A Few Encouraging and Thought-Provoking Words
(Gleened from MajorJim Dane's USAFANet)
(before it became the USAFA-Family-Net@usafa.af.mil)
From the Editor
I really enjoy monitoring and contributing to the USAFA Family Network and often save notes for inclusion in our local newsletter or for forwarding to my cadet. The Network does really seem to be a place where parents can come to share the triumphs and sorrows experienced while sharing with their sons and daughters the rollercoaster ride that is Camp USAFA.
One of the best examples of how we can reachout to each other and offer comfort occurred after I'd been on the Network for only a couple of months (Fall of 1995). I was heartened by the kind responses from all over the country to one mother's plea concerning her Doolie cadet. I saved most of the responses and collected them into this little booklet, thinking that some of the parents in our Parents' Club who are not on the Network might also enjoy reading them.
The notes in the booklet are not necessarily in the order received. Some of the notes in this version did not appear in the original. The mother that issued the initial plea sent me copies of notes that were sent directly to her. I've grouped the notes by class (as they were in 1995) and noted where the writer was from. (I also tried to delete most names.) The notes, except for the deletions, are exactly as received, so forgive the writers' their misspelled words and other mistakes...they were writing from the heart.
In this version, I've also included two writings from career Air Force men that I saved from the Network. The notes were not in response to the mother's plea, but somehow, at least to me, seemed appropriate here.
A Mother's Plea
What do I say to my cadet, class of '99, who has become discouraged. He claims that the education is no good, because he can't learn when he doesn't get time to study or sleep. He thinks that there is no chance to take elective classes to explore options for a major, that he doesn't know what he wants to be, etc. He always wanted to fly, but is no longer sure that it's worth it to him. He doesn't want to have to "suck up to" superiors for the rest of his life. Is he better off leaving or should I encourage him to stay? I'm confused.
Thanks for your input
Other Doolie Parents Respond
From Elkin, NC(Mom and Dad respond separately)
We know how you feel. We have a '99 cadet there also. He has called home before being upset and discouraged not knowing what to do nor having his parents close to discuss his problems. We, as parents, do not know the type or weight of the pressure placed upon our kids. All we can do is talk and listen. When our cadet called we listened to him very carefully and then talked to him Very Carefully. We told him that he was not the only cadet there that felt that way. All he had to do was to look around him and see 1400 other '99 cadets in the boat as him. All we want to do is encourage them to stay. We would never make our son stay. We did tell him to wait and see how he feels tomorrow. The next day he was fine. He said he just had a bad day, not to worry he was fine. Then a week or two later he is depressed again. We just go through encouragement again. Never are we adamant that he has to stay. Mail him a letter of encouragement everyday as long as it takes. Mail him a small package. Tell him you love him but don't tell him that you miss him, also tell him how proud that you are of him. This seems to work with our son. Right now he is doing fine. Two weeks ago he wanted to come home. Next week who knows. Take it one day at a time is all we can say. Maybe someone else can help.
Good Luck (MOM's response)
My wife told me about your letter last night and I decided to sleep upon a response. It is hard to advise you due to fact that I do not know your son. I am not familiar with his attitudes nor his demeanor. But , I will try. I raised my son, '99 cadet, to be tough and hard. Along the way between myself and my wife, his loving mother, we were able to osmosis tenderness into him. The toughness was to prepare him for life after Mom and Dad. The tenderness came out once he left for the Academy. I have considered myself to be a tough man, impossible to be hurt; but, when My son got on that plane my heart was heavy, very heavy, with pain. I knew that I would not be there when he needed me. My son, knew that Mom and Dad would be 1,600 miles away and would not be readily available with the pervious unwanted helping hand. We wrote my son daily those first days until he got his computer and we obtained his address. In those first days, my son would write home and you could sense the pain he was feeling. My son was determined not to let us know that he wanted out. He thought that this was what WE wanted for him. One day he delivered his feelings to us almost in tears. And all we could do was listen very intently, not interupting his thoughts and let him get it all lifted from his chest.One of the first things I learned in sales many years ago is when a customer has a problem let him talk until he is finished; then and only then, can you reason with him. We have found that is the best way to handle my son. Alter he has exposed all his hurt, you can take each problem on and discuss them out in length. Alter my son has called and/or written about a bad day and we have talked it over, within a few days we will hear from him and I will ask him how he feels and he says that he is doing better. I have three sons and one daughter. My intentions are to develo a feeling of strenght into each and everyone. Built on a platform of love. Our three boys all play football. I told each that this game IS NOT for everyone. It is rough and tough and you must be the same to survive. We, also, told my son that the Academy was going to very hard. We told him that before he dons the uniform be sure, very sure that this is what he wants. I do not mean for that statement to sound cold; but, we wanted my son to be sure of his decision before he left. It sounds like your son has had some desire to attend the Academy and I hope it is a case of homesickness. As my wife told you last night, All we can do is listen, talk, discuss the problems and tell them that we LOVE them. Please contact us via our e-main address NLashley@aol.com or
I hope everything works for the best for your son, let us here from you. Our heart goes out to you, for we have felt your pain. (DAD's response)
Later, there was this follow-up:
Have you heard from Eric? My son called last night he seems to be doing good right now. Go to Wal Mart or a card shop and pick up some encouragement cards, they have nice verses. Some show love, some show humor but all show you care. Some times it is hard to write a letter not knowing what to say to prevent more homesickness because there is nothing really new to say; but, a card seems to brighten his day. During basic, my son would write and say please send snacks, candy,candy candy.......etc.So we went to Sams and got $160.00 worth of candy, cookies and other snacks and mailed it to him. He and his roommates were shocked when they opened the package and said "a GOLD MINE ". He said they were going to save it for when an upper cadet lets them us use his room so they can watch TV and have a party.We are going to send a Halloween care/POW package to my son next week. Have Erics friends write him. Tell his friends it is very important that he receives encouraging mail or cards.If he likes to play pool, then send him a poolstick. We sent my son 2 sticks so he could have a friend to play. They have pool tables there but no sticks.If he would like to look up my son he is in Sq.12 Dirty Dozen, and in return I will tell my son to look up Eric.I think it will do them both good because it dosen't hurt to have all the friends you can possibly have at this time. My son and 4 of his friends rented a car last weekend. They went to town just to ride around and to get a break away from everything.I have a brother that lives close to you I think. They live in Belleview. He is Lt.Commander David Deen.He said he is very proud of my son attending the Academy.So is my father, they live in Georgia,my father retired from the Air Force after 23 yrs. my son has a great Uncle that flew troops on D Day, that just past away last week.And he was very proud of my son. Does Eric have any younger siblings? my son has 2 brothers and 1 sister. When my son talks to them on the phone then he seems to get upset. After we realized that it bothered him we don't put the little ones on unless he ask for them. Sorry to ramble from subject to subject but one seems to spark a comment in another.It really bothers us a lot to hear about your son because we know what you are dealing with. If we can be of further help then please E-Mail us,we would like to hear how Eric is progressing.We hope he can make it through this.
From Charlotte, NC
(this is a combination of two notes from the same net source - maybe mom and dad sent separate notes)
These are hard times the cadets are going through and "sucking up" ain't lots of fun but believe it or not I think among all the "stuff" they are having to put up with is a real lesson in taking orders and respecting authority [something almost non-existant in this day and age] I know alot of it seems silly, trite, and like college hassing, but I think if our young people don't give it a 100% shot and at least stick with it one year to see if it gets better, they will have in the back of their minds a failure to measure up. It does take the cream of the crop to get through this and my cadet in addition to not enjoying all the riding their tails on everything is very homesick, but he is proud of what he has gone through in bacic and grades so far and the pride of his airforce uniform. If the were at a regular university it would be some studing but a lot of party time and let it all hang out.
I have seen a real grownth in my son and all growth is not easy, unfortunately. I am sure there are some people that just can not hack it but I would want to know I had encouraged my cadet to not give in too soon. There are also soom wonderful officers out ther that could probably give you a male military point of view. My prayers are with you.
