89: Endings and Beginnings

89: Endings and Beginnings

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Teens Talk Getting In...To College

Endings and Beginnings

Star-spangled happiness and banner waves of pride.

~Cherishe Archer

The night my son Christopher said, “Mom, I want to apply to the Air Force Academy,” is etched in my memory. Chris was a freshman in high school and an active member of Civil Air Patrol. The CAP senior commander’s son had attended the Air Force Academy and the commander had encouraged the cadets to think about it.

It seemed like an impossible goal. We were a Midwestern family with no significant military influence. But my husband, John, had been in the Air Force and had shared his admiration for that military branch and general aviation with Chris. We were determined to help Chris succeed.

We began researching the lengthy academy application process and what the commitment to join the military would mean. Chris didn’t seem intimidated by the stringent requirements, such as survival training during boot camp. He continued to attend CAP camps and meetings, as well as speaking opportunities to talk about his role as Cadet Commander of CAP. He was also involved in school sporting events, club competitions, and church youth events. These would all be looked at favorably when listed as activities on his AFA application.

Often Chris was busy every night of the week. Through discipline and good study habits, he maintained high grades, held high leadership positions and stayed active in multiple school and church activities.

Chris finished the lengthy application process in the fall of his senior year of high school and submitted the paperwork. His Congressional interviews were scheduled for early December. Every cadet has to be nominated by a member of Congress, or the President or Vice President of the United States, to be considered for an academy. We believed Chris’ years of interaction with CAP senior members (adults) had prepared him well for the poise and quick-thinking skills he would need for the interviews. The liaison officer had said the letter of acceptance or denial from the Academy would probably come in January.

The liaison officer also mentioned that a Letter of Assurance (LOA) was sometimes issued from the Academy. It was the academy’s notification to a cadet that the AFA wanted him or her as a cadet if the Congressional nomination came through. Most cadets apply to more than one academy to increase their chances of acceptance (Chris applied to three). However, these LOAs were rarely issued, the liaison officer said, so we should not expect one.

Instead, we placed our prayers on the upcoming Congressional interviews.

Then, one day in mid-November, an envelope addressed to Chris came from the AFA. Chris had a basketball game that night so John and I knew it would be late before he arrived home. To be honest, we thought about steaming open the letter before Chris returned, but we resisted.

When Chris opened the letter, hours later, it was what we had hoped — a Letter of Assurance from the AFA! They wanted Chris for the Class of 2007!

The three of us and our younger daughter, Lindsay, whooped and hugged for several minutes. Then we called our college-age daughter and told her the good news. The whooping began all over again!

I was happy knowing the months of waiting were over. Chris had been chosen among 12,000 applicants to attend one of the finest colleges in the country. He would meet people from all over the world, learn discipline, independence—and hopefully to pick up his clothes.

Chris did receive his congressional nomination and chose to attend the AFA. The day he and all of the other cadets reported for Processing Day at the beautiful AFA grounds in Colorado Springs was a confusing, emotional time. When the new recruits were told to go upstairs for more processing, everyone knew that was goodbye.

The literature we had received from the Academy advised parents to hold back the tears when saying goodbye. “It is hard on your child to have this last view of you in their memory,” the book stated.

So I forced a big smile while John snapped a photo of Chris and me. A quick exchange of tight hugs and he was gone.

Chris came home twice a year during the next four years — at Christmas and in the summer for two weeks. Each time I could see changes from the little boy I had raised to a young man — a straightening of the shoulders, good eating and exercise habits, an ease in greeting and talking with people.

In June 2007 Chris graduated from the AFA and was promoted to Second Lieutenant in the Air Force. He is now in pilot training.

At times we still can’t believe it happened. Our son found the courage and determination to apply for and graduate from one of the finest colleges in the nation. He now has his eyes set on being an Air Force pilot. I have no doubt if he uses that same courage and determination he will reach that goal, too.

~Kayleen Reusser

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