Thriving in the US Air Force Academy: Dublin High School Rebecca Beasley’s Cadet Journey
We’ve written about many students and stories of education excellence over the past eight years, but some capture the imagination of the community. Our first profile (written two years ago) of Dublin High School Class of 2012 alum and United States Air Force Academy Class of 2016 graduate Rebecca Beasley has been read over 8,600 times. Given the interest we sat down once again with Ms. Beasley, previously a Cadet and now a Second Lieutenant with a Bachelor of Science in Management and Minor in Spanish, to learn more about her Air Force Academy journey as an upperclassman and where she plans to go next.
OneDublin.org: Describe the moment when President Obama congratulated you at your United States Air Force Academy graduation.
Rebecca Beasley: “There are 40 squadrons and I’m in the 39th, so over 700 people had been recognized before they got to me. I’d been sitting there waiting and anticipating for over two hours, worrying that I’d mess up, that I’d trip or salute wrong. When it was finally time for me to go I spoke with Deborah Lee James, Secretary of the Air Force, first, and then the President. I really wanted to say ‘Thank you Mr. President’ because how often are you going to get that opportunity? I walked forward and completely lost my train of thought and I think I said, ‘Thank you sir, Mr. President!’; I was a jumble. I remember shaking his hand, saluting him and running off the stage so happy, but I have no idea what he said to me! It was the most amazing experience in the world that was also a complete blur.
“It was really admirable that the President stood and shook every single graduate’s hand and saluted every graduate. We weren’t sure what to expect – was he actually going to stay there for every student? – but he did. It was very cool!”
OneDublin.org: What was the most challenging moment, when it was easier after you got past that point?
Beasley: “Freshman year as a whole and conquering recognition was the hardest part. Recognition is a weekend in March of your freshman year where you prove yourself to upperclassmen. Recognition is a very physically and mentally challenging event. Until you get through recognition you are not really accepted into the cadet wing and you question why you are there; but once you complete recognition you feel a part of something.
“Past freshman year there were classes that were difficult, I remember engineering mechanics and calculus 2 in particular were a challenge. In the end hard work got me through the challenges. There were also the little things, changes in routine or rules, for example being told from now on you have to stand outside your hallway every Monday to Friday morning at 6:45am. The culmination of rules, expectations, and classwork was a constant challenge but you get used to it, and looking back freshman year was the most difficult.”
OneDublin.org: How did your responsibilities change as an upperclassman?
Beasley: “As a freshman you are led by your upperclassmen and you don’t have many responsibilities beyond your studies, your military knowledge, physical fitness and yourself. As a sophomore you become a role model for freshmen who you are paired with. When you become a junior you get real responsibility within the squadron. As an element leader I was in charge of three freshmen and three sophomores. We ate lunch together every day, it was my responsibility to check up on them and see how they were doing, and to help build a cohesive team environment. Also as a junior you could take on a variety of additional responsibilities from Public Affairs to Athletics to Safety (in my case).
“The students ran many of the events themselves to develop leadership skills. In my senior year I was Captain of the USAF Women’s Soccer Team [Rebecca was recently named a Mountain West Scholar-Athlete Award winner] and Public Affairs Officer. It was a lot of work, and a tremendous leadership opportunity. In my second semester I was effectively the second in charge of our squadron and was responsible for everything running smoothly. It’s like climbing a ladder: as you gain more responsibility, there are more people relying on your leadership. For example, if a cadet isn’t doing well academically it’s your responsibility to make sure that cadet gets the help he or she needs.
“I also had leadership opportunities during the summer. During one three week period I was third in charge of the entire school (Wing Director of Operations). That was an interesting experience and I learned that the higher up you go there are less leadership interactions with individual people. I had the chance to see both sides of leadership.”
OneDublin.org: Unless you are a resident advisor in non-military colleges you rarely have authority over other students. What was that like for you?
Beasley: “At any military school there is an emphasis on high standards: looking sharp in your uniform, being in the right place at the right time, doing the right thing and following the rules.
“Every cadet has the ability to correct other cadets. If you notice that another cadet’s hair is a mess, or they haven’t shaven – that they aren’t looking sharp – you’re supposed to correct that cadet. When you are an element leader or flight commander you do have the authority to give cadets paperwork if they do something wrong which is a hard situation to be in because you live with your squadron. Having to punish a fellow cadet and then see them in the bathroom is difficult. It’s not like you can avoid the people you may have to discipline. Looking back it’s incredible how well it works, how everything meshes together, given the nature of the work environment.”
OneDublin.org: After recognition, and especially after committing when entering the junior year, are cadets still dropping out?
Beasley: “After recognition there are still quite a few dropouts because it’s still only March of your freshman year but after commitment the dropout rate falls, and most cadets that leave after commitment have been expelled or medically disqualified. Cadets can be expelled due to academic performance or disciplinary issues. I saw the difference being cadets that are able to prioritize their time and follow the rules.
“I did well at the Air Force Academy because of hard work and when I think about cadets that were kicked out I would think ‘you are so smart, why didn’t you try?’. Some people get distracted and lose sight of why they are in college. If you know what you are supposed to do and actually do it you’ll have a much better chance at succeeding. In a military school there are a lot of rules and you either choose to follow them or not. If your attitude is to try and not get caught, even skipping the little things, it will eventually catch up with you.”
OneDublin.org: Last time we spoke you shared your experiences during the summer, including a really cool military training exercise. What have you done during your summers since?
