Year after year we have come to the Air Force Academy to deliver saber cases to graduates, and we’ve even attended some of the graduations. The majestic music, crisp uniforms, a president or other official guest speaker, and the smoke and roar of the Thunderbirds…I love it! This year, we had even more reason to love it…our daughter Nicholle graduated in the Class of 2019!
We had just finished the huge coin rack project (see previous post), in February, and had to start preparing for graduation…and not just for our oldest daughter…our two youngest children Kaity and Jarod were graduating from homeschool high school! Our whirlwind of activity left a hurricane of mess and chaos in our home and lives. Never mind. Just keep calm and keep busy, right? We’ll sort everything out later.
We decided, rather than renting a home for graduation, we would bring our RV and park it in the on-base Family Camp area. We also chose to tow our SUV instead of renting a car.
Everything was packed and ready to go. Some family members were flying out later, and our two youngest were traveling with us in the RV. Of course, as one of our children pointed out, “It’s not a road trip if there’s no breakdown!” One hundred miles down the road, our RV started acting up. And then one of the tires on the dolly popped!
The sun had just set, and my husband said, “Mary, you and one of the kids take the SUV and drive all night (it was loaded full of saber cases we were to deliver to cadets the next morning) so you can set up in Arnold Hall tomorrow morning.” Jarod agreed to accompany me, and we set out.
Rich had said, “I’ll meet you in Salina (Kansas). Don’t stop; just keep going.” So, as we’re sailing along, I see out of the corner of my eye what looks like our RV on the side of the highway. It was! I thought, “That’s odd; thought we’d see them in Salina. Maybe he’s taking a nap?” He wasn’t; he was under it, trying to see what was wrong, as they were still having trouble! Oh well, he had told me to keep going. And what good would it have done for us to stop? That’s what I told myself anyway.
Thanks to Jarod navigating us through some stormy weather, we finally got to Colorado Springs. In Arnold Hall, we looked around for a table to set up. We found out that Bernadette, the woman in charge of the hall, had suddenly passed away! We were so saddened by this, as she was a wonderful, friendly person. We had always enjoyed working with her and are very sorry for the loss.
As we chatted with Firsties, learning about their future and congratulating them while handing them their saber cases, I wondered where we would sleep that night if Rich didn’t make it. I had to repeatedly tell the extremely patient and polite cadets the story of the breakdown, and that they would have to come back later to get their case, if it was glass-covered (we had put these delicate items in the RV to protect them).
Rich texted me later that day to say that he had spent hours getting a clamp out of a tight spot inside the workings of the motor home. He had fixed the problem and saved us hundreds of dollars! What a great husband! And they would be there in a few hours. Whew!
The first two days of our Colorado stay were filled with delivering saber cases. After that, we were free to spend time with our Firstie, and relax and have fun. She took us to the Great Sand Dunes. Great fun! Lots of walking up huge piles of sand, but then short bursts of very fast sledding.
Family members and old family friends started showing up. The day before graduation was the Graduation Parade. We got there early and waited awhile, shivering in the cold. We had brought a blanket, so about ten of us had this spread across our legs! Clouds loomed, and we feared rain as well as the air show being cancelled.
Finally, a voice boomed over the loudspeaker, seriously telling everyone to look up and blow. He explained that this might help the clouds blow away! Suddenly, through the clouds, a jet-black B-2 slowly glided over us, and the announcer said that our blowing must have worked! The bomber was a sight to behold!
Next was a falcon demonstration (the falcon is the USAF Academy mascot). It was fun to watch the majestic bird flying around.
Then the parade started. Thousands of crisp white pants with blue jackets marching in unison is very impressive. Each squadron marched by into its designated position. The seniors (Firsties) were called out, and marched away from their squadrons, signifying their leaving the group to graduate. Loved it!
Our daughter came to see us afterward, hanging out with us in the stands, and taking family photos. We took some photos of her with family. Several have special significance, as they were like the ones her father, Rich, took with his family over 30 years ago in the stands when he graduated!
Graduation Day was another early day. We prepared for bad weather by bringing plastic rain ponchos our thoughtful daughter had provided for us.
Regardless of your political persuasion, you must admit that seeing the POTUS (President of the United States) speak in person is impressive and awe-inspiring. Since we have come for many years to deliver the saber cases, we have been to many graduations, and heard several U.S. presidents speak, including President Barack Obama and President George W. Bush Jr. My husband shook President George Bush Sr.’s hand (he was VP at the time) at his graduation. He also shook President Richard Nixon’s hand as a Cub Scout and President Bill Clinton’s hand as part of an official visit once, when he was active duty.
