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Air Force Academy rolls out the red carpet for families of cadets

Parents Weekend at the Air Force Academy wasn’t a big deal a couple of decades ago — but the annual cadet parade that used to draw a few hundred on Friday morning was a bit more crowded: 10,000 cheering family members packed the parade field stands and spilled onto walkways and the grass.

U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO

By TOM ROEDER | The Gazette | Published: September 1, 2018

Parents Weekend at the Air Force Academy wasn’t a big deal a couple of decades ago.

It seems a different philosophy guided parenting in those simpler times.

“You’d drop your kid off at the academy and pick them up four years later,” joked military booster Don Addy.

But the days of absentee parents are gone at the academy, if Friday’s Parents Weekend festivities are any indication. The annual cadet parade that used to draw a few hundred on Friday morning was a bit more crowded: 10,000 cheering family members packed the parade field stands and spilled onto walkways and the grass.

As their 4,000 children stood in stiff formation, the parents turned the national anthem into a singalong. Many of them had tears in their eyes.

And, the academy, which once feared “helicopter parents,” is now embracing them.

“It’s by design,” explained Brig. Gen Andy Armacost, the academy’s dean. “Why wouldn’t we embrace these parents as partners in growing these cadets?”

Colorado Springs could learn to love these parents, too. The growing weekend of parental activities, which culminates with Saturday’s football game against Stony Brook University, brings an estimated $10 million or more to local businesses. That makes it second only to the academy’s graduation in terms of local impact.

“The story here is the parental involvement,” said academy boss, Lt. Gen Jay Silveria, as he surveyed the massive crowd hugging cadets on Stillman Parade Field.

Parents are playing a bigger role than ever in academy life, with parent’s groups established nationwide to cheer for the school.

“We have to embrace and encourage it,” he said.

To encourage it, the academy on Friday held the equivalent of a “back-to-school” night for parents. From the wind tunnel to the dorms, parents were allowed to tour the school, with professors, officers and experts at every stop to fill them in.

They were introduced to gliders and shown how parachute training works. Cadets grilled burgers for the crowd as parents got to meet classmates and leaders.

There’s a good reason the academy rolled out a red carpet, complete with a fighter-jet flyover.

Silveria says nearly 2,500 of the school’s 4,000 cadets come from homes where neither parent served in the military. In a nation where just 0.4 percent of the population is in uniform, telling the Air Force’s story is increasingly difficult.

But each of those 10,000 people the academy hosted Friday can become an ambassador, Silveria said.

“We have to take advantage of that,” he said.

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©2018 The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.)
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