Another concerned cadet Mom
Dear concerned Mom,
I also have a cadet who is less than joyful about being a dooley, but they never promised them a rose garden and this is aimed at making men and women out of our little darlings. It's hard to turn them loose and take some of their knocks, but I have seen a growth in my son even though he is miserably homesick. He is forced to study and is doing very well considering the tough courses theyhave to take out there. If he were at a univeristy he would be spending alot more time partying and in less regimented atmosphere. The guality of their education out there is really wonderful-some say second to none. The pride my son has had in finishing basic and learning the military ropes have matured him in lots of ways. I think if I encourgaged him to gvie it up he may have trouble with feelings of not being strong enough to do a man's [or woman's]job. I want him to give it at least a year so he won't feel a failure. Also as far as a major is concerned, there's time for that.Hang in there, love him, encourage him and pray for him -that's what we are doing. There are leaison[sp]officers who can probably give good manly advice, mind was from the heart of a mom.
Good Luck God Bless
From the same area
''' and '',
I think your son is experiencing every classical syndrome that had been outlined for us prior to our children entering the AFA. It is expected of ALL new cadets. What they are experiencing is maximum stress. That is what a combat officer must be able to cope with in time of combat. Their life and that of many soldiers under their command may someday depend on how they handle stress and their ability to make too many decisions with too little imformation in too short a period of time and with the lives of too many soldiers hanging in the balance. It sounds cruel, but they are at the AFA to become military leaders. As parents, we must also realize our children may be called on to defend our country or that of our allies. There are some of us who will loose our children in combat one day. Please don't take this as doom and gloom, but it is the reality of why they stress our children. They are tasked with more than they could ever hope to accomplish. It then becomes their decision and problem to decide what must get done and what can be accomplished. They are longer able to devote all energy to academics and may have to settle for a 2.5 GPA. A scary thought for these brilliant children of ours. It's something many parents have trouble accepting also.
You mentioned your son felt he could get all As at another college. No doubt about it. He is used to being first in academics, but can you remember somewhere along the process, we were advised our brilliant children would become average once they hit the academy. Most of the cadets are accustomed to being first. Now they have to balance and accept the fact that this will probably not be the case at the AFA. AND ... they must realize that it is OK not to be first. They must strike a balance between academics, military and athletics. That is something my son's friends who are atending regular college do not have to do. My son is aware they call home every night if they want, come home weekends, if they feel lonely, still have mom and dad to help them at a moments notice. We will not be with our children when they have to make military decisions somewhere down the road. They are learning to be completely independent, yet still work as a team. No one person can conquer the enemy or fly the space shuttle, but as a team we overcome and fly to the moon.
I beg your forgiveness for being so wordy and at times too graphic, but I have a strong military background and can relate to the stress our children are being put through. I think when your son comes home for Thanksgiving, you will find he is no longer the little boy you sent off in June. He may not want to go back after Thanksgiving break, but boot him out the door until Christmas, then again until spring break, etc. until May 1999. Help him accept the fact he does not have to be number one and you love him for what he is. Because he put the papers aside, I think his chances of graduation are good. He has the both of you, all of us and all his friends at the Academy.
being a cadet parent is tougher than I imagined !!!!
From Orlando, Fl
As a former cadet ('73) with a daughter there now in '99, I would say it is normal to want to quit. I probably thought about it every day I was there during the first year. By the way, the first week after returning from Christmas break is the worst.
Since I run an AF ROTC program, I can say that most college students find that everything is not perfect when they get to college. They determine that going back home to try to rekindle their lives that were so pleasant in high school is the answer. Unfortunately, it doesn't work that way. Most of their friends have moved on.
If your cadet wants to quit, don't fight it. But don't encourage him to quit either. One thing I've learned in this business is that a cadet at the academy or in ROTC should make up there own minds. Parents need to provide input, options, thoughts, opinions, but not decisions or threats. Be supportive, but insure your cadet understands that departure from the Academy is a one time option. I doubt that any cadet that voluntarily resigned ever returned when they realized that maybe they goofed by reacting emotionally to a bad day or bad week. The key should be'Do you still want to be an officer in the United States Air Force?? If the answer is still "YES", then the cadet should strongly consider remaining.
At my ROTC detachment, I have a young lady who was in '98, was eliminated due to bad grades in the first year, and is trying to become an officer through my program. She is a great new cadet, but I will have to get a waiver for her to complete my program because she departed another commissioning program. Hopefully, I will be successful.
From Amity, OR
Something a little different than the other letters about Academy-weary cadets. There is a book entitled The Air Force Academy Candidate Book by William L. Smallwood, Beacon Books, ISBN 0-929311-03-5 that contains a number of chapters with terrific advice about how to survive at the Academy. The author has interviewed cadets, graduates, Doolies, upperclassmen, etc. for their advice on handling the rigors of the Academy, so the reader gets the perspective of the cadet in the middle of Doolie year and from those looking back at it and from those looking at it from afar (the parents). Also included are chapters on special situations like being a female cadet at the Academy and problems with roommates. There is a lot of discussion about the complex application procedure for the Academy, also. When our cadet was really discouraged (he is also a Doolie) at the beginning of the academic year, we sent him photocopies of the appropriate chapters. We also did all the other things the other parents have done. Listen to him, encourage him not to make a permanent decision when he is exhausted, asked him to talk to a chaplain or someone he could trust, etc. We don't know if the reading the chapters helped, but when I asked him this weekend during a phone call what he felt about the Academy now, he answered, "Cool." I'm sure we have more down times ahead, though.
Anyway, I highly recommend getting hold of a copy of that book. It sure helped us understand the Academy life better and put us at ease about a number of issues that are slightly frightening, like how the honor code actually works. We bought our copy through our parents' club, but I noticed some copies for sale at the Arnold Hall gift shop during Parents' Weekend.
Hope this helps.
From Tuckerton, NJ
I just received the following e-mail from my son '' '99. He had an exceptionally tough week with some of the upper classmen 'training' last week and was real down when we spoke to him over the weekend. I hope it can add credability to all the supportive responses you received thus far. I think every response was on target. The Academy is a tough place and you have to want to be there. It is an experience in life. The harder you work ... the greater the rewards. Everyone needs a support network of family, friends, counselors, clergy and religion. We must make use of them all.
If the military is for your son, then I pray he uses all the support mechanisms available to help him over the same trauma every cadet that has entered the Academy has undoubtedly gone through. Here is his letter:
Pop and mom,
Thanks for the talk this weekend. It helped to pick me up. You can really get down here and if you do it is a giant snowball effect which can be extremely difficult to recover from. I think I am going to walk around the terrazzo and take some pictures this week. Get some good ones of me and my friends and this shithole. Funny thing is that I love it here. I get a big grin on my face everytime I walk on the terrazzo and see this place and realize I am actually here. I just hate the people I got stuck with. I have made some really good friends though and we all support each other 100% We all get along really well and make the most of what we have. A few of us are very close and do everything together. It helps to all know they're on my left side, while my father is on my right, mother above (praying), and brother behind (pushing me with his jeep).
Who knows where Ginger and Tara are...probably lost. Thanks for being there and helping me kick ass.
(Clarification added by: Ginger and Tara are our dogs.)
From Oxnard, CA
Excerpted from a note copies to the original mother
... We will write <the original mother> a note of encouragement. I think she needs to know that all the guys in CS14 are pulling for Eric. He incurred some "individual attention" the other day that really pulled him low. Our Cadet's message to us only said "no time tonight. We have non-mil stuff to do. More Later." Turns out the squad circled the wagons around Eric to protect, encourage, and rebuild Eric. That is one strong support group they have. When one "checks out" all suffer separation pain.
