Last week, I had the opportunity to travel to Colorado to go to the National Character and Leadership Symposium – “Walk the Walk: Leaders in Ethical Action” at the U.S. Air Force Academy (USAFA). While I’ve been to a few leadership conferences before, I learned more at this conference than any I’ve experience before — but what I learned didn’t pertain to leadership or ethics. Rather, I learned so much about the U.S. Air Force and the military in these four days than my life as a civilian, the media, and school had ever taught me.
There was a group of four Augustana students and one faculty member who were accepted to this conference. Prior to going to the conference, each Augustana student had to write an essay on why they wanted to attend. On the Wednesday that we left, after four seat changes for myself, we finally made it to Colorado! I got to stay with two cadets, Lauryn and Kristin. I honestly could not have asked for better cadet hosts! (But you’ll see why following)
While they were working out after I arrived, a cadet named Jared took me around the base and showed me the Cadet Chapel (The triangle shaped building pictured above). I find this building incredible, since it houses a Protestant chapel, Catholic Chapel, Jewish Chapel, and what I believe was a Buddhist/all-faiths room. The fact that all faiths were housed in one building left me kind of speechless. Since Wednesday was our travel day, there was nothing planned for us to do. So Kristin and Lauryn took me to one of their squadron dinners at a restaurant in downtown. It was really interesting seeing all these people around my age who are making the Air Force a part of their lives. While they talk about what most college students discuss – relationships, weekend plans, an upcoming dance – they also talk about planes and a lot that has to do with the military.
The first full day we had – Thursday – I felt like I was transported to another culture. The cadet Jared basically compared it to the stereotypical Greek life pledging and I feel that is an accurate description. At 7am, I was awoken by a trumpet. For breakfast, all the cadets are directed to seats, rather than picking where they want to sit. For lunch, everyone stands before they are directed to attention and allowed to sit. All the fourth years (freshman) have to run from building to building in very straight lines and are only allowed to wear their bags over a specific shoulder. If a cadet does something wrong, they have to have solitary confinement or walk tours (which I think is spelled differently) – which is walking in a square for a designated amount of time. Only Juniors and up are allowed to have cars. All the women had their hair pulled back in neat buns. As well, everyone was dressed in their blue uniforms and I felt very out of place dressed in my civilian clothes. It was weird but a lot of the speakers talked about civilians. I honestly don’t think of myself as being defined that way, yet that is what I am.
During this first day, I got to see Nick Bollettieri, the President and Founder of IMG Tennis Academy, who coached Andre Agassi and worked with many great tennis stars, like the Williams sisters. It was an incredible opportunity to hear him speak. After we had a student consortium to speak about ethics, we went to a symposium dinner. This was one of my favorite parts of Thursday. All the cadets dressed up in their service dress
, so it was a pretty classy affair. I was able to meet so many cadets and ROTC members and discuss the similarities and differences between our schools, as well as talk to them about why they joined the USAFA (The men all wished they had gone to Augustana for the fact that there are way more girls than guys – remind me again why I didn’t go to a military academy?) After dinner, my cadet hosts and I went to go see Metal of Honor recipient Leroy Petry. Even for a civilian, it was incredible hearing him speak (He is pictured about). He lost his hand throwing a grenade back at the enemy, saving his comrades. After that, I went with one of my cadet hosts to see The Vow
The next day – Friday – was a pretty exciting day. I got to hear the Founder of Operation Warrior Wellness, Jerome Yellin who few P 51’s over Japan. I really hope I have the memory of this man when I am his age. He was so good with names, dates, and statistics. Even though he said his purpose in life was to destroy the Japanese during the war, he accepted his son when he married a Japanese woman. I really enjoyed listening to his life story. Then we heard from Will Gunn, who defended Guantanamo detainees and helped them gain the right to bring cases to the U.S. courts. I feel this man truly “walked the walk” of ethical action.
Finally, we got to listen to the speaker I had been waiting for three days to hear – Aron Ralston. This is the man the movie 127 Hours
is based on. This man cut off his own arm to save his life. Ralston was an incredible speaker, though a bit graphic since he told us exactly how he cut his arm off. I’m just glad they had him before lunch. After lunch, we had reflection and we were all challenged to be ethical people in life, and the conference was over. That night, my cadet hosts, their friends and I went to a sushi place. Never having legitimate sushi before, it was an experience. But it was followed by ice cream, so I can’t complain. One interesting thing about USAFA is that all the cadets have a curfew, which is way different than Augustana!
All these cadets come from all over, to learn how to serve their country. They are so nice and hold open doors and call me “ma’am.” I’m proud of our military. The four days I was there, I learned so much, especially about the honor code. USAFA follows the honor code, which states: “We will not lie, steal, or cheat, nor tolerate among us anyone who does.”
This means everyone leaves their dorm doors unlocked or even propped open when they are not there. This was probably the thing I found most interesting. Someone apparently found money left at the ATM and sent around an email trying to find the person who lost it. The Air Force motto also states: “Integrity first, service before self, excellence in all we do.”
So what if everyone followed these two different quotes, these words to live by? Think about it.
Posted on February 29th, 2012 by aliciaoken09
Filed under: Alicia Oken