Local Junior ROTC cadets shadow Langley Airmen for first-hand look at Air Force life

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Jason J. Brown
  • 633rd Air Base Wing Public Affairs
Eighty U.S. Air Force Junior ROTC cadets from across the Hampton Roads region visited Langley Air Force Base for an up-close look at Air Force operations during the base's annual Shadow Day, June 24.

High school students from five area high schools, clad in Air Force-style blues uniforms, paired with Airmen from various career fields to tour work centers across Langley, including security forces, medical services, airfield operations, maintenance, civil engineering and more.

After touring facilities and catching a glimpse of the Air Force at work in the morning, the cadets regrouped at the Crossbow Dining Facility before enjoying a performance by the U.S. Air Force Heritage of America Band's "Full Spectrum" and "Blue Aces" ensembles at Crawford Hall.

The Shadow Day is part of a week-long Air Force Junior ROTC Summer Leadership School hosted at Langley. Throughout the week, cadets experience daily dorm and uniform inspections, physical fitness tests, drill competitions and academic evaluations.

Retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Chris Alden, the group's leader and senior aerospace science instructor at Menchville High School in neighboring Newport News, said the goal of the program is to teach cadets what Airmen do every day on an Air Force base - "more than just flying planes."

"The cadets gain a fuller appreciation for the mission of the U.S. Air Force," Alden said. "We teach them what the [Air Force] core values are, but the shadow day program shows them what they mean."

Cadet Taylor Webb, a junior from Hampton High School, said the experience gave her a better understanding of the force's intricacies.

"I got a chance to see the pieces and people that make the Air Force work," said Webb, the daughter of two Air Force veterans.

Cadet Spencer Cobb, a Menchville High senior, said his biggest takeaway from touring various work centers was seeing the dynamic between Airmen, particularly the mutual respect between enlisted Airmen and commissioned officers.

"I was surprised about how professional the relationships were, especially when I saw a full-bird colonel getting advice from a [technical] sergeant," he said. "I wouldn't have expected such a senior officer to listen to a sergeant, but he paid close attention to him. It was awesome to see how leaders trust their people.

"It really makes me want to be part of this Air Force one day," Cobb added.

In addition to giving high schoolers the chance to see the Air Force first-hand, Shadow Day provided an opportunity for Airmen to teach and mentor the students about the importance of the Air Force mission, answer questions about their careers and offer sage advice about education and ambition.

"The opportunity of a lifetime comes during a lifetime of opportunity," Chief Master Sgt. Wesley Riopel, 94th Aircraft Maintenance Unit superintendent, offered to cadets during their tour of the 94th Fighter Squadron. "The only thing standing between you and your goals is you."

Airman 1st Class Alexander Rodrigues, 439th Supply Chain Operations Squadron A-10 specialist, volunteered to take cadets under his wing at his unit to be a "positive influence on youth in the community" and provide answers to questions they had about life in the Air Force.

"When I was considering the Air Force not a lot of people talked to me about joining, so I wanted to give the cadets some reassurance that the Air Force is a great place to be," Rodrigues said. "I want to give them the true story so they're not relying on hearsay and rumors."

Rodrigues said it was an honor to step outside of his day-to-day routine and into what he called "a leadership role."

"I feel I'm doing more than sitting at my desk, being able to help shape the way the cadets view the Air Force," he said. "I hope they walk away from this with a new appreciation for what we do."

According to Alden, that message is loud and clear to the cadets.

"The cadets tell Shadow Day stories for years after the program," Alden said. "We're so grateful that so many Airmen are willing to give up part of their day to have an impact on the lives of our young men and women."