said, "The Prep School prepared me because I became more in tune with what the Academy would be like in terms of the schedule and the classroom structure. The Prep School also really prepared me for the mindset I needed to attend school again."

The Academy's cadet wing is structured similarly to an operational Air Force wing which provides a prime leadership setting. The cadet wing comprises four groups, each containing 10 squadrons. Each squadron consists of about 100 cadets, and squadron members are from all four class years.

Every semester, cadets hold a different leadership position similar to Air Force leadership positions like element leader, flight commander, squadron commander, first sergeant, etc. Each Academy class has a different level of responsibility that is tailored to slowly build one's leadership skills.

Air Force Academy Cadet 2nd Class Christina Canales was enlisted for three years in security forces at F.E. Warren AFB, Wyo., before entering the Prep School. Now in her third year at the Academy and a behavioral science major, she said, "I recommend the Academy because it will better mentally and physically prepare you to be an officer, and you get a lot of hands-on experience. The Academy helps you transition into a leader and takes you through gradual preparation toward becoming an officer."

The cadet wing is run solely by cadets with each squadron supervised by an Air Officer Commanding and one to two Academy Military Training noncommissioned officers. The AOCs are usually active-duty Air Force majors, and they counsel, train and educate cadets on leadership and military career issues; oversee military training; and serve as role models for the future officers. The AMTs are normally active-duty Air Force senior noncommissioned officers who provide feedback, mentorship and coach cadets on situational circumstances.

Cadet Poquiz just finished working as a Basic Cadet Training Element NCO in charge of about 30 basic cadets. When asked about the experience, he said, "The BCT leadership position was really rewarding. I felt like I was able to make a difference in the lives of the basic cadets. I felt a real sense of purpose because I had to look out for them and not just myself. This was my first experience thus far as a supervisor, and I feel like I led them in the right direction."

On top of academics and military leadership positions, cadets have to also balance athletics. The Academy's extensive athletic program includes intercollegiate and intramural sports, physical education courses and physical fitness tests. These programs help prepare cadets for Air Force leadership by building confidence, emotional control, physical courage and the ability to perform under pressure.

"The Academy gives you the opportunity to fail and learn from it," Cadet Canales said. "Each year at the Academy, you gain more and more leadership responsibility, and you still have to stay on top of academics and athletics. The Academy really teaches you to prioritize, plan and manage your time."

Besides earning a Bachelor of Science degree, a commission as a second lieutenant in the Air Force and developing a foundation for a lifetime of fitness, the Academy provides so many unique opportunities. Here are just some of the programs and activities in which cadets participate: the parachuting program, soaring flight program, powered flight program, combat survival training, overseas study, summer research programs, more than 70 cadet clubs and numerous travel opportunities.

To compete for an appointment to the Academy, applicants must:
. Be at least 17 but not older than 23 on July 1 of the year entering the Academy . Be at least 17 but not older than 22 on July 1 of the year entering the Prep School . Be an unmarried citizen of the United States with no dependents . Be of good moral character . Have a well-rounded background

Applicants must also:
. Take the SAT and/or ACT and achieve qualifying scores (tests can be taken more than once) . Pass the Candidate Fitness Assessment . Pass a medical exam administered by the Department of Defense Medical Examination Review Board

When asked what advice he would give to an interested Airman, Cadet Langdon said, "If an Airman is interested in the Academy, I recommend they research the application process and know exactly what they need to do. You have to start the process early and put in the time if you really want to be here."

Cadets choose from a variety of officer career fields, and career selections are made near the end of the second-class (junior) year. Medically qualified and selected graduates may enter pilot or navigator training. After 60 days of leave, graduates arrive at their first duty assignment as an officer. All Academy graduates, except pilots and navigators, serve a five-year commitment on active duty. Pilots and navigators serve a longer commitment, which is determined by the needs of the Air Force upon graduation. If desired, graduates have the opportunity to make the Air Force a career.

This is only the beginning. The Air Force Academy experience in itself provides a world of new opportunities. After the Academy, graduates are set on individual paths where the number of experiences is immeasurable. Ask any graduate. Each has a completely unique story, with different paths, opportunities, and the only limitations are those set by the individual.

For a complete list of eligibility requirements, application evaluation factors and application procedures, visit www.academyadmissions.com.