Sept. 11, scandals dominate the education of latest AFA graduates
AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. ” When John Tamasitis got into the Air Force Academy, he knew his education would be grueling and he knew he would be serving his nation in the military some day.
Two months after basic training got under way, Tamasitis and the rest of the Class of 2005 watched the World Trade Center towers crumble into dust and their missions suddenly changed.
“It was a reality check for all of us; we’re actually going to war,” the class president from Boyerton, Pa., said as he and 900 other cadets graduated this week. “It was shocking. I was scared at first.”
“I think we came in innocent, naive. I remember seeing the towers falling and I knew we were going to rewrite the book. It definitely matured our class,” said Jaymie Van Kooten of Sewickley, Pa.
If they needed reminding, Vice President Dick Cheney told them at their graduation ceremony they were now on the front line in the war against terrorism and “freedom’s enemies.”
“You realize more that there is a greater chance that you will go into battle. But it is a decision most cadets made before they came ” that they would die for their country,” said Michael Jamieson of Lawrence, Texas.
For Nick Brownheim of Lexington, S.C., Sept. 11 didn’t change anything.
“I came to serve. I didn’t come just to get an education,” he said.
The last freshman class to enroll before the 2001 attacks also endured two scandals at the prestigious school ” one involving sexual assaults and another the religious climate among the cadets and staff. A Pentagon task force is still looking into complaints that evangelical Christians have harassed non-believers.
The assault scandal erupted in 2003 when dozens of female cadets complained of being ignored or punished for coming forward with their allegations. Several investigations followed and top commanders were ousted.
The “Bring Me Men” sign that had greeted thousands of cadets on their arrival at the academy was replaced with one that says: “Integrity First. Service Before Self. Excellence In All We Do.”
Since alcohol was frequently involved in the assault cases, the academy adopted a zero tolerance policy on underage drinking.
Cadets already taking ethics classes were sent to special briefings on the issue of sexual assault.
“It was really hard to stay focused. But you have your friends and you just try to stay focused,” Van Kooten said.
“It made it different, but it wasn’t any harder. There was some change, but life’s all about change,” Brownheim said.
Tamasitis said he didn’t consider the scandals an embarrassment.
“It motivated us to work harder to make this place better,” he said.
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