Beasley: “I minored in Spanish which opened up a really cool experience last summer, through a program called CSLIP (Cadet Summer Language Immersion Program). I was sent to Panama for three weeks along with ten other students, went to school every day and lived with a host family, and traveled each weekend with the other cadets. It was wonderful! The host family didn’t speak any English so I was forced to immerse. I’ve been taking Spanish since the first grade but that trip was so helpful. I was in Spain this summer and people complimented me on my Spanish!
“I’ve also now jumped out of an airplane five times unassisted which is really cool.”
OneDublin.org: What questions are you frequently asked (that you may be tired of answering?)
Beasley: “A typical question is whether or not I wear a uniform to class. Typically we’ll wear our ‘blue’ – blue pants, blue shirt, black shoes. When it’s cold we’ll wear our ABUs (airman battle uniform) – the green camouflage uniform. We’re told every day what we’re supposed to wear. I went to a small private school, St. Philip Lutheran School, until 7th grade, so I’ve worn a uniform most of my life. It’s kind of nice – you don’t have to think about what you’ll wear to school!
“I’m also asked where I live. I lived in the same style of room all four years, on campus. Every cadet dorm room looks exactly the same – the sink is in the same place, the same beds, the same dressers – everything. There can’t be anything on the walls. As a freshman there is a restriction for the number of personal items on your bulletin board. It’s pretty sterile, but I got used to it – it became normal.”
OneDublin.org: What was it like playing Division I Soccer for a military academy? How did you balance soccer and academics?
Beasley: “We are in the Mountain West Conference. At non-military colleges Division I athletes are expected to put sports first. At a military academy academics always come first. My coach always said the first thing that gets you kicked out of the Air Force Academy is academics or not caring about the military aspects. Your sport has to fit in that mix. Most cadets have been balancing priorities their entire lives so it feels normal to play a sport and deal with it.”
OneDublin.org: What were some of your strategies for time management?
Beasley: “The last time we spoke I described a typical day. Building on that, when I got home from dinner I’d finish my homework, go to bed and prioritize getting 7.5 – 8 hours sleep. If I didn’t get enough sleep I wouldn’t be my best, in school or in soccer, the next day. Sleep was key to staying on track. As a result, I wouldn’t socialize much at night, I didn’t watch any TV or play video games, and I used my planner extensively. Every once in a while I’d watch a movie on the weekend, but it wasn’t a daily part of my life. I didn’t have many distractions.
“After I finished my final soccer season last fall, and was released from the team, I had much more free time for the first time in 3.5 years. I had all this time and wasn’t sure what to do with it! It was very different and I’ve discovered I work best when I’m busy. It was nice having that time to relax and catch-up with friends, I went skiing every weekend, but it’s good to be busy.”
OneDublin.org: You now have a five year commitment to the military, where are you off to next?
Beasley: “I’m going to be stationed at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey. I’ve been on leave since graduating and report for duty with the logistics group in early August. Logistics focuses on the transport and shipping of people and materiale, among other responsibilities. At some point I’ll complete seven weeks of training in Texas. My assistant soccer coach was a logistics officer and recommended the role. I’m a point A to B personality – I like to see projects completed – so logistics seemed like a good fit. There’s also a good path between military logistics and the civilian workforce. I’m also considering pursuing an MBA down the road.
“Everyone who is medically qualified gets a job after graduating. I listed my job preferences last summer and found out last November. Your rank in the class plays a strong role in where you end up. In my case I chose a non-rated path, meaning I wasn’t planning to become a pilot. I ended up getting my first choice which was great. You then list your preferences for bases. In February of this year I knew where I was going to work, and what role.”
OneDublin.org: What advice do you have for first year Air Force Academy cadets who are struggling to get through recognition?
Beasley: “I’d first say try to remember that day when you found out you’d been accepted into the Air Force Academy. How did you feel? When I look back at the pictures that were taken when I found out I’d been accepted I look so excited. Think about how much you wanted to be here, the dream you were hoping to fulfill, and put that moment back in your brain and your heart. Hold on to the reason you are here. Sometimes that helps people when they are struggling, remembering they are here for a reason and that they want to be here.
“Second I encourage people to look forward to the next thing they know will make them happy, the next day you can sleep in, the next break, the next time your parents are visiting, whatever little thing makes you feel positive about moving forward.
“Being a freshman can be discouraging so remember what drove you there, and look forward without lingering on the past. So many people want to come to the Air Force Academy and you were chosen. You are here for a reason.”
OneDublin.org: How has attending the Air Force Academy shaped your view of the United States?
Beasley: “When I entered the Academy I was patriotic, but I don’t think I fully realized the sacrifice that I’d chosen to make. At lunch we would periodically be asked to stand at attention and we’d be shown a slideshow of every military personnel we’d lost that month. It was so moving and just thinking about it brings tears to my eyes. My strength conditioning coach’s husband was killed overseas – and seeing her personal experience, and learning more about those lost in battle, made it real.
“It’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make if called, and I’m so proud to be an American and to live in the United States, and am so grateful for the freedoms we have. I know our country has issues, yet what we have is so amazing. I’m completely willing to fight for what our country stands for. That’s evolved over the past four years, as a freshman I was thinking more about myself but as I got older and closer to graduation, and the possibility of being deployed, it’s really sunk in how appreciative I am of all the men and women that have served in the military. It really means something when I hear ‘thank you for your service’. I’m honored to serve – it’s humbling.
“It’s hard to put into words other than to say I love our country.”