These days it's pretty easy to be depressed. There's a war on, and the bad guys are some of the worst we've ever had to face. Political correctness has run amok, as the Ninth Circuit Nitwits proved last week when they tried to outlaw the Pledge of Allegiance because it contains the words, "one Nation, under God." The stock market is in a downward spiral unequaled since the Great Depression. Most of us who planned to retire early aren't planning on it any longer. France is still populated by the French, people still take Hillary and Peter Jennings seriously, and Palestinians are now dressing babies as suicide bombers to pose for family pictures. Life stinks. Or does it? Before you get in the waiting line for your shrink's office or reach for the Prozac, let me tell you that all is well at Air Force, USA.
Air Force, USA is a place located near Colorado Springs, Colorado, where the deer and the antelope play. It's about 5,000 acres of mountainous beauty known as the U.S. Air Force Academy. When #4 son said he was interested in the Air Force Academy, I was delighted and the wife was skeptical. As the college selection process went along, the captain in charge of recruiting for the soccer team told the young man that if he wanted go to the Academy it would happen. This time, son began to get excited but wife was even more skeptical. My wife can be forgiven her skepticism, having been a lawyer for the last twenty or so years, and only rarely encountering anyone who you could trust to take out the trash. I told her that if the captain said it, you could take it to the bank. I don't think she was convinced until last Thursday morning when the young man -- and the other 1,200 members of the class of 2006 -- reported in to the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. "In-processing" as it's called, was the beginning of a two-day process that erased any trace of depression I have had since 9-11.
It began with the incoming freshmen lining up outside Doolittle Hall. They were told to be there between 0700 and 1100. They began arriving right at 0700, and most were there by 0930. As befits an Air Force function, it was very well managed. In the hot Colorado sun, basic cadets and parents were given bottles of water and told to drink up. The people from Voicestream, the cell phone company, were on hand giving the new cadets one free call from slick little phones while they stood on line. That last call before the tumbrils cart you off was a great touch, and a stress-reliever for a lot of the newbies. Attaboy, Voicestream.
Walking up and down were members of the Association of Graduates. Now civilians, the former captains, colonels, and retired generals answered all kinds of questions. Walking quietly among the crowd was Lt. Gen. J.R. Dallagher, the superintendent. His team was doing its job well, and the boss looked pleased.
Inside Doolittle Hall, parents were consoled and informed by a roving band of faculty -- a profusion of captains, majors and colonels -- who had pretty much every answer at their fingertips. Everyone got their parents' handbook, and those who wanted to asked questions of the dean of academics, other faculty and even the campus newspaper representatives. Some of the Basic Cadets, from the Air Force prep school, had inked messages on their T-shirts such as "Train This!" or "Be nice to me. My girl friend is a Squid." ("Squids" are those benighted rivals at the Naval Academy.) The prep guys knew they were going to catch hell, but were already in the spirit of things. Then the preps and the others started to notice the upper classmen who will be taking them through the next six weeks. The upper classmen noticed them too, and grinned at the ones identified for an extra dose of pushups.
Goodbyes were said, and the newbies went up to the second floor to begin their career encounter with government paperwork. At that point, they dropped out of contact with the outside world for the next six weeks.
After that the fun started. The newbies came down from the second floor and walked through a quiet line of upperclassmen to buses waiting to shuttle them to the barber shop and the dorms. One lad, who had longish hair teased straight up with blond highlights, passed while I was waiting for my son to come out. Words are inadequate to describe the shock and glee on the face of one upperclassman who saw blondie walk by. He looked up to heaven as if to pray, "Please, God. Let him be on my bus."
Friday morning, precisely at 0830, the incoming class was assembled on the part of the parade area that's below the chapel. A general who will be overseeing much of the cadets' training stood at a podium. Behind him, the honor code was inscribed in huge letters on the wall: "We will not lie, steal or cheat, or tolerate among us those who do." He told the cadets that this must be their creed. He said that they were the most highly qualified group admitted to the Academy. Because of that, they will be expected to perform better than anyone ever has. Theirs is the proud burden, he said, of protecting our nation. And, he told them, there is no higher calling.
The officer's oath was administered. The cadets swore to protect and defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic, and to bear true faith and allegiance to it. I can't say that the cadets even knew of the Ninth Circuit decision on the Pledge, but the last phrase of their oath, "so help me God," was shouted out far more loudly than the rest of the oath. The band played "Off We Go into the Wild Blue Yonder," and then the cadets walked off, headed out to learn how to shoulder their proud burdens.
When you look at the incoming cadets you do not -- thank Heaven -- see a mirror image of America. You see young adults who are academically and athletically some of the very best we have. There are no dullards, no overweight whiny waddlers. Two years from now, they will be the upperclassmen awaiting the newbies. Four years from now they will be young officers going to pilot school and to assignments all over the world. Twenty years from now, they will be the old hands, the keepers of the flame. Which is just as it should be.
Leave depression to the liberals. Feel confident in your country and its future. I have seen the future, and it looks pretty damned good to me. At least in the small segment of our great nation I call Air Force, USA.