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Cadet commentary: Soaking up Operations Air Force ‘like a sponge’

Back row, middle: Cadet 2nd Class Spencer Flint and other cadets from the U.S. Air Force Academy pose for a photo during their Air Force Operations visit to Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma, this summer. (Courtesy photo) 

Commentary by Cadet 2nd Class Spencer Flint, Sept. 4, 2019

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. — I traveled to Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma this summer for two weeks with other cadets to take part in Operations Air Force. It’s a program designed to help cadets better understand how the Air Force works and how officers, noncommissioned officers and successfully team up to complete the mission. It’s amazing to see how many people go into making things work. My Ops Air Force experience taught me that people truly are our greatest asset.

Most cadets come to understand before taking part in the program that support and operational functions have a purpose even if we don’t know exactly what that purpose is. After visiting Tinker, I know we developed a better picture of the “Big Air Force” and how its components combine to accomplish the mission. Flying missions may seem the most important part of the Air Force from the outside, but during Ops Air Force, we came to realize those flying missions are just the tip of the iceberg.

Some of the more important things I learned from Ops Air Force were meeting enlisted Airmen and seeing how important all the different Air Force specialties are in the big picture. I gained a lot of respect for aircraft maintainers who will make sure my aircraft can safely fly if I become a pilot. I also learned a lot about how a second lieutenant provides leadership even if they have little idea what responsibilities they’ll have when they arrive at their first unit.

When cadets graduate from the Academy and become second lieutenants, we have to be willing to immerse ourselves in our new unit and be mentored by the officers above us and by our senior NCO and civilian teammates. We need to be like sponges, soaking up all the knowledge we can get from our Total Force teammates to be the best at our respective specialties. We need to be the experts the Air Force needs us to be.

During Ops Air Force, my group of cadets heard this advice from many people, particularly from the senior officers and senior NCOs we met.

We had a great visit and learning experience at Tinker. Without a doubt, the experience will help us make educated decisions about our careers and help us be the best second lieutenants we can be after we graduate.

[Editor’s note: Flint is a mechanical engineering major from Knoxville, Tennessee. He’s assigned to Cadet Squadron 07]