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USAFA cadets train for future at 386 AEW

This year, the 386th Air Expeditionary Wing hosted approximately twenty cadets as part of the Air Force Academy’s Operation Air Force program.

While the majority of cadets are visiting various state-side installations, a small number of cadets had the opportunity to deploy throughout Southwest Asia for their summer program.

“The main purpose of this experience is for the cadets to see what it is like to deploy,” said Capt. Alex Hollenbeck, an Air Force Academy instructor. “It gives them a jumpstart, knowing what people have been through. The cadets go through all the same pre-deployment training as everyone else here and do real work in support of the mission.”

As part of the program, cadets are provided hands-on experience, joining both officer and enlisted personnel in the execution of their daily duties. Cadets are exposed to a variety of Air Force career fields to aid them in future career selections.

“This has been a great experience,” said Air Force Academy Cadet Elizabeth Hartman. “I came into it with an idea of what I wanted to do in the Air Force, but now I’ve been exposed to a wide array of other options and I’m finding out all about other career fields.”

The exposure to multiple career fields is vital for cadets over the summer, because they must decide at the beginning of their junior year on a specific career path for their Air Force career.

“They are introduced to the reality of the active duty jobs they will put in for during their next year at the academy, giving an irreplaceable vantage point to suit their passions and interests,” said Capt. Ivan Bohlender, the director of the wing operations center at the 386th Air Expeditionary Wing, who participated in Operation Air Force as an academy cadet himself. “In my case as a cadet, Operation Air Force helped me determine that I wanted to be a pilot and gave me motivation to press through the last two years at the Air Force Academy.”

The Operation Air Force experience also enables cadets the opportunity to interact with Department of Defense civilians, field grade officers and company grade officers and better understand their role as future second lieutenants. Furthermore, they participate in mentoring sessions with senior non-commissioned officers who help the soon-to-be commissioned officers understand the company grade officer and enlisted leadership relationship, and introduce the cadets to key issues in working with and leading an enlisted workforce.

Cadets are given insight from both officer and senior enlisted mentors who are in the fight on a daily basis and additionally gain an appreciation for the work that the young Airmen that will follow them someday do and what their perspective is, said Bohlender.

The cadets are integrated into the various groups and squadrons of the 386th Air Expeditionary Wing, completing a minimum of 40 hours per week of activities and work. They worked with the aerospace ground equipment flight replacing bearings, operating heavy equipment with the civil engineering squadron, marshaling aircraft with the crew chiefs, and working posts with security forces members.

“It’s good to see the different aspects of the mission, even the less fun jobs,” said Air Force Academy Cadet Trey Griffin. “I’m glad I came to a deployed installation where I could actually see the mission happen and work with the people getting the job done.”