Nine U.S. Air Force Academy cadets recently participated in Operation Air Force here at Luke Air Force Base. The program is designed to give cadets real-world operational Air Force experience prior to graduation.
Second Lt. Sarah Dugan, 308th Aircraft Maintenance Unit assistant officer-in-charge, oversaw the cadets while they were here. Dugan, who previously participated in the program, explained that the program is designed to expose cadets to different career fields.
“It basically shows them what active-duty life is like, what it’s like to be an officer and how the enlisted corps works,” she said. “They come to understand how life works on a real operational base and what to expect once they graduate.”
The cadets spent a day with finance, maintenance, medical, force support, logistics and public affairs.
“What we are mostly focused on is that they spend a full day with a specific career field,” Dugan said. “They walk through from start to finish. They will be directly shadowing a career field. They will physically train with the units and will be going to meetings with them.”
Cadets can make important contacts with active-duty officers and get more in-depth, behind-the-scenes information on specific career fields through the program.
“This is a time where they are sniffing out what they want to do,” Dugan said. “I know a lot of officers who have gone into things like pilot training and other rigorous career fields and fallen out of those training programs. They then had to depend on their Operation Air Force experience to figure out what career field to go to next. It’s a good resource for them. If they don’t get their first career choice, they know what else they are interested in.”
Cadet 2nd Class Joshua Burdge discovered that he enjoyed the maintenance career field after visiting various units.
“Aside from pilot, the career field I like so far is maintenance,” Burdge said. “From an officer’s standpoint I like the fact that you’re actually leading people. In contracting, you have like two people you’re in charge of and pilots are in charge of themselves and the aircraft. I think that is very awesome.”
Cadet 2nd Class Kathleen McQueeney also found the maintenance career field to be of interest, though initially she gave it no thought.
“I think intelligence or maintenance is what I am leaning toward right now,” McQueeney said. “I didn’t think maintenance would interest me at all, until I came here and actually saw what they do.”
Dugan said she believes the experience provided the cadets a better understanding of what to expect after graduation, and she feels the cadets are ready to become great officers.
“They now have a clear picture of what they can expect from different career fields, the roles and responsibilities of different ranks, and how everyone pulls together to make the mission happen here at Luke,” Dugan said. “I am proud of them in this respect, and I have no doubt they will go on to become great officers in two years when they graduate from the Academy in whatever career field they are assigned.”
The nine cadets are juniors and will graduate in 2015. A second group of cadets is scheduled to visit Luke in July. The program is a 2004 directive from the Secretary of the Air Force and Chief of Staff of the Air Force.