Updated: Mar 31, 2020
The Class of 2020 is without question one of, if not the Class at the Air Force Academy that has faced the most prolonged adversity over the course of four years. At the moment, we are fighting two adversaries, mental resiliency and COVID-19.
Yes, Upper Leadership is right. They are asking a lot from us, more than they have ever asked from a class. Is what we’re going through preparing us for some gnarly leadership challenges we’ll have to solve someday? Or, is the weight and discipline being asked to carry too much, too soon?
Despite the substantial amount of change, negativity and cynicism pouring from what seems like every direction, and harsh punitive parameters put in place… I’ve never seen our class this strong. We’re so motivated to get to that finish line together and we will do whatever it takes to get there!
I have also never seen our class this defeated. Attendance at the gym is down, people aren’t socializing like they ought to be, and nobody really seems to smile or say “Hello” when I pass them on the terrazzo anymore. We once used to joke about accepting a restriction to our rooms for the entire second semester if it meant we could graduate. Here we are, doing just that and more!
As hard as it is to accept a Firstie year without a final run to the rock, being restricted to the Cadet Area for the last seventy days, the indefinite dismissal of our friends from the Lower-3 Classes, having all of our spring sports canceled, presumptive cancellations of our commissioning and graduation ceremonies, individual adversities and (potentially) a summer without a legitimate opportunity for relaxation and exploration…I can definitely see why there is more being asked of us than any other class. We are being asked to adopt a deployment-like intensity with our school work and personal development during what was supposed to be the most enjoyable and exciting time of our cadet careers. Right now, our cadet-athletes would be competing for conference championships, a handful would be overseas on cultural immersion opportunities, and the majority surrounded by their friends and families on vacation.
No… tonight we speculate that maybe some of the recent events contributed to one of our classmates taking his own life. After all of this, finally getting into a tempo and beginning to accept the circumstances of the pandemic, one of our classmates gave up their fight and heartbreakingly made the decision to take his own life.
Are our country’s smartest, most mature, most well-rounded young adults being asked to sustain excellence in toxic conditions? Or, are our nation’s future leaders being exposed to crucial leadership and teamwork experiences necessary for us to overcome future battles of even greater magnitudes? Observing my class and the way events have unfolded over the past two and a half weeks justifies the need to ask these difficult and uncomfortable questions.
This is not fun, this is definitely not ideal, and it is certainly impacting everybody differently. However difficult it may be, I challenge my classmates and myself to confront the reality of this situation with a firm faith that things will improve. We will make it to the finish line. We can and we will turn this negative situation into something beautiful. These are circumstances that we absolutely cannot control, and it is on us to make the most of them…nobody else can do it for us!
It is impossible to predict where this pandemonium will take us, but perhaps this suffering is a blessing in disguise? In times of extreme duress and unpredictability, we quickly see what we are made out of. Will we rise, or will we crumble? Finding a way to get through these battles helps better understand what we really value, and how to prioritize the protection and well-being of our team.
Suffering will always be a part of the battle between good and evil. It is on us, as role models, protectors, and leaders of our community to understand how we can transform this negativity into a positive light.
At the end of the day, we don’t have a choice. We signed up for this, and we must stick it out. We have to endure these varying degrees of suffering because of our vocation to serve and protect our family at any cost. This is the greatest love we can show each other and our supporters right now… a sacrifice of personal pleasure and gratification to help our family and community. We have had four long and challenging years to personalize and solidify our unique interpretation of service, and how we each will do our part in making this world better.
It is ok to feel stuck during this grieving process, but we have to keep pressing with Operation Graduation. It is the ultimate measure of a leader to transform the negatives they’ve been dealt into advantages and valuable lessons.
Undoubtingly, we can use this suffering to transform us into the most capable and prepared 2nd Lieutenants the Air Force has ever received. By demonstrating to our followers that we were able to handle adversity exceptionally well and that we grew closer in the face of conflict, we will most definitely set the example and empower them to push their own boundaries and raise their own standards. To quote Captain (Ret.) Guy Gruters (USAFA Class of 1964 & Five Year POW), “The best suffer the most. Always remember; first the suffering, then the glory.”
Let’s stick together. We can, we will, and we must continue attacking this challenge with an unbreakable desire to serve.
We are so close,
C1C Santiago K. Garcia
Disclaimer: The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of the United States Air Force Academy, The United States Air Force, or the Department of Defense. Please seek permission from the author prior to reproducing this information.