I understand from our cadet that Eric has both high and low times like all our cadets. What do you say? "Hang in there. The highs will come again.""Only X days left until....""I know you can do it""It's hard now but..." Anything except "poor baby" or "Weakling". Send love and support at all times. The rest is up to God, the Squad and the Cadet"
From the Washington, DC area
several notes from the same source
Just thought I would drop you a note to let you know of a connection you may not have noticed on the USAFA list. My son is a C4C in CS14 with Eric. I did not make the connection until my son mentioned speaking witha cadet who changed his mind about quitting recently. So I emailed him about it for details. It seems Eric's roommate and John challenged Eric on what he would do on his return home, for which he had no answer and set him to thinking. My son does not know what impact they may have had in the whole picture and gives most of the credit to Eric's room mate. But they are encouraging him! My son mentioned that Eric needs some help academically but did not say if he was directly helping Eric. Feel free to suggest to Eric that he ask my son for help. I know he would be willing to help and can help, especially in the sciences. My son is doing very well academically.
I will be praying for Eric.
You are welcome for the note. I was encouraged at my son's response as it communicated his concern for another cadet, but also his commitment to USAFA and his course toward an AF career.
What may be helping my son so much may be his perspective. We talked at length before he left of what he should expect, and WHY. What is the ultimate goal of USAFA? It is to produce Shawn O'Grady's (the guy shot down over Bosnia). An officer who will perform, thoughtfully and with discipline under incredible stress. Life threatening stress. Every cadet there knows that someday he may have one of those he is training as his wingman. Can he handle the stress? Will he bail out and fly home when the flack starts flying? Or will he stand firm in spite of his fear and with discipline and commitment to his squadron fly on to complete the mission?
The Air Force Academy is not a college. It's purpose is not to "point a kid in the right direction" or help him "find himself" or "broaden his horizons" or even "prepare him for a career in industry." No, the academy trains men to take on the most serious challenge of life, to defend all of us from the basic evil that is in all mankind. So the training is designed to prepare men to meet that kind of challenge. But it seems so "mickey mouse", so arbitrary, so unnecessary!! Maybe. But look at the result. Look at the men who have gone before who have gone through the same mickey mouse stuff. And include in that list the men of Army and Navy. The men standing on beaches and on ships with smoke and death around them who hear first then look with tears in their eyes at the F16's thundering past low and fast into the face of an awful enemy, and say in their hearts "I KNEW they'd come!" That is not a romantic movie. That is the reality of a fallen world that requires our diligence, and the diligence of our sons and daughters.
So why are they there? To prepare for the worst case. The most stressful case. The most important case. To prepare for the most difficult task known to mankind. So is the training to be compared to some other college? I think not. Is the result to be compared to another college? Definitely not. What our sons and daughters can expect is to graduate with a confidence that is found only in the most purposeful of civilian graduates. And, a confidence IN THEM by those around them born of the respect created by those who have gone before them.
So suggest to your son that he look behind the eyes of that upper class cadet screaming at him from a nose length away, and remember that someday that very same cadet may risk or even lose his life for him. Perhaps scrubbing the window runners with a tooth brush and swabs may seem a little smaller in comparison.
I have read with interest the interchanges regarding dropout rates at the academy. I am interested too, just to see how "we" are doing, but I am not concerned.
Only about 50% of the entering freshmen at non-military, four year institutions will graduate from THAT institution within 5 years. Given that statistic, even the class of 98 down to about 800 is only approaching "normal" while all the other classes are extraordinary for the level of commitment and perseverance shown by the cadet corps.
Don't misinterpret: I care a great deal for those who leave. But I cannot say to them, "you are missing a great opportunity." For them it may be very wrong. Consider the quality of the kid that quits: top of his class, a giver of his/her time in after school activities, a model many other parents would love to have their children follow. He or she may wind up as the head of an engineering firm that designs the future planes our kids fly! My concern for them is the turmoil they go through as they reorient to a new objective.
Let us continue to encourage them. If you know of any who quietly slip away from our network, drop them an email, and if appropriate let others know so that we can encourage them too.
Third Class (Sophomore) Parents Respond
From Longwood, FL
I've read a lot of the support mail that has been sent to you and it's all great advice, I have a daughter in the class of 98', and I just wanted to add that at the beginning of her freshan year she was unsure wheather she wanted to stay and put up with all that was being dished out, from day one we have told her that we would stand by her no matter what her decision would be, she made it through last year and last month when we visited her at parents weekend she told us that she is so happy to be there, she is now sure she made the right decision and she knows that the education she is receiving at the Academy is not comparable to any other university. So, as all the other parents have suggested keep supporting your cadet, keep those letters and cards and packages going out to him and if it is meant to be he will make it through! Please write back and let us know how both of you are doing. P.S. Have him talk to a chaplain, coach or anyone he feels comfortable talking too, it helps. A few prayers help too! We feel for you, good luck.
From Canton, MI
Almost ALL Doolies go through this, as far as not wanting to 'suck up' to superiors all his life......That is LIFE, whether in the service or in the business world. Encourage him to try and stick it out the first year, the second year is MUCH different. My son is now a C3C and is MUCH happier than his Doolie year. This 'n that still suck (cadets favorite term) but overall its a lot more fun. Good Luck, and IT IS WORTH IT. I also had a friend of mine graduate in the class of '75, flew all around the country in everything from an F-4 to F-16. He now flys for American.
From Location Unknown
I have a daughter in her 2nd year at the Academy who has very ambivalent feelings about staying at the Academy. She hated Basic and wantedto quit as soon as it was over.
Then she started volleyball and decided that she would take it one day at a time. After Christmas, her roommate left and my daughter decided to leave too. However after telling her coach and her teachers, she got such tremendous pressure to stay that she felt she just couldn't leave. She made it through to the summer and had a tremendous time during the summer. She loved the survival training and soaring. She also had a great social life and didn't want to come home for her 3 week leave. She did come home later than she could have and tried to talk her brother into going to the Academy. Well, when she got back to the Academy a lot of personal things happened that made her very unhappy and the night your message came through my daughter called and was crying. She said she hated the Academy and wanted to leave but was afraid to quit. We have always told her that she has to make the decision and we will support her in whatever decision she makes. She called back later and said that she was going to leave at Christmas. Three days later she called and said that she had leased a horse for 3 months and maybe she might stay until June.
As of now I have no idea what she will do. My daughter is the middle hitter for the volleyball team and without volleyball I know she would not still be there. She joined the ski club in the winter and went to Vail and several other place which helped her get through the winter months. Now she has this horse.
My daughter has the same complaints as your son. The cadets are always exhausted and really have little time to study. They take more courses than kids at a regular school and the Academy has not heard of grade inflation. It really does not seem like an ideal learning environment. My daughter is in aerospace eng. and now is questioning whether she wants to do that. However because the cadets have to graduate in 4 years they do not have the opportunity to explore other options.
My husband and I feel that my daughter could be getting straight A's if she were at a regular school because she would have time to study and also time to goof around. However with her volleyball, and military training she has little time to relax and she admitted that last year she never did her homework or studied. Consequently, her grades were not as good as we would have liked them to be. Tara did not want to use the little free time she had to study.
My daughter had a lot of options, as most of the cadets did. Harvard flew her out to play volleyball and she had scholarships at lots of schools. She had always dreamed about going to the Academy and would not consider anything else. I think because she realizes that was a mistake she cannot trust her decision about quitting. She is so afraid she will make another mistake. We have tried to reassure her that if she quits she can still have a successful life and be happy.
As you can probably gather, we have been riding this emotional rollercoaster for a year and a half. I'm not sure if I can continue on like this for another two and a half years. I wish I knew what was best for her.
We sent her all those letters of response you received and she said she would rather have heard from cadets who had quit and how they were feeling. I hope your son does give the Academy a little more time. Then, if he leaves he will know that he gave it a chance.
Good luck and please write if you have any questions or just need to vent your frustrations. I understand what you are going through. If your son is not involved in an extracurricular activity, encourage him to do find one. For most cadets this is a lifesaver.
