Tag Archives: U.S. Air Force Academy

Cadets take stand against sexual violence

By Amber Baillie
U.S. Air Force Academy Public Affairs

Athletes at the U.S. Air Force Academy are serious about sexual assault awareness – so much so, they filmed a “Cadet Athletes Against Sexual Violence” video in the spring that has captured the attention of thousands throughout social media and the military community.

The two-and-a-half-minute montage features 13 cadet athletes from various athletic teams, including football, volleyball, soccer and basketball, pledging to end sexual violence and the culture perpetuating it.

Continue reading Cadets take stand against sexual violence

Providing eyes for another

By 2nd Lt. Samantha Morrison
4th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

Triathlon team imageThe rope cinched tightly around my waist. Patricia Walsh, a paratriathlete, clung to my elbow entrusting me, not only with her life, but also the end result of the race.

I was terrified.

Knowing that I was about to race a mile in the murky, rough Hudson River to start a rigorous triathlon was hard enough in itself, but being entrusted with helping an individual in need made it that much more strenuous. It made me nervous. I didn’t want disappoint her.

The week before I’d received an email from Walsh asking for my help in the New York City Triathlon. While reading her email, I learned that she was completely blind and was in desperate need of a guide for her next big race. She received my name through other athletes who knew of my success in the Ironman World Championship the previous year, and asked if I would be interested in helping her out.

Although I was honored by her request, I was hesitant at first. As a cadet at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., I had not seen my family in seven months and was anxious to get home after graduating. Taking time to help would additionally delay my family reunion I’d been desperately looking forward to. However, her need for help was far greater and I couldn’t bring myself to say no.

I met Walsh at the front entrance of the hotel we stayed at for the duration of the trip. She wasn’t exactly what I had expected. I’d figured that I would be the one leading most of the time we were together, but I found myself quickly following her through the fast-paced and congested city.

As we spent time together, I learned how inspiring Walsh truly was. She is the first blind engineer for Microsoft, owns her own business and she competes at a world-class level in triathlon despite her physical impairment. She is part of an elite group of athletes overcoming physical and mental hurdles to train and compete in a sport they love.

The Challenged Athlete Foundation makes this possible. She told me that some of the members are wounded warriors who also need assistance for training and racing. As a service member, I hope I get that chance someday.

Over the course of the next few days, we trained so I could successfully lead her in the triathlon. I found myself getting more and more confident in my skills. I also found myself in awe of how hard Walsh was pushing herself. She was determined to win and that sense of resolution rubbed off on me. Despite her blindness, it was inspiring to see that she never used it as an excuse.

The race start came much sooner than I wished. Before I knew it, I was tied to Walsh and we were about to jump in the water. I was freaking out. Walsh is not just a blind triathlete; she is currently the fastest blind triathlete in the world. Her pride and title were on the line. It was not as if the pressure and my nerves weren’t high enough already.

Ready or not, the gun went off.

Luckily, I grew up swimming, so I was very comfortable leading Walsh in the water. She tended to veer off course, so I had to keep my head up to not lose sight of the finish. Several times, I accidently knocked her in the head and was worried she would lose focus. She was undeterred by my clumsiness and we finished the swim with one of her fastest times.

The worst part was next, the bike. We sprinted together toward her bike, the whole while I was saying to myself, “Just do it. Don’t crash. Don’t mess up. Don’t go slow. Don’t fall over. Don’t show that you’re scared. Act like you know what you are doing.”

It was like another person took control of my body that day. For some reason, unlike the day before, we hopped on the bike and took off immediately. No swerving, no running over kids and their basketballs and, most importantly, no nerves to cause the two of us to slam our brakes and hit the pavement. Even Patricia asked me where this “new Sam” came from. I had no idea, but I think it was more from the fact that I wanted to get that bike portion done as fast as humanly possible.

We hit it hard and felt our legs burn the entire 40 kilometers. Before I knew it, I was warning Walsh that I was hitting the brakes so that we could dismount.