The graduating seniors marched in, another impressive sight. We found our daughter amongst the sea of uniforms! The Honor Guard (Rich’s cousin is a member) was lined up in two lines on the football field to greet the official party. Many important Air Force members arrived and were announced and applauded.
We had been waiting in the stands for several hours, and there was a rumor that Trump might not make it because he was flying back from Japan. Finally, the motorcade arrived. President Donald Trump stepped out of his limo, and the Air Force band began playing “Hail to the Chief”. The sharp shooters at the top of the bleachers opposite us, dressed ominously in black, looked alert.
Trump, an energetic force moving across the green turf in his black suit and red tie, waved to the crowd and pumped his fists. The crowd went wild, clapping, cheering and whistling. Interestingly, I didn’t hear any boos or negativity.
Trump started his speech thanking everyone for inviting him. Typically, the president and other White House officials have a rotation for speaking at military school graduations (i.e. West Point, Annapolis, etc.). He wasn’t supposed to speak at USAFA until next year. I think he chose to speak at the Academy this year (2019) to announce the formation of Space Force.
Before giving the cadets their diplomas, he specifically honored two graduates. The first, a young man who had won a national baseball award for hitting the most home runs. After recognizing him, he said, “Come on up here!” And he shook his hand and had a photo with him. The next was a student who had been battling cancer. It was in remission, and he had been allowed to graduate. Again, Trump brought the cadet up to the platform to honor him.
Then the fun began. Trump explained that the Academy had given him a choice. Since there were a THOUSAND graduates, he could shake only the top cadets’ hand, only the top ten grads, or all of them. “I’m going for a thousand,” he said. And again, the crowd roared their approval.
And he did. We watched as he grabbed each person’s hand and said something personal to each one. Here’s the link where you can watch it: https://www.foxnews.com/politics/trump-stays-on-after-commencement-speech-shakes-hands-with-1000-cadets. Our daughter Nikki said that all she remembers is hearing the announcer say, “Ni-…”! That’s okay, we have an amazing photo that our dear friend Greg Hoffeditz took with his high-powered professional camera from the stands.
After a while, the president shook out his hand as if it were getting stiff, then kept on. I think there might have been one cadet who took a selfie with him!
After all the grads had received their diplomas, the president spoke about the graduates and the Air Force and world they would soon be serving in. He announced the formation of Space Force. He got lots of cheers when he said he would allocate more money to supply and equip the greatest military in the world.
I liked the way he was super affirming of the Class of 2019, telling them that “You’re going to win so much that you’re going to get tired of winning!”
At one point he turned to one of the military officials behind him and joked that tomorrow the media would misconstrue what he had said.
Sure enough, the biggest news article I saw focused on him “giving amnesty to bad cadets.” EVERY president or speaker gives amnesty! It’s a tradition. It is not for seriously “bad” cadets, but those with minor infractions like being late to class or curfew. They get demerits for different infractions that affect their overall record. In fact, my dear sweet husband and his freshman squadron ALL got amnesty from Senator Barry Goldwater after they moved the F-16 onto the chapel wall (read about it in my earlier blog about the 1986 Class Reunion)!
The media totally missed the electricity and energy of the crowd and the president, and the amazing accomplishments of the almost 1,000 USAF 2nd Lts! But we didn’t. We are so proud of all the new Air Force officers (especially our daughter Nikki)!
After his speech, Trump dismissed the Class of 2019. They responded, “Strong!” in unison, their class motto. Then a thousand white parade hats flew into the air as the Thunderbirds whooshed by! That is always my favorite part of a USAFA graduation.
President Trump and his entourage left, stopping to shake all the hands of the distinguished grads (one of which was another cousin of Rich’s!). He again walked through the lines of the Honor Guard, then turned back, looked up, waved at the crowd and then pumped both fists.
Rock music blared over the loudspeaker as the Thunderbirds started their show overhead. Awesome! I love how the jets zoom by, lined up in perfect precision! So cool! And loud! Our oldest son and his wife had cute earmuffs for their babies to protect their little ears.
We had the best time walking around talking to all the friends and family that made the trek out to Colorado Springs to see Nikki graduate. They all loved the pomp and pageantry of a military graduation.
I hope that as people reflect on all that’s going on in our country right now, that they will see this bright patriotic memory and be encouraged about all that’s right in our nation, despite all the troubles.
And while I am quite late reporting about this momentous event, I think maybe it will inspire and encourage people at this time. I know Rich and I are encouraged not only about our leader and our nation, but also about our daughter Nikki as she starts her Air Force career. She will be starting pilot training soon! Go Air Force!
*All photos taken by Greg Hoffeditz of Doc Hoffeditz Photography.