Freshmen Ascend into Air Force Academy Cadet with Pomp, Ceremony

For Air Force Academy freshman Kayla Wofford, the hardest part of basic training was a tie between suffering the fumes of the school's training gas chamber and being cut off from her family and friends.

But Tuesday morning, as Wofford and more than 1,000 other freshmen cadets were welcomed into the cadet wing and received their rank, it was all worth it.

"She has wanted this for so many years. It's the only place she applied to," said Kayla's mother, Sheri Wofford, who received at least eight letters from her daughter during the six-week basic training. "Dreams are really becoming a reality for her."

During the hourlong acceptance parade, cadets marched across Stillman Parade Field to join the upperclassmen of their squadrons, celebrating the end to their first round of rigorous training and the beginning of their academic tests.

Loved ones attended the celebration, many of whom traveled hundreds of miles, to spend two hours of family time with the freshmen.

"Merging with the squadron was such a cool feeling. It was so real," Kayla said, moments before leaving the field for lunch at her favorite restaurant -- Chipotle Mexican Grill -- with Sheri and family from Dallas.

Of the 1,174 Air Force Academy freshmen who entered basic training on June 28, 1,124 made it to the acceptance parade.

"You have now completed the academy's first big test, and you are on your way to becoming an officer in the armed forces of the United States or from your nation, should you be one of those individuals from a foreign nation selected to attend the academy," Gen. Gregory Martin, a member of academy's class of 1970, told the freshmen at the parade.

Friends and family members, many clad in squadron colors and waving signs of support, crowded the stands. Mothers and fathers pointed out their children as 40 cadet squadrons marched in perfect formation.

Standing on the bleachers was Joseph LaVille, a 1991 academy graduate. The only thing he remembered from participating in the ceremony as a freshman was the back of the cadet's head in front of him, he said. Tuesday, he watched as his son Alexander LaVille paraded onto the field with his classmates in the 20th squadron.

Alexander told his mother and father in a letter that he thought about quitting every day, Joseph said.

But he didn't.

"I was hungry and I was tired. And I was scared. When we got his letter, it was the same thing," Joseph said, recalling his time in basic training. "It's not easy. I don't just consider him as a cadet. I consider him as an airman."

Brandon Chitwood, a senior at the academy, led the freshmen in the school's honor oath during the parade. Cadets pledge not to lie, cheat, steal or tolerate those who break the oath.

"You must remember that the honor oath goes far beyond the words that comprise it," Chitwood told cadets.

The parade concluded with the academy band's rendition of the Air Force song. Parents and loved ones flooded the field as cadets received their 4th Class shoulder boards in the pinning ceremony that followed.

"It's a big sense of accomplishment and a big sense of relief," said freshman cadet Michael McLaughlin, who marched in the parade despite having caught pneumonia during basic training.

His family traveled from Wilmington, Del., for the ceremony

"It's just a very special occasion," his mother Cori McLaughlin said with tears in her eyes. "We're very proud of him and wanted to be here for him and congratulate him."

During basic training, cadets were told what to do, whom to do it with and when to do it. But as of Tuesday, little by little, that will begin to change, said freshman Garrett McGinty.

"Now we're getting some of that freedom back. It's a big responsibility, but a lot of us definitely missed that freedom," said McGinty, from Youngstown, Ohio.

"I'm just glad to be done," he said.

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