Getting off of that bike without having wrecked was the best feeling. Despite the fact that we had a 6.2 mile run ahead of us, all I cared about was the bike portion was over. I wasn’t even worried when I roped myself to Walsh and we took off running through the streets of Central Park, New York.

I told Walsh stories the entire run. She doesn’t like to talk while running, but I am a chatterbox; it keeps my mind off of the pain. Turns out, she is a great listener. We made it through the run with only a few incidents of bumping into other racers and tripping over cones; this was probably due to my not paying attention while I blabbed on and on.

Everyone’s head turned as we flew by, cheering on the blind woman, and the girl tied to her; me. The immense support from the crowd made me feel like a celebrity. I was filled with a sense of pride knowing that I was her guide. I was the one protecting her. It was euphoric.

As the finish line approached, I noticed the race volunteers dragging out a huge ribbon to stretch across the line. This was for Walsh to break through; she was about to come in first place out of all of the challenged athletes. I have never gotten to break through one of these huge ribbons myself, but as a team I don’t know if the feeling can be beat.

The emotions I experienced after the race are indescribable.

My whole life I competed in hundreds of races for myself. I worked hard at the academy to gain my second lieutenant “butter bars” and trained hours on end to better myself. This race was about someone else – for her glory, instead of mine.

The fact that I was able to make it possible for Walsh to continue fulfilling her dreams of racing triathlons, even though she couldn’t see, was the most rewarding experience of my life. I have never been happier than the moment I got to see her up on the podium receiving a huge check for her first-place finish. I will never forget the tears of joy on the faces of the people in the crowd.

I now train harder so I can be faster the next time I compete alongside Walsh. When I work toward something that involves more than just me it makes it easier to give my all. I encourage other athletes and service members to try out this mindset as well.

Editor’s Note: The Challenged Athlete Foundation is a private organization and has no governmental status.

PHOTO: Second Lt. Samantha Morrison, 4th Fighter Wing public affairs officer, assists Patricia Walsh, a blind paratriathlete, during the 10-kiometer run portion of the New York City Triathlon July 14, 2013. (Courtesy photo)

Week in Photos, Nov. 16, 2012

By Staff Sgt. Amanda Dick
Air Force Public Affairs Agency

From remembering the fallen to honoring the deployed, this Week in Photos is nothing if not dignified.

PHOTO: Tech. Sgt. Sara Bauer and Staff Sgt. Felipe Mendoza help each other place flags above the graves of deceased U.S. military members at the Veterans Memorial Park, Bluffdale, Utah, Nov. 9, 2012. A group of volunteers from Hill Air Force Base helped the Memorial Park’s staff place flags by over 4,300 deceased U.S. military members’ graves. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Tiffany DeNault)

Falcons vs. Black Knights

By Airman 1st Class Westin Warburton
Air Force Public Affairs Agency

In a battle for the Commander in Chief’s Trophy, the U.S. Air Force Academy Falcons duked it out against the U.S. Army Black Knights, Nov. 5, 2011. It was a gut-wrenching first half for Falcon fans, as the Knights took an early lead. But when the second half came around, the Falcons were a team possesed. With the determination to win their second consecutive Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy, the Falcons soared to a 24-14 victory over the Knights. Check out some great photos from the game here, and let us know which ones you like the best!

Photo: Air Force Academy Falcons wide receiver Zach Kauth snatches a Tim Jefferson pass during the Air Force-Army game at Falcon Stadium, Nov. 5, 2011. The Kauth catch could be considered the turning point in the game as the Falcons were down 14-0 at that point in the second half. The Falcons scored 21 points in the third quarter en route to a 24-14 victory over the Black Knights and their second consecutive Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Raymond Hoy)

Pentagon Airman — Hispanic Heritage Month

Today is the last day of Hispanic Heritage Month. In his proclamation for the observance, President Barack Obama wrote, “Hispanics have served with honor and distinction in every conflict since the Revolutionary War, and they have made invaluable contributions through their service to our country.”

