Letters from an Air Force Academy Cadet
Five Seton graduates from the class of ’16 overcame big odds to gain acceptance into U.S. service academies. Bridger Barker was one of them. He attends the U.S. Air Force Academy (USAFA) in Colorado Springs.
To say these hallowed institutions accept only “the best and the brightest” is no exaggeration. Of an estimated 40,000 applications annually, fewer than 10 percent receive appointments.
To become part of such an elite club, Bridger maintained high GPAs, excelled in sports, and demonstrated leadership and good character throughout his Seton years. He and his fellow service academy appointees were nominated by a U.S. senator or congressional representative, passed rigorous physical exams, and sat through heart-pounding interviews with academy liaisons.
That was the easy part.
Instead of spending an easy-breezy summer before beginning college, Bridger went through the USAFA’s Cadet Basic Training, a six-week orientation where he faced intense physical and mental conditioning that included daily calisthenics, competitive sports and infantry drill. He also became proficient with military weapons, developing skills specific to branches of the military.
The USAFA makes no bones about what Cadets will face during basic training, posting to its website, “Few of your high school friends will ever face such tests. Your commitment to yourself, to those close to you, and ultimately, your nation, will be tested daily.”
“Fifty people have already dropped out,” wrote Bridger in a letter to his parents mid-way through basic training. “I know I would never even fathom that. You didn’t raise a quitter.”
Hiking three miles in full gear is not as tough as being unable to talk about it with Mom or Dad. Use of personal cell phones is prohibited during training; communication is limited to “snail mail,” forcing parents and their adult children to discover the lost art of letter writing—which is exactly what happened between Bridger and his parents. Of the frequent letters that went back and forth, here are just a few snippets from Bridger’s letters:
“The food is fine but doesn’t hold a candle to mom’s. I love you all!”
“Your letters are always the highlight of my day. I read them to my roommate to keep us motivated.”
Harkening back to attending Mass at Seton, Bridger wrote,