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Future leaders receive Academy opportunity through LEAD program

Cadets Second Class Chris Bissing, Dustin Johannsen and Krista Kelly, prior 302nd Airlift Wing members, entered the U.S. Air Force Academy Preparatory School three years ago through the Leaders Encouraging Airman Development program. They just began their junior year and will graduate in the Spring of 2017. LEAD applications are due at the end of the year. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Kenneth Bellard)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. - Cadets Second Class Chris Bissing, Dustin Johannsen and Krista Kelly, prior 302nd Airlift Wing members, entered the U.S. Air Force Academy Preparatory School three years ago through the Leaders Encouraging Airman Development program. They just began their junior year and will graduate in the Spring of 2017. LEAD applications are due at the end of the year. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Kenneth Bellard)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- The Leaders Encouraging Airman Development program enables enlisted Airmen to attend the U.S. Air Force Academy and become a commissioned officer. Three years ago three 302nd Airlift Wing Airmen applied and were selected through the LEAD program to attend the Air Force Academy's Preparatory School and are now in their junior year of study at the service academy. They are slated to graduate and commission as officers in the U.S. Air Force in the spring of 2017.

Cadets 2nd Class Chris Bissing, Dustin Johannsen, and Krista Kelly agree the school is a challenge. But a challenge that continually improves their leadership skills. They look forward to bringing their new abilities back to the operational Air Force.

"I am very proud to be here at USAFA," said Johannsen. "To be allowed this opportunity to continue serving my country while receiving an education. It will help me be a better servant leader in the future."

Johannsen, who was an Active Duty Senior Airman instruments and flight controls systems journeyman assigned to the 52nd Airlift Squadron still plans on becoming an Air Force pilot after graduation. He recently completed the Powered Flight Program where he "soloed" a T-53 aircraft.

"The experience has been challenging, but I've learned a lot," said Bissing, who originally wanted to become a pilot but is unsure what career he will choose upon graduation. "It's important to work as hard as you can when you're here, so you don't close any doors. Many people's goals change when they get here. You have to be open minded. The reasons you come to the Air Force Academy are not always the reasons you stay, added Bissing who before entering the U.S. Air Force Academy through the LEAD program was an Airman 1st Class electrical power production specialist and traditional reservist assigned to the 302nd Communications Flight.

The cadets say the Academy is not for everyone. Future students need to be aware of the commitment the school demands.

"I would tell them to make sure it is something they are fully committed to. If they fully commit themselves to being successful here and they work hard, they can overcome the challenges and learn more than they could anywhere else," said Johannsen.

Cadet Kelly is still planning to continue her studies after graduation with the goal of becoming a medical doctor.

"The experience has been difficult but amazingly rewarding," said Kelly. "I never thought I would have the opportunity to grow with such an incredible group of people and have the chance to really practice leadership and positive change. The place is challenging, yes, but it has only made me realize what I'm capable of."

Before accepting admission to the service academy, Kelly was a Senior Airman aeromedical evacuation technician and traditional reservist, assigned to the 34th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron.

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. The Air Force Academy accepts 85 Airmen serving in the Air Force Reserve and the Air National Guard each year. To learn more about the LEAD program go to http://www.academyadmissions.com/admissions/advice-to-applicants/enlisted-airmen/ and download the LEAD handbook pdf.

Kelly encourages everyone to pursue the opportunity. "Never shut a door. Who knows where you are supposed to be in three to five years, and since that time will pass anyway, why not find your limits and challenge yourself. You will be doing nothing but setting yourself up for success in your personal and professional life. Always try for the opportunity to grow as a person and challenge yourself, I promise you will be surprised at what you can do."

Editor's note: According to the LEAD handbook, the applicant's AF IMT 1786 form, pre-candidate questionnaire and application are due December 31 for admission during the upcoming fall school year and is the applicant Airman's responsibility.

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