I better end this now. I am sorry this message got so long. I have so many frustrations about the Academy it is hard to be brief. Let me know how your son is doing,
From Des Moines, IA
Glad your doolie has decided to stay for a bit longer. The first year is horrid, as much for parents and all family members (even including your hairdresser) as for the cadet who is actually experiencing it. Our C3C - made it but it wasn't until the end of the summer that we really knew he was going to make it to his C3C year. and...it wasn't until last week that his attitude improved immensely as he made the baseball team, stayed academically qualified and got grassroots all in one week. It has been quite an experience for us all and my husband was in the Air Force!
Hang In There! Sincerely,
Second Class (Junior) Parents Respond
From Cedar Falls, IA
Hi, ... As most parent's of cadets I know what it is you are going through. This is one of many reasons I have enjoyed the USAFAnet, parents need support too!!!
In regard to your concerns, I can only relate personel feelings from my daughter and from an academy grad <myself>. First, my daughter has said on many occasions that although the first semester was not a lot of fun, things did get better the next semester. The following summer things improved dramatically, soph. year went more smoothly, third summer was great, this fall when we visited her for her 21st birthday, she said out of the blue, "I cann't tell you how glad I am to be here!" Things do improve and probably the best thing you can do for your cadet is to listen patiently and let him work out his frustations. Ask him to give the academy a fair chance, at least a full semester'better yet a full year. After recognition things really change.
My academy graduate friend went through much the same as your cadet and his parents the same as you. He really wanted out about Thanksgiving time, could not see himself even going the full semester, his father asked him to stay through the first of the year and then make up his mind. Even though the return after Christmas was a killer, he stayed, went through recognition, the next summer and so forth. Got a graduate school slot, went back and taught, and completed his comittment plus. He is how president and CEO of a local laser company.
Please be patient but firm with your cadet. Even if he does decide that leaving is the best route for him, the experiences which he has already gained will mold him ever in a positive direction.
From Bellevue, WA
Having just joined USAFAnet I'm a little late getting into the problems of Eric and his wanting to leave the academy, but I thought I'd write anyway and let you know how our son made it through his first year.
Like Eric, my son wasn't exactly having a fun time his first semester. Fortunately, he was not having trouble with academics, and in fact just missed getting a 4.0. However, those grades came at the cost of lots of lost sleep and frustration. As a C4C you learn to sleep almost any place and at any time...
My son was lucky that he was able to come home for his HS Homecoming. He used his one weekend pass and flew in on Friday and went back Sunday. It was a short visit, but worth it in the long run. He seemed pretty "up" during that visit. Thanksgiving was a different story. He was really excited to be home the first couple of days, but as he spent more time with his HS buddies, I think he started feeling sorry for himself. By the time it came to go to the airport he didn't want to go back. Cadets need to realize that during leave their friends will tell them stories about all the great fun they are having at college and it will make them feel bad about being stuck at the academy. Let's face it. Cadets are not at the academy to have fun their first year. Sure, there are fun times, but it's not your typical "party school" and they need to realize that. If they can keep that in perspective it will make life a lot easier.
Christmas break for my son was about the same. Nice to be home, but not wanting to go back at the end of leave. Through all of this the one saving thing was having e-mail. For a freshman cadet at the academy, this is the one thing that helped keep him sane. He wrote us every day at work or at home. It was a way to boost his spirits when he was down.
Being down on the academy is nothing new. lmost all cadets are at one time or another. A good friend of ours from our high school and Washington parents association graduated this year. When he was a first semester C3C he wanted to quit and told his parents he was leaving. He re-thought his position and decided to stick it out. He's so glad he did. He went on to become squadron commander this past year and will be starting UPT in November! Having him at the academy was a godsend to my son since he acted like his big brother.
Just tell Eric there is life after your fourth class year! Each year gets a bit better, although most cadets will say the thirdclass year is one of the toughest academically. Each year brings different kinds of stress, but that is what makes these kids men. This year my son is having a very good year since he's doing what he likes, flying as a Soaring IP. Of course it also helps to have his stereo, refrigerator, and car next Spring. When he looks back on his first year he says he tended to take things MUCH too seriously. Eric needs to realize that a lot of what goes on at the academy is just a game of wits. However, he also needs to realize he needs to study and keep his grades up. This is important! Eric sound like the type of kid that likes to have a good time. my son does also. But he also realizes there is a time and place for fun, and there is a time and place to be serious. The key phrase is "play the game." Do what is required to get through. It doesn't matter if you believe what you are required to do is dumb or not. I remember my son getting so upset about having to polish the floor, or woodwork or something. Anyway, it really bothered him. But now he says, "big deal."
A couple of years from now, Eric will look back at his freshman year and also say "big deal." Take it one day at a time and don't give up and pretty soon he will be through it before he knows it. And that's that.
From Green Bank, NJ
To the parents who guard and guide and sometime let go, My cadet wants to go home.
I never thought my son would suggest leaving but maybe I don't know my son very well. I do know the Academy and the skills needed for success. I am now a practicing father with much to learn. My cadet is solving some of the most difficult lessons of life and I'm happy for him. His mother solved a problem one day as only mothers can. Our cadet was having difficulties and we heard discouragement on the phone. My wife's answer, "'' is not getting enough sleep, he gets this way without sleep." I heard the problem and was preparing a dissertation and Mom heard a cadet needing sleep. Do any of you have unique ways to deal your cadets feedback?
I bet mom (above) is right ''' needs sleep. Sometimes you just need to listen to your Cadet, they really are not looking for answers. I sometimes wonder if they just need to know you will be there for them should they decide this is not for them. I think in most cases once they receive the encouragement, and after some sleep they are ready again. The weekend is coming. Best wishes
From Bainbridge Island, WA
Just read your powerful note with your questions about staying at the AFA. The pressures on the kids can't be underestimated. I don't think there is anyone at the Academy who hasn't thought about leaving.
The lack of sleep can be the biggest 'stresser." With the win over Navy today, maybe the class of '99 will be given a week at rest. This will give Erik some time with less presssure to consider his options. The academy is not the best place for everyone. The cadets are asked to make great sacrifices with few immediate rewards.
We all want our children to make the best choice to achieve their goals. If Erik is greatly unhappy he might consider talking to the chaplain. Even if Erik is not religious, the chaplain has great resources and experience with cadets with questions.
Please feel free to call us. We are thinking of you. It is as hard to be a parent as it is a cadet, it's just different.
One of the more difficult things for our cadet to really understand in the first year was that the military side fo things in fact does count.....even if tha cadet has experienced a measure of success at "blowing off" a lot of it. It is a military institution, which at the outset not only does not foster individual thinking, but takes great pains to reduce everyone to a common denominator. The opportunity for your cadet to"grow" in this envirement will come later.....ususally not in the first year. One of the things Erik might want to consider is that he was selected for this experience, BECAUSE THE AFA FELT HE COULD GET THROUGH IT. WE would welcome the chance to talk with you..........cheers
From Ames, IA
Here is an article We found in PENPAGES regarding listening skills. PENPAGES is an online library (database) maintained by the Univ. of Penn. It was originally written for child care providers when communicating with parents, but we modified it to relate to our academy exprience.
LISTENING WELL PROMOTES GOOD RELATIONSHIPS
by Christiann Dean, Dept. of Human Development and Family Studies, New York State College of Human Ecology, Cornell
Can you remember a time when someone really listened to you? Whether your conversation took place in a quiet, protected setting or in the hustle of a busy public place, the other person gave you the kind of attention that made you feel you were the only two people in the universe. You felt your listener's openness to your concerns or ideas'to you. Your listener conveyed a genuine understanding of what you were saying. You felt heard, understood.
If you've been lucky enough to have had even one such experience, you know that listening well has a remarkable way of melting barriers, even in the face of frustration, confusion, anger, or grief. Good listeners have a way of making everyone feel like a friend. Such listening is a rarity. Few people have had any training or even good role models in listening well. With practice, most people can become highly skilled listeners, quietly opening the doors to better relationships at work and at home.
