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Three former 302nd AW members take ‘LEAD' to Academy graduation

Cadet (now 2nd Lt.) Krista Kelly takes her oath of office during a commissioning ceremony May 23, 2017 at the U.S. Air Force Academy. Kelly's next assignment will be at Travis Air Force Base, Calif. (U.S. Air Force photo/Daniel Butterfield)

Cadet (now 2nd Lt.) Krista Kelly takes her oath of office during a commissioning ceremony May 23, 2017 at the U.S. Air Force Academy. Kelly's next assignment will be at Travis Air Force Base, Calif. (U.S. Air Force photo/Daniel Butterfield)

Then Senior Airmen Dustin Johannsen and Barry Logan pull a retardant hose from a MAFFS-equipped C-130 preparing to fly a drop mission in support of Colorado wildland fire fighting efforts June 29, 2012 at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo. Johannsen graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy May 24, 2017 after applying to the Leaders Encouraging Airman Development program. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Thomas Doscher)

Then Senior Airmen Dustin Johannsen and Barry Logan pull a retardant hose from a MAFFS-equipped C-130 preparing to fly a drop mission in support of Colorado wildland fire fighting efforts June 29, 2012 at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo. Johannsen graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy May 24, 2017 after applying to the Leaders Encouraging Airman Development program. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Thomas Doscher)

Newly-minted Air Force second lieutenants toss their hats in the air at the end of the Class of 2017 graduation ceremony, May 24, 2017, at the U.S. Air Force Academy. Three former members of the 302nd Airlift Wing were part of the graduating class. (U.S. Air Force photo/Bill Evans)

Newly-minted Air Force second lieutenants toss their hats in the air at the end of the Class of 2017 graduation ceremony, May 24, 2017, at the U.S. Air Force Academy. Three former members of the 302nd Airlift Wing were part of the graduating class. (U.S. Air Force photo/Bill Evans)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- After five years of U.S. Air Force Academy education, three cadets, previously members of the Air Force Reserve Command’s 302nd Airlift Wing, commissioned as Air Force officers and graduated May 24, 2017. Now the former enlisted Airmen of the Reserve Wing will continue their military careers as second lieutenants in the active duty Air Force.

2nd Lt. Christopher Bissing, previously a Reserve electrical power production specialist with the 302nd Communications Flight is now slated to be a budget office flight commander. 2nd Lt. Dustin Johannsen, who was an active duty instruments and flight controls systems journeyman with the 52nd Airlift Squadron, is headed for pilot training. 2nd Lt. Krista Kelly, previously a Reserve aeromedical evacuation technician with the 34th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron, is going to school to learn to be an aircraft maintenance officer.

The three Airmen applied for, and were accepted to the U.S. Air Force Academy Preparatory school in 2012 through the Leaders Encouraging Airman Development program. The LEAD program enables enlisted Airmen to attend the U.S. Air Force Academy and become commissioned officers.

According to their website, the mission of the United States Air Force Academy is to educate, train, and inspire men and women to become leaders of character, motivated to lead the United States Air Force in service to our nation. This is accomplished by a schedule that demands a great deal from Airmen. The recently commissioned lieutenants said the challenges and successes they faced at the Academy will prepare them for the next phases in their military and personal journeys.

“The Academy demands many of things of you: academics, military training, physical training, extracurricular activities, family and social time, mentorship, and many other things,” said Bissing. “What I’ve found is that you can easily excel at any one of those things, but the real challenge is balancing your time between all of them. That’s what makes things difficult here. You need to be able to do several things at once, but this is a very valuable lesson to learn.”

When the challenges seemed insurmountable, the second lieutenants found systems in place to get them through, move forward and excel. They credit the support of their fellow cadets as one of the most valuable aspects at the Academy.

“One of the greatest things the Air Force Academy provides is a support system for any issue you can think of. In my case, the USAFA Prep School allowed me to walk into the Air Force Academy with 180 friends who were struggling in the same ways that I was,” said Kelly. “I could not have succeeded the way that I had without those relationships and networks. They helped me put out my personal fires, everywhere we would go, there was someone that we knew smiling at us when we walked in. The friendships here at USAFA are the lifelines to success..”

Along with an education and leadership opportunities, the cadets say the experience at the U.S. Air Force Academy will be one they will not soon forget. They look forward to taking their new knowledge and skills to the Air Force as its newest leaders.

“My most memorable experience was definitely being a flight commander for Basic Cadet Training. Having gone through BMT [Basic Military Training] at Lackland AFB, and the USAFA Prep School, and then once more at the start of my four-degree year, having a flight of my own was a very rewarding experience. You really have the opportunity to make an impact, and a lot of people are counting on you-- not just the basic cadets, but also your team of upperclassmen,” said Bissing.

They credit their education possibilities and future career opportunities to their participation in the LEAD program. They highly encourage others to take advantage of this program, but want to make sure Airmen know what they are getting into.

“I encourage all LEAD applicants to keep an open mind. If it were easy, everybody would be doing it. Prior-enlisted cadets are very highly respected at the Air Force Academy for their experience, but be humble about your accomplishments. Don’t go into the Academy thinking you’re better than other cadets-- you’re all equals and you have to respect that. The Air Force Academy needs enlisted applicants. They bring something to the cadet wing that direct appointees can’t, and we make up a small minority of the wing, only five percent,” said Bissing.

The LEAD program is available to Airmen who are at least 17 years old but not past their 23rd birthday by July 1 of the year they enter the Academy. They must be a U.S. citizen and unmarried with no dependents. To learn more about the LEAD program, a handbook is available at http://www.academyadmissions.com/admissions/advice-to-applicants/enlisted-airmen/.

“I would tell (Airmen) to apply -- no matter what. Never shut a door on yourself. Also, truly consider the preparatory school. It may seem like an extra year but it provides services you wouldn't even know exist until you need them. The educational spin up as well as the relationships created are survival tools at USAFA,” said Kelly.

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