Something different to learn
Ben Mendel was 3 years old when his family arrived at an air show, only to be turned away because it was over. He was waiting outside a restroom when an F-16 roared overhead performing barrel rolls.
He's been hooked on the Air Force ever since.
Now 18, Mendel is a cadet at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., and working toward becoming an officer. He's among about 40 cadets visiting Beale Air Force Base this summer to gain experience in leadership and learn what the working world is like for enlisted airmen.
"It's been awesome," he said, pausing after helping unload a big rig at a supply warehouse. Compared with the regimented lifestyle and studies at the academy, he added, "It's a whole different ball game."
Each year Beale hosts airmen from the Air Force Academy and Reserve Officer Training Corps, who upon finishing their education receive officer's ranks. "Job shadowing" is required for all cadets in their sophomore, junior and senior years.
This year is the largest number of cadets that have come to Beale, according to Lt. Rebecca Collier, section commander for the 9th Maintenance Squadron. They arrived in three sessions for several weeks each,
Air Force officials want their future leaders to have more exposure to the real world.
"They don't have any sense of what active duty is like," she said. "This is going to give them some sense of what they're getting into."
Tech. Sgt. Carl Collins, who works as a unit deployment manager with the 9th Reconnaissance Wing, said the program benefits the cadet and the enlisted airmen.
"I get to mentor him into what I want out of an officer," Collins said.
Cadet John Sutcliffe, 19, of Tolland, Conn., worked in a 9th Maintenance Squadron fabrication shop learning the tasks of an enlisted airman.
"Some days are a little more hectic than others," he said.
Like Mendel, he thinks he may want to be a pilot, but isn't sure.
"There's a lot to do in the Air Force and I haven't decided what I want to do," he said.
Unlike at the academy, where everyone tried to compete against each other for higher grades, the Air Force is very team-oriented, he said.
Colin Barcus, of Huron, Ohio, is in the ROTC preparing to enter his senior year at Notre Dame. On Monday, he sat in Beale's Office of Special Investigations office, going through old case files and learning how investigations are handled.
"It's been like an internship," he said. Barcus went with an agent to Travis Air Force Base near Fairfield to analyze compute equipment as evidence in an investigation. "You just don't know what's going to come up."
Appeal-Democrat reporter Daniel Witter can be reached at 749-4712. You may e-mail him at email@example.com.