Lance issued the challenge. Come to his graduation from the Air Force Academy and administer his oath of office. The only catch was that I was to wear my uniform, the one I wore when I retired for the Air Force back in 1979. There was a bit of a problem as the old uniform, hanging in the closet over these many years had shrunk considerably in size. I punted. I purchased a new one, slightly larger, a little different in color and style and decorated it with the accoutrements appropriate to style of my earlier age.
Lance Wach, son of Loren and Nancy, from rural Hayes Center was one of some 1,074 cadets that graduated from Air Force Academy last week.
Immediately upon graduation each cadet is administered an oath of office to become a second lieutenant, an officer, in our armed forces.
The oath is a sacred commitment to service and tradition requires that it can only be administered by a current or former commissioned officer. I consider it a high honor to be asked. "Say I, state your name, and repeat after me ... so help me God." The words are simple but the commitment even unto death is immense.
No matter the source of commission, ROTC, any of the service academies or OTS, those young men and women that don the uniform today are the best of the best and the defense of our beloved United States of America depends upon their commitment to serve. They come from all segments of our society. I observed those with ethnic backgrounds Asian, African, Indian, European all blended together as American.
About one third are female, but no matter the race creed, color or gender all are now bound by sacred duty to God and Country. We as a nation are blessed to have such individuals walk among us. It is a time honored cycle that is as old as our country.
About half of the USAFA graduates, Lance included, will be headed for pilot training. Others will enter into careers in Space, Cyber, Force Security, Combat Systems, other specialties and even a few on to higher education. Then with a few years of experience and tempering through the hard knocks of day to day military life they will be able to move into leadership positions for the great enlisted corps that will comprise the superb military of our future. It will be a thrill to track their progress.
Speaking of thrills I was able to experience the ultimate. Oh so many years ago, it was November 1957, this old farm boy had the privilege of being the first AF Academy cadet, ever, to make a solo flight in a glider. The odds weren't all that great as there were less than 300 cadets in our class, the first at the fledgling Academy. While in high school in McCook I had learned to fly a powered aircraft. The skills are the same. "Pull back on the stick and things on the ground get smaller. Push forward and they get bigger." Powered pilots are taught emergency landings to fly their aircraft even after the engine fails.
The rule is that after engine failure the airplane is going to come down. Airplanes have poor judgment and will hit the ground no matter the hazard so it is the job of the pilot to pick a spot that is suitable. A glider being towed aloft and then set loose, the preferred landing spot is always foremost in the pilot's mind. Gliders, I prefer the appellation "sailplane" are built lighter and have much more wing than comparable powered aircraft so approach and land much slower than their brethren with the cast iron appendage up front. Slower translates to much less kinetic energy and less hazard to the pilot when one can't make it to a prepared runway.
In my day our glider instructors were veterans of the Combat Glider Corps of World War II. Our sport training gliders were higher performance and much more nimble than what they had trained on, less challenge and much more fun to fly. Our high-performance machine was the T-3A, with about half the performance of the current steeds.
The Academy's glider instructors are the upper-class cadets most of whom learned to fly at the Academy. I had taught Lance powered flight at McCook and he found the transition to non-powered flight easy. In his three years instructing he garnered a reputation as one of the best. He also earned a spot to fly the Duo Discus, TG-15A on the cross country team that competes in national contests throughout the United States.
The leadership of the Academy saw it as a public relations coup.
"AFA's first glider pilot returns." This time it was his star student giving a ride to his former instructor. I saw it as pure fun, the thrill of a lifetime.
From the Academy airfield we were towed aloft by a Piper Super Cub.
Releasing the tow rope at 10,000 feet we were on our own. Silent flight is the word, just a quiet whisper of wind past the canopy. The two of us could talk quite easily without the aid of an intercom system. The view of Pike's Peak and the tree covered foothills of the Rockies added to the pleasure. Lance ably demonstrated stalls, high speed flight, a bunt and a spin. We caught a thermal; up like an elevator. Joy. All too soon we returned to land, yet that sleek machine really wanted to stay aloft. Friends and the TV camera were waiting.
Thirty three minutes of unpowered flight logged. Pure bliss.
The next day, Lance and a fellow cadet landed the same airframe on the Academy Parade Ground in front of thousands of fans. A forested valley on the approach and a stone wall on the far end --no go-around possible.
Done with perfection, it was his last flight in a glider. He hopped out, removed his flying suit and then marched in his graduation parade. It made this old guy feel proud. Our future is in good hands!
That is the way I saw it.