Academy cadets see how 'real' Air Force fights the fight

RAF MILDENHALL, England -- Doing his part to “keep freedom alive,” Cadet 2nd Class Clinton Borchardt, from Lubbock, Texas, is on a mission. As a student at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., he has big plans to be a flight medicine doctor in the Air Force. 

As part of Operation Air Force, 23 Air Force Academy cadets visited RAF Mildenhall June 25 to July 13 visiting various units, and gaining valuable experience for their future Air Force careers. They arrived hot on the heels of a group of 35 cadets, and will be followed by 19 more. 

“The flight med docs support the mission and help the flying program within the Air Force,” said Cadet Borchardt, who has two years left at the academy. “I want to be a part of the medical field because I like helping people. I came into the Air Force because I knew I wanted to pursue higher levels of education, but I couldn’t afford it otherwise. I’ve always thought everyone should do their part to keep freedom alive and help our country, and this is my way of doing it.” 

The Texan has his jump wings and said he’s being groomed to become a pilot, but is determined to take his career in the medical direction. 

The academy –– a university that provides cadets with an undergraduate degree and a background to how the military operates –– gets cadets into the mindset of being a part of the military. 

During his three weeks here, Cadet Borchardt has gotten to experience different aspects of the base’s mission, and seen behind the scenes of different areas that go into making up Team Mildenhall. 

“The first week here, I was with the 100th Operations Support Squadron,” he said. “They’re the backbone of flying, and it was really neat to see everything they do. The second week, I was with members from the 352nd Special Operations Group. I was shadowing an MH-53 Pave Low pilot, which was so awesome –– it was like something you see in the movies, especially when we got to go on a helicopter ride.” 

However, July 10 was the first day working with the medical staff at the flight medicine clinic, and that’s where Cadet Borchardt’s real interest lies. 

“It’s been so neat to see the great relationship between the staff and the patients –– that’s my personal interest,” he said. “If anything, I’m more excited now about joining the operational Air Force. I’m enjoying the academy, but knowing I’ll be doing this kind of stuff is, for me, the light at the end of the tunnel.” 

According to Capt. (Dr.) Bryant Martin, 488th Intelligence Squadron flight medicine doctor, Operation Air Force is a very important program, and he’s glad to have had the opportunity to work with Cadet Borchardt. 

“He’s been shadowing me during patient exams, and the patients have been very receptive to him,” said Captain Martin. “This opportunity gives the cadets a chance to see what we do daily. We’ve had the chance to talk about medical school, and discussed the things I feel I could have done better getting to where I am today. We’ve also talked about different routes to becoming a flight doctor,” said Capt. Martin. 

Cadet 3rd Class Joe Tomczak, from Tampa, Fla., is currently working with the 352nd SOG and is definitely looking to the future. 

He hopes to be a pilot for the F-35 Lightning II –– a jet which should be operational when he graduates in 2009. 

“I joined the academy as a direct result of Sept. 11, (which happened) when I was a freshman in high school,” Cadet Tomczak said. “My dad was an Air Force pilot who flew F-16s. To me, Operation Air Force is vital –– it gives you the chance to get out into the ‘real’ Air Force, and talk to real Air Force people. We’ve gotten to see how they prepare to deploy, and they’re a heck of a lot closer to the fight than we’ve been. To have that perspective is very valuable, and I feel very fortunate to be able to do this.”
Cadet Tomczak had the opportunity to interact with members from the 321st Special Tactics Squadron. 

“We watched them do jumps, and participated in an exercise with them where we portrayed casualties –– not many folks get to do that,” he said. 

Cadet Tomczak added another benefit for the soon-to-be officers was getting the opportunity to work with both senior and junior enlisted personnel. 

“It’s been great being able to talk with enlisted Airmen who’ve been in the Air Force for a long time,” he said. “It’s been really interesting finding out what really matters to them, and get their points of view. Junior officers need to understand where they are coming from, and find out what they expect from us. 

“After talking with Airmen, I’ve been able to learn and get good advice,” said Cadet Tomczak. “One important thing I’ve learned about is the enlisted promotion system, which I didn’t know anything about before. I think that information will prove extremely valuable to me in the future,” said Cadet Tomczak. 

Overall, Operation Air Force gives cadets a taste of Air Force life, according to Capt. Venus Larson, 100th Civil Engineer Squadron and base director for the program. 

“When you’re in school and studying your majors, you don’t really understand all aspects of the real Air Force,” she said. Operation Air Force gives the cadets more experience of different career fields and broadens their view of the Air Force, so they can see there are more options open to them than just one or two job choices.”