Air Force Academy's 4,000 Cadets Make Big Difference in Community

Air Force Academy graduates throw their caps into the air as F-16 jets from the Thunderbirds make a flyover, at the completion of the graduation ceremony for the class of 2015, at the U.S. Air Force Academy, May 28, 2015. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley, File)
Air Force Academy graduates throw their caps into the air as F-16 jets from the Thunderbirds make a flyover, at the completion of the graduation ceremony for the class of 2015, at the U.S. Air Force Academy, May 28, 2015. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley, File)

If you want to meet a hometown hero, head to the Air Force Academy. It has 4,000 of them.

The school's cadets were named as the Red Cross of Southeastern Colorado's Military Hero for dedication to community service. They are among several others who will be recognized at the Hometown Heroes ceremony Thursday.

Those cadets put in more than 30,000 hours helping the community last year and are piling up plenty of volunteer time in 2016.

"I think highly of cadets for their commitment to serve our country, but also for the outstanding character and leadership they have shown by serving their community," said Red Cross executive director Tom Gonzalez, who joined in nominating the cadet wing for the award.

Serving the community has long been part of cadet life. Cadets helped clean up Colorado Springs after the 2012 Waldo Canyon fire, they tutor in elementary schools and pitched in last fall to renovate a warming shelter for the homeless.

For the Red Cross, the cadets joined a campaign that began in September to install smoke detectors in low-income neighborhoods.

"We believe they have installed at least 1,000 smoke alarms in southeastern Colorado alone," Gonzalez said. "They very well may have saved a life."

Mike Lee, with the academy's cadet service leadership program, said getting cadets to help their neighbors makes for better leaders. So cadets pitch in to community causes by the numbers -- they've put in more than 300,000 hours of community service in the past decade.

"They are all going on to serve the American people, and we want to give them a piece of that as well," Lee said.

Michael Gaultney, chairman of the local Red Cross board of directors, said the work ethic shown by cadets demonstrates their military prowess.

"I'm sure these kids are used to getting up and doing things," Gaultney said.

For the smoke alarm project, busloads of cadets fanned out into neighborhoods around the Pikes Peak region. From the start, Gaultney said, it was apparent that the cadets had a passion for the work.

"They are outstanding, they are very cordial, they are very organized, they took very good direction," Gaultney said. "They were really in tune with what they were about to embark on."

Lee said cadets don't think their work in the community is heroic. It's just part of wearing the uniform.

"It's kind of a common trait," he said. "They could have gone to any school, but they came here because of that service element."

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