CONVEYING OPENNESS AND ATTENTION
Listening requires openness, attention, and acknowledgment of
what the other person is trying to tell you. To listen well, you need to convey that you are open to the other's point of view and are "right there" with him or her.(Openness does not necessarily mean you agree with another viewpoint, but that you are open to hearing it.) Try any of these "communication helpers" to open the lines of communication:
1.Door openers are invitations to talk, letting the other person decide whether to proceed ("Want to talk about it?" "You sound sad. Is something bothering you?")
2.Encouragers ("I'd like to hear more about your concerns.")
3.Open questions ("What do you hope to gain by dropping out?").
You can arrange to create a "zone of attention" around yourself and the person you're listening to, conveying with eye contact and body language that you are deeply engaged and not open to interruptions. Sometimes you may need to set up another time (soon!) to talk in greater depth, either in person or on the phone. It is difficult, but not impossible to create a "listening" environment through e-mail and letters.
THREE TYPES OF FEEDBACK
Perhaps the most important (and too often overlooked) step in successful communication is acknowledging that you've heard what is being said, through "feedback". Feedback is most successful when tailored to match the speaker's emphasis, using factual, emotional, or solution-focused feedback depending on the situation.
Here are examples of the three types of feedback you could give if your cadet is complaining about school.
1.Factual:"So, you aren't able to find time to study because you have so many other things to do."
2.Emotional:"I understand that you feel bad about not being able to study today. You take pride in keeping up with your classes."
3.Solution-focused:"All kinds of things went wrong this week for you . Luckily you have a long weekend coming up and Thanksgiving will be here before you know it. We can set aside time for you to study here at home in your old room."
Often it works well to use two or three types of feedback. Try to match your cadet's tone. For example, if your son or daughter expresses strong emotion, use emotional feedback first. If the exchange is more factual, give factual feedback. Note: Moving immediately to solution-focused feedback (before making sure you understand the facts and feelings) is usually a mistake. Most people need to be heard before movingon to solutions.
AVOID GIVING ADVICE (without being asked for it)
Once you understand what your child is saying and have acknowledged that you understand, you might feel as though you should give some advice. Yet giving unasked-for advice usually blocks communication instead of helping. Instead, try offering information on available resources ("I heard that there is some excellent tutoring help at the Academy. Do you think that might be a way for you to better understand those areas where you are struggling?"). And using open-ended questions ("What do you think might work?"). That way, the solution is the cadet's own, and more likely to stick. And he or she will know you cared enough to listen well!
First Class (Senior) Parents Respond
From Sugar Land, TX
I just spent 20 minutes reading the MANY concerned and sincere responses from other cadet parents and previous academy grads regarding your request for advice.
One more will make not a wit of difference, but I'll feel better having given one additional perspective. I speak as the parent of a "firstie" who went down the same familiar trail of concern back in the "doolie" days, and the USAFA Prep School the year prior to that. Our son was packed up to head for the airport the following day, in the midst of finishing his out-processing paperwork. His mother and I had been careful to be supportive but firm in the need for our son to make his own decision but not to be impulsive and do something he would later regret. It seemed at the time, however, that we had used up all the options: We had him talk to the chaplain, his football coach, his AOC, his local off-base sponsor family (they made a BIG and positive difference) and some of his upperclass buddies on the football team. All of that was to no avail..up to that point. Then, I phoned him one last time during that out-processing phase. I asked him what his plans were when he got back home. He was planning to make inquires to go to Rice here in Houston. I had already checked and knew that there was no way to start classes until late January when the 2nd semester kickoff. He was going to be returning to Houston in mid October, right about this time of year, come to think of it. At that point I suggested he at least wait uptil Thanksgiving break and think about the full semester of course credit he would be losing by not finishing the USAFA semester. For whatever reason, he bought that idea, cancelled his out-processing...and the rest is history.
Our son finished T-3 training last summer and has been advised that the prospect of a UPT slot will be forthcoming after graduation on May 29. He is really enjoying the academy, finally, and so glad he did decide to "give it another go". Riding bulls for the Academy Rodeo Team is one of his favorite things these days.
By the way, our son is one of those firsties that understands the need for the controlled "training" that doolies receive but genuinely detested any of his peers or subordinates that seem to derive pure pleasure from "dishing it out" in excess. I would invite your son to contact mine (on the in-house net or in person) for some one-on-one counselling if you think that approach might be helpful. Let me know if that option sounds workable and I'll advise my cadet accordingly.
From Austin, TX
Here's more encouragement from the Mom of a cadet that will actually graduate this year. I had heard parent's of Seniors could attend classes with their cadet during parent's weekend. I don't know what the actual policy is on this. Last year my son was taking mostly senior classes so I was able to visit his classes Thursday and Friday. He was a little embarrassed about my coming but I encouraged him to just ask his instructors and they were all receptive. Frankly prior to my visiting his classes I didn't have the the highest opinion of the academics at the Academy. I had felt my son could have really gotten a better education elsewhere and that there was a lot of hype about the academics at the AFA. I never mentioned this to my cadet however. So I went last year and was impressed no end how incredible the classes were. I was a math and engineering major in college and grad school and I NEVER had such fabulous teachers. In one of my son's engineering classes the instructor was so attentive to each student in his class.... the ones that were moving along light years ahead of the rest... he took their input.. made a note of it on the board... and said let's work on how he got there and see if we agree.... for those who were having trouble keeping up. he said ok.. who have I lost and where. .. and they actually spoke up. Everyone left that class knowing the material and having contributed to getting to the end result. I went to a Philosophy class that was brilliant and funny and and relevant. I also saw a softer side of the cadets as they interacted with one another. This year I went to classes again and was trul astounded. In an engineering class they are to do a community service project as though it was a launch to the moon. I can't tell you how impressed I was with the intercommunication that was going on among the cadets. Cooperation like I've never witnessed, such confidence in asking someone to be responsible for a part of the project with no question that they would actually get it done as needed by a certain date, cadets volunteering to take on extra work (like putting together a pert chart) because it would make it all run smoother.. this was all done with the instructor out of the room. And when they got ready to do the presentation all the buzzing in the room stopped instantly and they had very encouraging and helpful remarks. This is all to say that the freshman don't get all this wonderful flow in the classroom like they will experience when they are upperclassman. It is excellent and wonderful what is happening with the academics I have seen and experienced first hand. And Prayer Works. I love this support among parents because often your cadet will be on a "new Page" while your still grieving over his last hardship and actually it's the parent needing the comfort as much as the child! I also found during my son's most difficult days- those were the ones when he was most dependent on the Lord and I had new attitude about his trials. Not long till Thanksgiving. :)
From Montezuma, IA
By now, hopefully, your cadet is feeling better about the AFA.
I has been great to see all of the support coming over the USAFAnet. The words from the past AFA graduates was especially enlightening.
Our son also seriously wanted to quit during his first year (only once that we found out about, probably many more times that we didn't know about). After a lot of prodding from us, he finally talked it out with a priest at the Cadet Chapel, and with his AOC, and before you know it, he had decided to try it a little longer. And like so many others we've heard from, our cadet is now SO glad that he stayed! He's said that many times!
If your cadet continues to be down, encourage him cadet to start talking to someone about his feelings. Those people out there are trained to handle just this circumstance, and believe me, they are great! They won't let him quit easy. They will find out if this is really what he wants to do.
And finally, if he does decide to quit, don't let him think for one second that he's filed in any way. The military is simply not for everyone, and he may be one of those people. But he hasn't failed. He has already proven, beyond any doubt, what exceptional talents he has, simply be getting into the Academy in the first place.
One of our son's best friends during BCT and the first semester of his freshman year ended up qetting out, but that young man is now doing very well in a civilian college. If your son eventually does get out, all you can do is be supportive and try to make the transition as smooth as possible for him. He will be going through a traumatic experience and will need your support.
