SOUTHWEST ASIA -- More than 40 U.S. Air Force Academy cadets visited the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing here to observe deployed operations first-hand and interact with deployed U.S. and coalition forces.
"Being out here really broadens our horizons, allowing us to truly take in what it means to be an Airman," said Cadet Nathan Weisse.
The program sends groups of cadets to Air Force bases around the world to follow officers in different career fields and gain an understanding of their career responsibilities.
"This takes discipline to a whole new level," said Cadet Tucker Brown. "Joining our deployed wingmen out here really takes us out of our learning environment bubble and shows how what we're learning in school applies in real life."
Cadets said life back at the Academy is as rewarding as it is difficult, as they must adhere to a strictly regimented daily schedule even after graduating from Basic Cadet Training. But some cadets, who want even more experience, apply to go on "Deployed Ops."
"These cadets compete for the chance to 'deploy' out here," said Maj. Carl Maymi, the USAFA Cadet Squadron 16 air officer commanding. "They complete all the same deployment requirements as Airmen do here. While many of the cadets want to become pilots, there are just as many who are interested in other specialties."
Maymi said his cadets are also attracted to careers like mission support, logistics and maintenance.
"I got to shadow maintainers for a day," said Cadet Andrew Chaves. "Not only is it amazing how hard these (Airmen) work day-in and day-out to get the mission accomplished, but they're truly an inspiration."
This glimpse of what cadets refer to as the "real" Air Force is meant to develop these future officers and help them determine which career fields to put on their preference sheets. Their immersion included specialties such as civil engineering, communications, medical, equipment management, maintenance and operations.
"It's awesome to get them out here and in the environment we work," said Staff Sgt. Samuel Martinez, a 340th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron boom operator. "This program gives them the insight they need to figure out what they want to do in the Air Force."
Despite sweat, sand, wind and heat, the cadets shadowed officers, senior NCOs, and NCOs, gaining insight and inspiration, cadets said.
"This experience is very motivational for them as it gives them a glimpse at what they'll be doing in a few years," Maymi said.