Operation Air Force

  • Published
  • By C2C Alana L. Piccone
  • United States Air Force Academy
Stepping off the plane onto the tarmac into the sticky air of North Carolina was a new experience for six cadets from Colorado Springs. Operation Air Force had commenced. Six cadets, seventeen days, one Air Force Base: Seymour Johnson. As a rising second class cadet at the Air Force Academy it is mandatory to attend a 3 week program at an Air Force Base to experience the "real," operational Air Force. The program is designed to help narrow down the career paths cadets would like to enter upon graduation and commissioning. For the six of us: four girls, two boys, three athletes, three non-athletes, it was going to be quite the adventure.

The drive from Raleigh into Goldsboro made everyone a bit skeptical. However, right as identification was being checked at the main gate, an F15 E Strike Eagle flew over, all eyes wide eyed and staring, something sparked inside each cadet. Excitement about having the chance to explore the job opportunities upon graduation began to rise. The six of us cadets got to experience a myriad of different aspects of the Air Force that makes a base operational. From the Logistics Readiness Squadron to the 4th Fighter Wing, we got to see it all. Although for me the highlight of the trip was getting to spend a day with Public Affairs, learning what media they take part in and experiencing the way Public Affairs handle certain situations on base, some would say the best part was a ride in an F15 E Strike Eagle.

All six of us got to take part in a once in a lifetime opportunity of being a passenger in a F15 E Strike Eagle during a training exercise. Flying with the 335th and 336th fighter squadron, each cadet got outfitted in a G suit, helmet, and last but most important motion sickness bags. The worst fear for all of us was puking. The horror stories from pilots had been shared and each of us was prepared for the worst. All geared up and prepped we walked out onto the flight line; pilots in front leading the way, helmet bags in hand and the faint sound of engines warming up. It felt like a scene from a movie and the adrenaline pumping through us.

The take-off was smooth zooming through the air at incredible speeds, when all of the sudden the pilot comes on over the radio, "Ready for some Gs?" and instantaneously we drop into a 180 degree turn trying to target in on the plane behind, rolling over, turning sharper, and then in another extremely mellifluous movement we are upright again. Once again the pilot comes on the radio, "How you doing back there? Everything okay?" To which all cadets replied with something along the lines of "THAT WAS AWESOME!" After a few more exercise with Gs up to 7 we are back on the ground. Helmets off, some sickness bags utilized, and just sweating from the heat in the cockpit, all cadets are beaming from ear to ear. I would say the experience was a success!

After 17 days in Goldsboro, North Carolina installing light poles, examining bombs, learning how to package parts, check IDs, take passport pictures, and ride in an F15, it was time to head back to Colorado Spring. After being introduced to new career fields and experiencing the top choice career field we had in mind, each cadet came out of Operation Air Force with a new appreciation of all the hard work that goes into every squadron on base that allows operations to be successful throughout the wing. From the on base pool to the incentive ride, the experience gained at Seymour Johnson was a once in a lifetime opportunity that six cadets: four girls, two boys, three athletes, three non-athletes, will never forget.