P.S. At our very first parent's club meeting, one of the parents of an upperclassman mentioned how they had sent their cadet inspirational/encouraging quotes during their freshman year. So we did that too, on a daily basis, at first with postcards during BCT, and then via e-mail after he got his computer. In hindsight, Dave has told us that those daily quotes meant a lot to him. I will post on the USAFAnet and text file of some of the quotes we found (I kept a log so I wouldn't repeat any of them). Maybe someone else can get some good out of them.
From the Conn./Mass. Area
We are Presidents of the local AFA parents club. We got involved due to another parental misconception of ours. You see, our son had announced in second grade that he was going to the Air Force Academy and would become a fighter pilot. He structured his whole life towards that goal. He even turned down a full Navy scholarship to Penn State and spent a year at Valley Forge Military Academy after high school. Due to the cut backs in enrollment, and the fact that he was only 17, the Academy Falcon Foundation underwrote that extra year with the promise that he would be admitted if he did. Scott enjoyed the expeience of Military school and excelled to a point where he was a company commander and spokesperson. Thus, when he finally got to AFA, and the other parents told us that he would become disillusioned and frequently think of leaving, we smiled and though "not Our son".
When we were faced with a Doolie who was quite depressed and even considered suicide, we were in shock. We turned to the other AFA parents and got support, information and guidance that enabled us to help Scott in ways that were appropriate without being too interfering. This was to be a recurring theme. He no longer got got that depressed again, but there is a constant undercurrent of "what if" throughout the Academy experience. Our son is now a "Firsty" and ranking cadet. He has just completed T-3 pilot training and has his wings. He is waiting to get a slot in military flight school (UPT) after graduation and has been offered the job of Officer in Charge of the AFA mountaineering club after graduation while he waits. He is planning to use the fact that pilots get special treatment to go to law school. If so, he will have logged so much time that he feels he will stay in until 20 year retirement. Such are the changes and varieties of the Academy experience. What Eric is experiencing is common and can be dealt with. The important thing to do is to remind him that this is his life and he does have the option of changing routes on the way to his own goal. We, as parents, must let them know that our love and pride is not conditional on a single accomplishment or pathway. The Academies are a "Super Bowl" of college placement. The fact that they have made it sets them apart. If they choose to leave the team and play another sport or for another team, we still remain their fans and will cheer them on.
Remember, he will share his frustrations with you because he doesn't think he has any other outlets. He is affraid he is or will be thought of as a quitter. He, and you must realize that this is a UNIVERSAL thought among all cadets. He is not alone. It is also O.K. to vent his frustration and concerns with you. ... Should you wish to share any of this with Eric, it's fine with us...we've done it many times before...and it's a way of paying those back who did it for us.
Parents of Graduates Respond
From Collegeville, PA
The main thing is to LISTEN! Every cadet goes through periods of ups and downs. You will learn to ride "the rapids" Remember you are the only link to their previous life styles. My daughter graduated in 1994 and is on her first assignment. As the periods of depression reduced as she went on with the training, the will to become an officer got stronger. We found one of the tricks was to send funny greeting cards after a tearfuf conversation. The friendships they form the first year will be there later in life Perhaps you noticed the maturity your son had gained when you met him at parents weekend. He'll be fine ! support him and above all, LISTEN! Your bird has made his first flight from the nest! I hope this helps! Don't forget his host family can be of great benefit as well, get to know them and the'll help. Every family in our parents club has gone through the same roller coaster ride and we support you! Send me a e-mail if you need other answers.
Graduates and AOLs Respond
From Friendswood, TX
This is fantastic advice. Encourage them to stay until Thanksgiving. After that, encourage them to stay until Christmas. Before you know it, they will have graduated. Whatever you do, do not tell them they "can't" come home. It is normal for some cadets to feel this way. It is very hard up there.
From El Paso, TX
Losing one's goal and purpose at the AFA is difficult for everyone concerned to deal with. Motivation and commitment are the two most important characteristics that a cadet must possess. Just wanting to fly does not make an AF officer. This cadet needs to realize that the first year at the AFA is unusual. Time discipline is extremely important. Graduates are sought after and highly respected in the civilian community as well as the AF because of the quality of their educaton.
From Cincinnati, OH
I didn't decide to leave until my junior year ('81 had three free years). I just walked back from class one day and announced to my friends that I was gone. I wrote to several colleges and obtained applications. But after speaking with my mom and several faculty members, I stayed and graduated. Only one regret ' My roommate and best friend used MY application to Notre Dame and left the Aademy!! And did he ever enjoy telling me how much fun he was having there.
I'd agree with the many others that these are normal feelings. As far as sucking up to others, I too have found it to be worse in the corporate world than in the Air Force.
Wow....does this bring back memories...
I resigned, according to my diary, 29 times my doolie year. I still have most of the forms too! And I can vividly, with the help of my diary, remember the AOC's reaction.
"...C4C delivers forms to AOC...." pause here, he reads them.... "Major Pittman: W', what's this? Resignation? I don't think so. You're just upset or P.O.'d about something, aren't you? Forget it...." (pause here for sound of him ripping up the paperwork)"
Why? He was a good judge of people; and could see I was just "feeling down." This is the most normal thing in the world for the doolie. The biggie; and so many have said it prior to me....LISTEN to your cadet. Understand that this is a REALLY big challenge they've undertaken; not comparable to a lot of things. Be there for them...don't try to convince them to stay; it's up to them. If they truly want to leave, they'll leave. If they don't then they'll just talk about it, maybe write up the form once or twice, look at it, then trash it. What I found most helpful was simply getting letters from family...just about day-to-day things that I'd taken from granted but now missed terribly. My brother is 12 years younger than I and I was soooo close to him. I missed him terribly. I actually found that getting notes from him; in his "scribble" were so good to my morale...I still have most of them; he doesn't know it. One day; and I don't know when, I'll give them to him. He just graduated from Univ of Colorado...and I was there; as he was at my graduation.
It's not fun, early on. But it does get better; and there's so many good things to come...keep their spirits up; be there for them, and support whatever decision they make.
From Colorado Springs, CO (this is excerpted from one that came during Recognition)
As I read some of your feelings regarding your kids at the Academy, it brings back many memories from my time there as a 4 degree almost ten years ago. I laugh about it now, but I'll never forget the time that my parents allowed their feelings of sorrow and helplessness for what I was going through get in the way of their better judgement. I know that this story becomes more irrelevent as your kids near Recognition, but I also remember that being a three degree was only slightly easier than being a four degree.
Of course, like everyone else, I had my ups and downs during my freshman year. For about three months I can remember there being all downs and no ups. It was during that time that I would vent my frustration and unhappiness to my parents, and unbeknownst to me, they wanted to do something about it. Lo and behold, I walk into the squadron one day and my AOC wants to talk to me. It turns out that dear old dad decided to take matters into his own hands (he's got a habit of doing that - retired Cheif of Police). He wanted to know why the upperclassmen were giving me such a hard time, etc., etc.
I can't tell you how MAD I was at my dad for doing this. As if I didn't have enough to contend with, now I have to face the upper-class cadets in my squadron just knowing what they were saying about me behind closed doors. Nevermind the fact that dad wasn't invited to fix these problems. The problems were my own to fix.
To make a long story short, it didn't help matters at all. And even if it had resulted in the upper-class laying off, I would not have wanted them to because my "daddy" told on them. (As you can tell, I still hold some resentment inside)
The moral of this story is this. Your kids didn't make it to the Academy because they lacked will and fortitude. And they certainly haven't made it this far if they haven't refined that will and determination. I know you all are concerned and share in the pain your kids are going through as cadets, but the absolute best thing you can do for them is exactly what your'e doing now. And that is just being there for them. Please don't do what my parents also did when I went home for Spring Break my freshman year. That is they let me know that all I had to do was say the word and they would have my tuition paid to our local state college there in our city. This was a let-down to me again because it made me feel like they really beleived that I would want to quit. I was baffled by that notion because I had never quit at anything before, and as my own parents they should have known that better than anybody.....
(Class of '91)
From Location Unknown
Congratulate your cadet on being NORMAL!!!! EVERY normal cadet wants to quit.
1. Ask your cadet if he has the fortitude to finish the 1st year so that he will have a full year of credit to transfer if he decides to do that.
2. Ask your cadet if he knows of ANY JOB where you do not have to "suck up" to a superior. This is part of life. I know that our young people are idealistic but there is very little difference in employee/superior relationship in military and civilian life.
3. Tell your cadet that it is okay to quit at the end of the first year.
4. Tell your cadet that it is okay to change his mind and decide to stay AFTER deciding to quit.
Sincerely, (RET., LO)
And From A Parent Whose Cadet Left the Academy
From Council Bluffs, IA
To the '' and other concerned parents,
We send our sons and daughters off to the Academy full of hopes and dreams. They have put so much into getting an appointment, waited so long (in some cases) to get the notice of appointment, and said some huge good byes...to life as they knew it in their hometowns, to familiar surroundings, to families, and most of all to "freedom".
As parents, we put many hours of encouragement into discussions about their future opportunities, experienced frustration, and come to the realization that our child is soon to leave us, and has become an adult.
So, it comes as a really painful event, when that son or daughter calls or writes and says that the Academy isn't what they had hoped for. Jon and I can speak from first hand experience as our son Bart, choose to leave the academy last January.
He spent many hours anguishing over his decision and he did not make it over night. Our hearts ached for him, as he had dreamed of going to the Academy since he first attended an information meeting in his sophomore year of high school. His desire was to be a pilot in the Air Force and get a good solid education, serve in the Air Force, and eventually return to our farm. He asked many questions of his liason officer several times when Tony (Now Major Dunning) called or visited with Bart at the school.
In the first semester, Bart did fairly well but was homesick and realized that his life with his family would never be the same. He struggled some in chemistry, mostly from mental blocks and stress. His squadron did extremely well, and enjoyed a lot of extras because of that...those were the things that I think got him through. That and lots of cards and letters from home. His father and I sent something everyday...a package, a letter, I always sent E-mail as well as articles from local papers and magazines.
After he returned after the Holidays, he was distressed wth 2 events, one of which was the announcement that there were approximately 450 pilots slots reserved for his class, and second, that the Air Force would make no guarantees beyond reserve commissions at graduation. Along with these there were some minor events, that really made Bart stop and consider where he wanted to go in the future.
On the short term, he felt as tho he was letting every one down that had helped him get his appointment. We tried to stress to him that they did not ask for a guarantee from him that he would graduate from the Academy, simply, they helped him try to reach one goal in life, an appointment. We also reminded him that he was the person in this position not anyone else, nor could he let his feelings that it was "expected" of him totally influence his decisions.
At this point, I would encourage you to let your son or daughter totally vent their frustrations. That seems to be the most therapeutic benefit on the short term. Encourage them to see a counselor and to talk to the faculty as well.
Another point was made in one parent's letter. This is part of the education at the Academy...dealing with stress, taking flak, answering to superiors with determination...this is how they decide to make it or choose another path in Life.
Most importantly, tell that cadet that it is important to take it one day at a time or even one hour at a time. Find some thing each day to enjoy...a bit of quiet mischief, the comics, a walk with a fellow doolie, a workout, they must learn to find little things to balance out their life for this year. And remind them that it is just one year....and how quickly it can go...just like their senior year of high school did!!!
And for you parents, I know the feeling of desolation...you can't be there to support your cadet, you wish them happiness, and dreams come true. Remember, that as hard as all this is, they will grow because of it, and the paths they take are not always easy.
Please, keep me informed. I would like to encourage all of you, espcially the doolie parents, that this is a great time in your lives, WHATEVER the outcome...watching those sons and daughters grow into fine, caring, men and women.
With a wing and a prayer,
The Original Concerned Mom Responds
It's been only a week since I reached out to you for help. And did I get support. It's been an emotional week. Eric was in a deep depression for at least 3 weeks, most likely brought on by the midterm exams and grades. He hasn't learned yet how to steel from no-where, the time to study and sleep. He has also been fighting losing himself to the regime. He has always been the leader, instigator, full of pranks. He was the first in the class of '99 to do TOURS for a prank, which he is sort of proud of, actually. I don't know why, frankly. But the academic shock he was not prepared for-just can't beleive it. He theorizes that he could be making A's anywhere else and get some sleep too, so what is he doing there at the Academy? I know it's normal to feel this way, but he is so stressed out, he can't see straight, much less think. I have been sending e-mail every day and funny cards, I got THE BOOK at the academy gift shop, which helped me a lot. and I had copied pages from it and sent to him, as was suggested. He said that helped a bit. He did talk to 2 chaplains and also to his AOC. Everyone told him to stick it out for at least the end of the semester, the school year or even 2 years. At the same time he was also told that it is his decision, that the military is not for everyone, etc. I forwarded most all of your messages for me to him. (not the one with all the wonderful sayings and wisdom, those I want to steel a few at a time!). He was frustrated and argumentative to every suggestion from me at first, and I felt like I wasn't listening in his mind. But I did throw the decision back on him. I just asked that he be sure that he was making the right one and to stick it out 'til he felt better. He didn't want to hear it, so he asked for the papers to quit on Monday. I didn't hear any more 'til today. I figured the e-mail was down again or he was mad at me. This morning I received short e-mail: I've just been really busy. I hardly even have time to read my mail. Well, I had the papers in my hands, but somehow I couldn't fill them out. It just didn't feel right leaving now. I told myself if I had any doubts I'll stay. Everyone knows that I was going to quit, but that doesn't really matter. Thanksgiving is coming up soon, so I'll see you then. I'm not sure what made me change my mind, 'cause I was hard up on leaving, and as you probably know I can be stubborn. Guess that's life. Hu!" Something one of us wrote got through and I'm so happy for him that he will complete a full something:semester, year, 2 years, a career, whatever. Thank you all so very much. I've been so touched and moved to tears reading your thoughtful messages. I hope this can help many more cadets and parents cope with the stress the first year. I still can't understand why they don't allow for enough sleep. But that's another subject.
(The following exchange took place after the original, but I thought it valuable to include here and was prompted by a doolie parent concerned that their cadet "seemed intent on having a good time" even though he was struggling academically.)
From Houston, TX
My name is '' proud Father of C3C ''. I read your post on the AFnet. (Your son) sounds a little like our (son). Last year he struggled a great deal both Academically and Militarily. I think (he) also was luckimg for "a good time". He seems to be into the concept of "fairness" to an unreal degree. For various "really unfair" actions, he rarely got to leave the Academy on weekends off and continually marched tours. He plays on the tennis team and luckily, barely made his academic grade point average so that he could travel with the team. I really believe that the team kept him from leaving. He was VERY discouraged about being confined to campus on weekends. There was not an e-mail correspondence with him where he didn't threaten to come home! My main advice to him was "don't come home, your room is now your mom's sewing room" and "stay up there, it is just as easy to get a job at the Taco Bell in Boulder as it is the one here in Houston". It was really hard to write him that kind of stuff, but I think he needed a strong dose of reality and a list of his real options at that time. As we have no military family ties, I think our son suffers more than many guys up there who are "gung ho" sons of military who have wanted to be up there since birth. Anyway, this year seems to be much better for him. He still seems to get into trouble some but he is actually enjoying some of his courses! After they get recognized in May, things really change for them... if they can just hang in!
It is a very rough go for them, especially when they talk to their high school buddies at "regular" colleges... all the women,parties, and of course NO ONE HAS TO STUDY, YOU JUST DRINK BEER, etc. I am very proud of our son for getting this far. He will have a MAJOR decision as to whether to start his third year... and I have NO idea as to what he will do!! Hope this helps some. Good luck to (your son)!
From Sugar Land, TX
Just a quick comment regarding the need for "hard advice" to cadets that want to come home. I agree that it's important to not encourage our kids to quit and come home, but it's even worst to imply that there is no longer any home to return to. Hanging out the "not welcome" sign by the parents of a doolie in the class of '96 (back in 1992) resulted in the cadet's attempted suicide. He jumped out the top floor window of his squadron area. It didn't kill him, but now he is paralysed for life. I only hope those parents did finally take him back into their home. This is information I received second-hand, and of course it should be considered accordingly. The point, however, is still very relevant.
From Houston, TX (writer of the first letter)
It is a very relevant and freightening point! It is abhorrent to think that a parent could absolutely close the door on a child in this situation! My letter is somewhat misleading.... I believe that (my son) really didn't want to come home to this house, he wanted to "come home" to friends,sleeping in,staying out late, a car etc....a continuance of the life of a high-school-star-senior. A lifestyle which, outside of (my son's) mind, no longer existed! There was continuous e-mail conversation as to his alternatives if he indeed left the Academy. It was NEVER a matter of self esteem or the lack of self esteem for not "makng it" at the Academy. It was (and I suppose still is) a matter of whether a child from a "liberal" household could exist in a military atmosphere. It is the ultimate problem of why anyone would subject themselves to the rigors of a military academy when there are so many more pleasant alternatives. We continually advised (my son) to speak to councilors or upperclassmen about his situation. As most of the Cadets seem to have very similar credentials, surely, he was not the first or only Cadet to have negative feelings. The incident that you wrote of suggests to me that there SHOULD BE some very easy way at the Academy for doolies to discuss their problems. I agree that parents are often NOT the best source of guidance! Perhaps someone has information on such channels of communication at The Academy.
Highlights of comments and advice presented by Major Scott Dering ('81) to Class of '99 on June 11.1995. Major Dering is an active Air Force Officer on leave to Kansas University to acquire his Doctorate Degree - he will then return to the Academy to teach.
The Academy experience is TOUGH-especially when you're doing two things at once:
There are several ways of thinking that might lighten your load:
Another thing to always keep in mind is that you're not alone - there are at least 3 groups pulling for you at all times - you're sort of the tip of the arrow. These are:
Some say to take Academy life day by day, but I advise you to lengthen your horizons. Life as a cadet continually improves and then as an officer, it gets even better:
By your acceptance into the Academy, you've already proved you have what it takes to make it. I wish you great success in this new challenge.
What's expected of Air Force people
by Gen. Ronald R. Fogleman
Chief of Staff, U.S. Air Force
WASHINGTON (AFNS) ' Lately, there's been a lot of discussion about the renewed emphasis on standards and accountability within our Air Force, to include the concern that we're fast becoming a one-mistake Air Force.
I want to help set the record straight on these issues by providing you my perspective on what we expect of Air Force people.
Let me say at the outset that the senior leadership realizes that our people are the strength of the Air Force. It's the outstanding active duty, Guard, Reserve and civilian members of our team who make us the most respected air and space force in the world. You are the foundation of the combat capability that we provide the nation and its theater commanders to defend America's security interests around the world.
As a group, you are the best educated, most motivated, most innovative people we've ever had in uniform. Many have stayed with us through the turmoil of demobilization, restructure, base closures, and mission realignments. We're fortunate to have all of you on our team.
I'm particularly proud of how you've stepped up to the increased pace of contingency operations driven by the unstable post-Cold War environment. When our nation has called, you've responded magnificently ' to relieve human suffering, to demonstrate American resolve, to compel rogue regimes to comply with United Nations mandates, to force warring parties to cease hostilities and to enforce tenuous peace accords. In doing so, you've earned the praise and respect of theater commanders and national leaders alike.
On the other hand, we've seen a number of indications that in all the Services, we have accessed people who don't understand the unique requirements of our military profession. In my view, it is critical that all Air Force members know and understand these requirements. The fact of the matter is that the Air Force exists to fight and win America's wars. We are entrusted with the security of our great nation in a still-dangerous world. The tools of our trade are lethal. We engage in operations that involve risk to human life and national treasure. And we all have voluntarily taken an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States.
Now, because of what we do, our standards must be higher than those that prevail in society at large. The American people expect this of us, and properly so. In the end, our behavior must continue to merit their trust, their respect, and their support.
So, it's imperative that Air Force commanders and supervisors ensure their troops understand the requirements of our military profession ' and measure up to them. Together, we must insist on disciplined and principled behavior by our troops. When an individual fails to meet the higher standards expected of military professionals, then we must hold him or her accountable, and document the offense in their records.
We must also be consistent in our disciplinary and personnel actions concerning such individuals. If an officer receives a letter of reprimand, then I would not expect to see a fire-walled Officer Performance Report covering the time frame when the LOR was administered. Nor would I expect a decoration or choice assignment to immediately follow that LOR.
In the end, ours is not a "have it your way" kind of air force. Service members cannot be allowed to pick and choose which aspects of Air Force standards, Air Force Instructions, Department of Defense directives, or the Uniform Code of Military Justice they will comply with. That would undermine the good order and discipline that's so crucial to any fighting outfit.
I will tell you straight out that if you are unwilling to comply with Air Force standards, to embrace the values of our profession, to meet the unique requirements of military service or to accept the resulting limits on individual behavior, then you need to get out of the Air Force.
Our responsibility for safeguarding America is far too important ' it's just too critical ' for us to allow it to be jeopardized by those who are unwilling to measure up to the profession of arms. I'm convinced, though, that those individuals in our service who fall into this category are few in number.
Instead, the vast majority of Air Force people are dedicated professionals who strive to live up to our service's core values.
They understand that integrity is essential in a military organization where we count on fellow members to do their part, and that honesty is the glue that binds the members of an outfit into a cohesive team. Air Force professionals realize that the purpose of our profession is too important for its practitioners to violate tech data, to pencil-whip training requirements or to falsify documents. They readily take responsibility for their actions, and exhibit the courage to do the "right" thing. In the end, they always exhibit the utmost in principled behavior, off-duty as well as on.
Air Force professionals place service before self. They willingly subordinate personal interests for the good of their unit, the Air Force, and the nation. They also embrace what Gen. Sir John Hackett has called the "unlimited liability clause" associated with our military profession. That is, if called upon to do so, they are willing to risk their lives in defense of our nation, its democratic values, and its citizens.
Furthermore, professionals in our service strive to excel in all that they do. They understand that our responsibility for America's security carries with it the moral imperative to seek excellence in all our military activities. So, they work hard to develop their skills, and seek to become the very best at what they do. They routinely give their all to each and every task ' no matter how small or seemingly insignificant ' because that's the way of the professional.
In recent months, there has been growing concern over the perceived development of a "one-mistake Air Force". I will tell you that those individuals who strive to do it right; who seek to be dedicated Air Force professionals ' day in and day out ' need not be concerned about a "one-mistake Air Force," because it doesn't exist for them.
Air Force leaders understand that their people will make honest mistakes in the course of their military endeavors. These mistakes are a normal part of our people gaining experience as they grow and progress in their careers. When they commit honest mistakes, our troops must acknowledge them, take the necessary corrective action and then press on.
On the other hand, when an individual exhibits personal negligence, misbehavior or disobedience, that is not a mistake'it's a crime. And crimes are matters of serious concern for superiors. Thus, if a service member willfully ignores Air Force standards, falsifies reports, disobeys a superior, engages in inappropriate off-duty behavior or the like, then we must immediately take the appropriate disciplinary action. For such an individual, our Service may well become a "one-offense Air Force".
In the end, it's the responsibility of our commanders and supervisors in the field to sort all this out. They must deal with individuals on a case by case basis. A commander's loyalty to an individual, who does not demonstrate loyalty to the Air force as an institution, is misplaced and is wrong. I count on commanders to do the right thing.
As we approach the dawn of the 21st century, I am convinced it will be the century of aerospace power. It will be an exciting time for our Air Force as the air and space capabilities we provide the nation grow in importance. I am confident that our dedicated professionals will continue to provide the American people the kind of Air Force they deserve ' a ready, innovative, and disciplined force with a set of values and standards that make us all proud to serve.