W Ochoa_2032_5x7One Airmen fitting the president’s words is Maj. William M. Ochoa, Headquarters Air Staff, Pentagon. He received the 2009 Hispanic Engineer National Achievement Awards Conference Professional Achievement – Military Award Oct. 9 (Pentagon major earns Hispanic award).

While he’s honored to receive the award, he feels earning it serves others more than him.

“I consider my time in the Air Force as spent doing my job and doing my best to accomplish the mission,” said Major Ochoa, deputy chief of the Nuclear Analyses Division in AF/A9, Air Force Studies and Analyses, Assessments and Lessons Learned. “I believe this award is meant to motivate others, those who feel they are the furthest from achieving their goals.

“My Hispanic heritage as a first-generation Cuban American, coupled with this determination, serves as an example to young people of all backgrounds to set ambitious goals and stay committed to achieving what they have set out to accomplish in their lives,” the major said.

Listed below are a few other stories about Hispanic American servicemembers I found.

Tech. Sgt. Ruben Ayala, Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., wrote a commentaryAFG-090831-002 about Jose M. Hernandez, a Hispanic American astronaut who inspired him (Hispanic astronaut reached for the stars).

“The truth is, when I was going through school, there weren’t many ‘historic’ Hispanic American referenced in my text books that I could hold up as inspirational. While there are countless Hispanic-American contributions to our society, not many of those contributions are taught in our schools.

“I found myself able to relate to Hernandez’s background. He was born on Aug. 7, 1962 in French Camp, Calif.. His family originates from La Piedad, Michoacan, Mexico. Hernandez wanted to fly in space ever since he heard Franklin Chang-Diaz, the first Hispanic-American in space, and was selected for the Astronaut Corps.”

Another astronaut story featured Marine Lt. Col. (ret.) Carlos Noriega, written by Capt. Robert Sperling, Joint Base Andrews, Md. (Astronaut motivates Team Andrews to shoot for the stars).

“I found that people can go as far as they apply themselves. What it takes is the desire to excel,” Colonel Noriega said.

The captain wrote Colonel Noriega was part of two flights to the International Space Station. The colonel recalled “learning to work together was one of, if not the most, important parts of the mission.

“It’s about coming together to accomplish a common goal.

Legacy also drives the astronaut. “Knowing that you will be rewarded for hard work drives me,” Colonel Noriega. “It may not be you that is rewarded, but your parents and your organization all benefit from your hard work.”

Master Sgt. Mike R. Smith, National Guard Bureau Public Affairs, wrote about Latina servicemembers who received Latina Distinguished Service Awards in September (Defense Latinas praised for distinguished service).

“The contributions of Latinas continue to amaze me,” said Robert Bard, the president and chief executive officer of Latina Style Inc. “Military service at this time in our country is something very special.”

Retired Chief Master Sgt. Bob Vasquez, Center for Character Development, U.S. Air Force Academy wrote about the diversity of cultures that makes America the nation it is (Celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month).

“When you ask yourself what it is that makes America great, you’ll find the answer is diversity. If you’ll look around you (go ahead, no one’s watching) you’ll notice that what we call America is made up of people from all kinds of cultures, from different parts of the country or the world.

“We’re all different, yet we’re all the same. We share the same basic values that make us Americans. We’re invested in making our country and the world a better place for all of us to live. We believe in a democratic system of government where the people have a say in what and how we live.

“What makes America great is that although we have different and diverse needs and desires, we’ve been able to combine all those differences to form one very diverse, but unified, family that allows us to be ourselves and expects us to accept each other.”

He likens America to a salad bowl “The illustration of the salad bowl describes a dish that, as a whole, is its own entity, delicious and healthy. What gives that dish its flavor and wholesomeness is all of the different ingredients that make it one. Each ingredient adds its own contribution to the whole. Any part of it that’s missing will affect the end result.”

Master Sgt. Russell P. Petcoff works in the Pentagon with Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs.