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Cadet - 1. Basic Cadet Training

“Shit! I forgot my retainer.” Ritch rummaged through his dopp kit’s pockets until realizing he had left it behind on the bathroom counter. The toiletry bag was a present from his fathers, embroidered with his name and the Air Force wings logo. Sitting back in the soft, leather seat, he was frustrated. Having hated every minute he had to wear braces, he used the dental appliance religiously. A mouthful of metal was not something he ever wanted to experience again.

César tapped at his phone and turned it so Ritch could view the screen. “Added it to the list of things to bring when we come back for Parents Weekend.”

They awoke the same time they had since arriving in town, and were waiting outside when the hired car arrived. Brett refused to deal with bouncing in Defiant for nearly three hours all the way from Vail to Colorado Springs. “The Jeep days are far behind me. I’m an old married man now and like my creature comforts.” He had told Ritch he had owned one as a teen and for a while after being commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps.

Instead, he hired a car and driver. “We don’t want to attract that much attention.” That was the reasoning for insisting the vehicle be a regular SUV, instead of the stretch limousine the agency initially offered.

Air Force Academy appointees officially became cadets on the last Thursday in June. In-processing was the start of their life in the military. On I-Day, about half the cadets arrived alone, while others were accompanied by parents or relatives. Unlike Brett and César, not everyone could afford traveling to Colorado in late June and again over Labor Day Weekend.

The driver followed a long line of cars entering the Academy grounds and stopped when instructed to do so near the Cadet Field House. Ritch climbed out, and his fathers followed. The farewell would be brief. Although other parents milled around taking pictures and saying their final goodbyes as batches of incoming cadets boarded Air Force Academy buses, Ritch had asked his fathers not to. The three men had spent the last ten days together twenty-four seven and there was no need to delay the inevitable. Ritch was ready to tackle the biggest challenge of his young life. On his own.

“I would tell you not to take any shit, but unfortunately shit’s all you’re gonna get for a while. Keep your chin up, don’t let them see you sweat, unless it’s out on the field, and don’t forget what the ultimate goal and the accompanying rewards will be.” Brett gave him a hug and made room for César to do the same.

“We’re proud of you, buddy. Go kick some ass.”

“Thanks, Dads. Love you, guys.” Ritch smiled and saluted before turning around and ascending the steps. At the top, he tried to wave a final time, but the car had already relinquished its spot at the curb.

“Dude, nice bag and hoodie.” An oversized guy stopped next to Ritch and put a fist out to bump. “Mitch Simmons. From Texas.”

He was taller than Ritch and built like the proverbial brick shithouse. If he was not a wrestler or football player, he should have been. “Ritch Peterson. Washington, D.C.” The thought of saying he was from Miami did not cross his mind until he had spoken. The District just felt like home. “Bro, you’re huge.”

“Thanks, man. I hope the coach thinks so. I’ve put on a bunch of muscle since I met with him back in spring.”

In April, Ritch had skipped the opportunity to tour the Academy as an appointee, since he had done so as a high school junior. Additionally, he spent most of that month commuting between Washington and Miami. He helped coordinate his grandmother’s move to D.C. and spent spring break running around South Florida with a friend from school.

Mitch pointed at Ritch’s backpack. “You a military brat?”

“Sort off. Dad was in the Air Force and his last posting was at Southern Command in South Florida.” His bag had the military base’s name printed on it. At the moment, Ritch did not feel the need to mention his father had died

“What about the hoodie? Is that what he does for a living now?”

Emblazoned with the name of the Virginia flight school he had attended, Ritch belatedly realized he had too many logos on and around him. “Nah… That’s the place I learned to fly at.”

They had been moving in the direction everyone else was being herded when Mitch put a hand out to stop Ritch. Slack-jawed, the football player looked jealous. “You’ve taken flying lessons?”

“Yeah, got my pilot’s license the first day I was eligible for it.”

Daaamn!

 

Based on some expressions, Ritch assumed the short bus ride away from the drop off zone had been an eye opening experience for many. He was lucky Brett, and YouTube videos, had given him an inkling of what to expect.

Impeccably dressed guides—the Cadre of upperclassmen who would supervise the summer’s training—wearing blue berets, short-sleeved, light-blue shirts, and white gloves, had provided them with minimal information but stressed how to address superiors. Most of the time at a volume high enough to border on shouting.

“Yes, sir. Yes, ma’am. No, sir. No, ma’am. Sir, may I ask a question? Ma’am, may I make a statement?” In total, there were seven phrases to be memorized, fourteen when you took into account gender variables. The young man in sunglasses walked back and forth down the center aisle of the bus as he spoke. “Remember those and you may just make it through the day.”

Exiting the bus, they were directed to stand on blue shoe-outlines stenciled on a white background on the parking lot.

“Move it, basics!”

“Walk faster!”

“Do not run!”

“Can’t you get your feet properly aligned?”

“Hands at your sides!”

“What are you looking at, basic?”

Shouted commands came at them from multiple directions. It felt as if there were as many guides as new cadets.

“Are you going to look at me when I talk to you, basic?” The Cadet First Class stood so close, Ritch could feel her breath when she shouted.

“Yes, ma’am. Sorry, ma’am.” They had been instructed to stand still and keep their eyes forward, but apparently, they were supposed to look at anyone speaking to them. Not for the first time that day, Ritch wished the instructions had been clearer.

“I asked you why you’re wearing such a tight shirt, basic. It’s unprofessional.”

Ritch resisted the urge to look down at himself. He had taken off the hoodie, stuck it in his bag, and stood wearing a Ramstein Air Base t-shirt. His brother had outgrown it years before and passed it down. Threadbare after so many washes, it was one of Ritch’s favorites, but the woman was right. It was too tight on him after his latest growth burst.

“Sentimental reasons, ma’am. I was born there, ma’am.” Ritch tried not to smile. They wanted to rattle the newcomers, but he was not going to let anyone see him sweat. Like Brett had told him.

“Oh, so mommy or daddy are in the Air Force? You think you’re going to get preferential treatment because of that, basic?”

Ritch decided under different circumstances, he would have put the moves on her. After spanking her a bit for that comment. The dark skin glowed in the Colorado sunshine, and she had a rocking body.

“No, ma’am. I do not expect to be treated differently than my fellow cadets, ma’am.” His response apparently pleased her; Ritch was certain he saw a hint of a smile. Once again, he thanked Brett. The Marine had stressed how important it was to show solidarity with his fellow cadets. The Academy would expect them to bond and form cohesive units.

“So which one is it, basic? Your mommy or your daddy?”

He delivered his response in a softer, more somber tone. “Neither, ma’am. My father was a pilot, but he died five years ago.”

He was thankfully left alone after.

 

The Academy’s stated mission was to educate, train, and inspire men and women to become officers of character, motivated to lead the United States Air Force in service to the country. It promised four years of intellectual, physical, character, and leadership development. However, after the first day, Ritch felt as if the way they went about achieving the stated goals was to march. Or run. Or stand in proper order. The information overload, and the constant hurry up and wait process, left him exhausted. He collapsed and was asleep with no problem that evening. His final thought was he looked damn good in his new uniform.

Over the next six weeks, Ritch mentally thanked his fathers and his brother for pushing him to be physically fit. Working out was a way of life back home, and he counted his blessings each night. While he was tired and ached in the strangest of places, some of his fellow basics did not have it so easy. More than one had to take breaks while being berated by those leading their training.

“God, I miss my hair.” Maxwell Boyd, Ritch’s roommate for the summer, repeatedly rubbed a hand over the ginger stubble on his head. A few days after having it buzzed, there was no discernible growth. “And my beard!” Male basics received a traditional military in-processing haircut, using a one-and-a-half size clipper guard, and were required to remain clean-shaven.

Ritch chuckled. “I’m glad I always had a high-and-tight every summer. I usually let it grow over winter, but I don’t miss it.”

Upon arrival, basics were assigned to a BCT Squadron. Rooms were parceled out with either two or three cadets in each one. Ritch considered himself lucky to have scored a double. Having had his own room his entire life, the adjustment to sharing would not be easy. But then, the entire experience of being a cadet was new.

The military atmosphere at the Academy was maintained even in the cadet’s accommodations. The room was to be set up according to the Cadet Standards Instructions, with a place for everything, and a way to fold almost anything. Between the end of BCT and the start of the academic year, cadets would be assigned to rooms in their permanent squadron areas.

“Who you writing to today, Peterson?” Without phones or computers during the summer, basics had to rely on handwritten notes and letters to keep in touch with family and friends. They were expected to do so frequently.

Ritch had adopted the practice of writing one a day before going to bed. “My friend, Sasha, she’ll be a freshman at the University of Michigan this fall.”

“Friend or girlfriend?”

“Friend!” Ritch smirked. “Sasha Obama as my girlfriend would be rich.”

Boyd stopped what he was doing and stared at his roommate. “Obama? As in President Obama?”

“Yeah, his daughter. I went to school with her and Malia.”

Suuure…” Boyd slapped the air dismissively.

“Whatever, dude.”

“You’re not shitting me? Have you met him?” Boyd obviously meant the former president.

“Yeah… He wrote one of my recommendation letters.”

“Damn! Did you ever go to the White House?”

“A few times.” Ritch tried to give short answers, hoping his roommate would drop the subject. He regretted bringing up the Obama name.

“Have you met Trump?” Boyd slung new questions out as soon as Ritch answered the previous one.

“Dude, twenty questions? Nope, never met him. And even though he’s the Commander in Chief, I have no desire to do so. He’s not my favorite person.” He realized Boyd was not going to back off, so he might as well take the offensive. “But I’ve met Bill Clinton.” Ritch was not one to brag, but he had previously decided not to hide who he knew. He figured eventually it would come out. Once phones were allowed, and people started following him on social media, it would all become public knowledge.

Mouth and eyes open, Boyd stared in disbelief. “So you met Obama because you went to school with his daughters. What about Clinton? How’d you meet him?”

“My brother worked on Hilary’s campaign four years ago, and both of them were at his wedding.”

“Fuck, dude. I guess your family’s plugged. I never met anyone famous back home in Mansfield.” Boyd had already mentioned he hailed from the small Ohio town.

Ritch chuckled and shook his head. “It’s my brother who’s the celebrity magnet, bro. You should’ve seen guest’s faces during the reception when video greetings from people who couldn’t attend the wedding were shown. A couple of our friends were drooling while they watched J.Lo flirt on the giant screen.”

“He knows Jennifer Lopez?” Each revelation seemed to wet Boyd’s appetite for details. “Did you brother’s wife get upset?”

“No wife. He married a dude.”

Boyd looked shocked. “Wait, wait, wait. Wait just a fucking minute. You’re blowing my mind, Peterson. Your brother’s a fag?”

Ritch’s entire body tightened, he fisted his hands, and sat a little straighter in his chair. He hoped the guy was not a hater. “That’s homophobic and offensive, Maxwell. If either one of us was adopted and my brother was black, would you call him a nigger? The proper word’s gay. And yes, my brother and my brother-in-law are both gay.”

“Sorry, man. Sorry. I’m not a homophobe. Honestly. I’ve just never met any gay people.” The guy looked as apologetic as he sounded.

Ritch laughed while rolling his eyes. “That’s what you think. I have plenty of gay friends because of my brother, and most you’d never know weren’t heteros. I bet you’ve met a bunch of gay people and never realized it.”

 

“Okay, let’s talk about the Black Lives Matter movement and the street protests rocking our country.” Cadet First Class Claire Ross looked at the group of basics sitting in a circle around her. The C1C was conducting a session on diversity and inclusion as part of the incoming cadet’s classroom training. When nobody spoke up, she pointed at a female sitting a couple of chairs away from Ritch.

“Peaceful protests are part of the country’s history, ma’am. They’re an expression of free speech.” The woman sounded hesitant but kept her gaze firmly on the instructor.

Ross turned one hundred eighty degrees staring at each of her charges. “Diverging opinions?”

A tall, lanky guy raised his hand. “My grandfather said they remind him of the anti-war protests of the late sixties and seventies. They’re not really about free speech but violence. They’re organized by thugs intent on looting and destroying property.”

The time spent serving in his high school’s student government had loosened Ritch’s tongue. He did not think he was as eloquent as his brother, but was confident in his ability to argue a point he felt strongly about. “That’s not even close to being true. I completely disagree.”

Everyone’s eyes shifted again and settled on Ritch. Ross smirked. “Why is that, Peterson?”

“Because I’ve been part of a couple of marches in my life, most recently at the beginning of this month, and my experience doesn’t gel with that assessment. I was not intent on destruction or looting, and I don’t consider myself a thug.” Ritch shifted his gaze from the instructor to the lanky guy. “And by the way, calling someone a thug’s code for black, it’s used by racists and white nationalists, and it’s offensive.” A light-skinned black guy sitting across from Ritch gave him a discrete thumbs-up.

“Why did you take part in the protests?” C1C Ross had become more animated; she apparently enjoyed basics having differing opinions.

The guy who had accused protesters of being thugs did not look happy. Ritch tried to formulate his response so it would be clear and concise. “My parents have always said discrimination in any form is wrong, ma’am. Period. A person should be judged by their words and actions and not by their gender, skin color, nationality, or sexual orientation. Any decision or action not based on merit is just wrong.”

All those dinnertime conversations about politics and social issues, the ones Ritch always found boring and tried to ignore, had seeped into his subconscious without him realizing it.

“Anybody else?” Ross repeated her room scan. “Come on, basics. Being an Air Force officer’s more than flying or giving orders or pushing paper. You’re supposed to be leaders, and you need to articulate your position clearly when giving orders.”

“I agree with Peterson.” That came from the guy who had offered support with the thumbs-up.

“And why’s that, Rodriguez?”

Basic Cadet Federico Rodrigues glanced at Ritch for a moment and was rewarded with an encouraging nod. “I come from a mixed marriage. Although they’re both Cuban-Americans, my dad’s white and my mom’s black. Growing up in Hialeah, that’s a suburb of Miami, I didn’t have the darkest skin color in school. My friends were white, black, and Hispanic. And the way they reacted to social issues was different. I may not have experienced discrimination to the same degree some of my black friends did, but I faced some. Especially from the white kids.”

“Have you taken part in any demonstrations?”

The guy lowered his eyes and stared at the floor. “No, ma’am. I didn’t have the guts. I was scared if I did, it could hurt my position here at the Academy. Peterson has bigger balls than I do.” Realizing what he had said, Rodriguez belatedly added “Sorry, ma’am.”

The group tried hard not to laugh, fiercely staring at their instructor. It did not work for everyone and a few giggles and chuckles were heard. Cadet Ross ignored them and returned her attention to Ritch. “Do you also have friends who are black, Peterson? Were they the reason for your actions?”

“Yes and no, ma’am. My cousin married a black woman. His twin brother was a foster parent for a black teenager, and eventually adopted him. So concern for my relatives was primordial.” Ritch chuckled internally; at home, he would have been harassed for using quarter words. “A couple of my parents’ closest friends are black and so are a couple of my brother’s and my besties.”

“So personal experience and connections drove you.” Ross slowly nodded before shifting her gaze to encompass the other basics. “Anyone else?”

“Not me, ma’am. There weren’t a lot of blacks where I grew up. But Peterson left a couple of things out I’m sure influenced him.” Boyd Maxwell smirked when Ritch shook his head in a futile attempt to keep him quiet. “He didn’t mention he’s met President Obama. Or that he went to school with and is friends with his daughters.”

“Is that true, Peterson?” Cadet Ross sounded surprised. “You met our previous Commander-in-Chief?”

“Yes, ma’am.” Ritch tried not to look at anyone but decided he would murder Maxwell later for bringing it up.

“Hell, he’s been to the White House, and Obama wrote one of his recommendation letter for the Academy application.”

Ritch could not control himself. “You’re so dead.”

“Maxwell, next time you feel the need to reveal private information about a fellow cadet, don’t.” Ross’s professional veneer cracked; she chuckled. “Why’s that, Peterson? Why are you threatening a fellow basic?”

“Because I don’t want who my parents or I know to color the way others see me, ma’am. Yes, the President and his family are amongst the people I know who are black, but they weren’t that important in my decision to protest police brutality. My relatives were the primary motivation.”

“Interesting, Peterson, I may have to keep my eye on you.” Ross gave him a nearly imperceptible wink. “Okay, back to our discussion. As Air Force officers, you will interact with all kind of individuals. You already see it in this room. Rodriguez and Peterson have shared their situations, which are unique to them. Let’s go around the room now. I want to hear from each of you. Peterson’s experiences are definitely not the norm, so let’s talk about what yours have been when dealing with racial minorities.”

 

“Peterson, Rodriguez, over here.” Historically, most Academy appointees had at least a basic swimming ability. During BCT, aquatic screenings took place to evaluate proficiency and determine who would require placement in swim classes. Cadet First Class Nicole Baxter was part of the team assessing Ritch’s squadron. “The two of you were pretty good out there.”

“Thank you, ma’am.” The cadets’ reply was simultaneous.

“Either one of you ever compete in the pool?”

“No, ma’am.” The synchronized answers were apparently funny to Baxter; she smirked.

“Okay, one at a time. Peterson, where did you learn how to swim?”

“Ma’am, my mother taught me. She grew up in Miami and was an avid swimmer. My father’s final posting was with Southern Command in Doral, Florida. We had a pool in our backyard and my dad owned a boat. Growing up, I spent a lot of time in the water.”

“What about you, Rodriguez?” When Baxter turned her eyes to the other basic, Ritch did as well. Rodriguez had a huge grin on his face.

“The YMCA, ma’am. I’m from South Florida too. I learned how to swim when I was a little kid and spent a lot of time in the pool at the apartment complex.”

Baxter’s smirk turned into a smile. “Figures the two of you would be from Florida. You guys are decent, and you could improve with coaching. I want you to consider going out for the swim team.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Ritch’s reply came a fraction of a second after his fellow basic’s.

“You hesitated, Peterson. Why?”

“May I speak frankly, ma’am?”

“Please.”

“I’m not sure I’d have the time, ma’am. I’ll be part of the boxing team, and the season runs most of the academic year. I’d also like to join the ski and aviation clubs. I want to take advantage of being in Colorado to hit the slopes frequently. Since I have a private pilot’s license, I’d like to get time in the air whenever I can.”

“Understood, Peterson. Although we all need to stretch ourselves, over commitment could result in substandard performance. Rodriguez, do you have the time and interest?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“I’ll be in touch about tryouts. In the meantime, become friendly with Peterson. Have him give you pointers in the weight room.” Her eyes raked over the lanky guy’s body. “You’re sleek, but your upper body could use more muscle. Well done, basics.”

“Thank you, ma’am.”

After his first meeting with the team, Fred mentioned Cadet First Class Nicole Baxter was not only a swimmer for the Air Force, but had barely missed making the United States Olympic Team.

 

The first weeks of BCT ended on Field Day. Relay races, tug-of-war competitions, group running while carrying wooden logs, and similar activities marked the final day on campus before marching to Jack’s Valley. The 3,300-acre training complex on Academy grounds would be home while conducting field exercises.

“Jesus! This thing stinks!” Mitch Simmons, the Texas basic Ritch had met at arrival, turned his face away from the olive canvas and grimaced.

“The tent’s probably older than we are, Simmons. It smells like years of cadets pissing on it.” Ritch pulled on the edge of the tent he and his companions were attempting to erect. It would be home for the coming weeks.

“You’re a sick pup, Peterson.”

Hot during the day and cold at night, the majority of basics constantly complained about their situation to each other. Nobody dared speak up in front of the Cadre. Some, who claimed to have camping experience from years in the Boy Scouts, relished the opportunity to share their knowledge about roughing it.

Ritch had gone camping with family and friends, but it had always been in pristine natural surroundings with new tents and plenty of luxuries. “I wanted to join the Air Force so I could fly jets. If I’d been interested in marching and camping, I would’ve become a Marine.” He recalled Brett’s words that the discomfort would be temporary as a way of coping.

In a typical jock move, Mitch slapped his ass. “Don’t let them hear you complain about field maneuvers, Peterson. It could get all of us in trouble.”

 

All the courses they struggled through had one thing in common: dirt. Whether crawling under barbed wire wearing a helmet and carrying a rifle, or sweeping the space in front of the tent with a shovel, a cloud of dust surrounding everything was a constant.

One activity Ritch enjoyed was the shooting range. Although he had visited one several times with his fathers and brother, this was a different experience. Outdoors and with a rifle instead of a handgun, he felt at peace lying on the ground.

He wiggled his ass trying to get comfortable, adjusted his eye protection, and aimed at the target. His first shot was high and to the right of the bullseye. He recalibrated his aim and the next one hit inside the outer circle. One more modification, and the bullet hit the edge of the dark, inner circle. A smile creased his face as at least half of the subsequent shots struck the target’s center. Small victories like this were welcome and made him momentarily forget the aches and exhaustion.

YouTube videos he had watched, and all the accounts of BCT he had read online, had given Ritch an idea of what to expect, but had not adequately prepared him for the experience. Hearing tent-mates cry themselves to sleep jolted him. Those not in as good physical condition as him suffered the most. One female basic quit on their second day at Jack’s Valley. Instead of discouraging him, the departure strengthened his resolve. He would survive the challenge. All he had to do was keep in mind his ultimate goal: Breaking the sound barrier while in control of a jet.

 

The beginning of BCT was known as I-Day for in-processing; in typical military fashion, graduation from the summer program was also referred to by an acronym. A-Day was marked by the Acceptance Parade. During the event, cadets received their fourth-class shoulder boards to recognize completing BCT, and to signify their acceptance into the Cadet Wing. The parade took place on Stillman Field in early August.

Soon after, phones confiscated on their first day were returned. Ritch’s first call, once it was charged, was to his parents.

“RITCHIE!” Brett’s shout was so loud Ritch had to pull the phone away from his ear. “You done?”

“I am for now, sir. Only four more years to go.”

“Asshole! Don’t call me sir. Hang on, let me put you on speaker before your other dad kills me.”

“Hey, Ritch. Congratulations, buddy.” César must have been smiling based on his tone. “Well done. Did you get all the mail we sent you?”

“Thanks, Dad. Yes, I did. Sorry I didn’t write you guys more, but I was dead tired most nights and only got to reply to one person each time. I was blown away by how many letters and cards I got.”

“You can thank Brett for that. He cajoled your friends and ours into doing it. The fact he threatened bodily harm if he found out they hadn’t may have had something to do with it.”

Ritch smiled at the thought of the at times gruff Marine convincing everyone to write. “It worked. I had as much or more mail than anyone else.”

“Good. Guess I won’t have to break any arms.” There may have been a note of disappointment in Brett’s tone. “Hang on one second. I’m pretty sure Rod and Taisha want to say hello.”

“If you haven’t figured it out, we’re still in the office.” César’s comment reminded Ritch about the time difference between the Rocky Mountains and the East Coast. He would have to keep it in mind now he was able to make calls again. “Hey, text me if there’s anything else you want us to bring you when we come over at the end of the month.”

“I will.”

After a brief conversation with his cousin and his wife, Ritch made a call to his brother’s house. He assumed CJ and Owen were still at work, and he would call again later. But he wanted to talk to his grandmother and maybe say hello to his niece. Even if the three-month old would have no idea what was going on.

 

During their initial visit to the Academy the previous year, Brett and César had made reservations at the Broadmoor Hotel for Labor Day 2020. Alerted to Parent’s Weekend while watching a film on cadet life at the Barry Goldwater Visitors Center, they had booked rooms. Ritch recalled assuring them at the time he would definitely be applying. If he had not been accepted, canceling would have been easy. There was usually a scarcity of lodging in Colorado Springs for big Academy events.

The salute Ritch gave his fathers was textbook crisp. “Cadet Fourth Class Richard Peterson reporting as ordered, Dads.”

“Asshole!” Brett spread his arms and smiled. “Come give me a hug and a kiss, you little shit.”

Delighted to see the two men again, Ritch melted into the Marine’s arms and noisily smacked his lips against the man’s face before repeating the procedure with César. “It’s so good to see you, guys.”

Brett and César had landed in Denver late afternoon the previous day. Renting a car, they drove to Colorado Springs and checked into their room.

On Friday morning, they entered the Air Base and found their way to Stillman Field. They watched the Wings of Blue parachute, glider, and powered flight teams demonstrate cadet-led aviation stunts. The group also coordinated some of the leadership programs offered during the four years the visitors’ sons and daughters would spend at the Academy. Ritch laughed when Brett complained he and César had strained their eyes during the Cadet Wing Parade, trying to discern which of the hundreds of cadets was theirs.

“Happy belated birthday, kiddo.” Brett handed Ritch a small, gift-wrapped package while grinning.

Ritch had turned eighteen in early July and celebrated by washing off the mud covering him after a day of crawling through puddles. “Thanks.” He tore off the paper and opened the box to find his forgotten retainer inside. The laughter came unbidden. “Awesome! Did you guys bring the rest of the stuff I left in Vail?”

“Sorry, buddy, we didn’t make it to Vail this trip. We called the dentist and ordered you a new retainer.” César’s eyes constantly shifted to the cadet standing a couple of steps behind and to the side of Ritch. “At the last minute, a company rented it for two weeks for some kind of executive retreat.”

Ritch’s disappointment was obvious. “Damn. Oh well, guess I won’t be joining the Ski Club in any outings this fall.”

“Not so fast, flyboy,” Brett placed a hand on his son’s shoulder and gave him a shake. “We knew that was what you were interested in and decided we would treat you. Your other birthday present’s gonna be new ski clothes, boots, and board. We’ll go shopping sometime this weekend.”

“Excellent.” His disappointment dealt with, Ritch turned to the cadet who had followed him. “Get over here, Bender.” He had previously told the young man he had two fathers so there was no awkward moment. He did notice a handful of basics staring at them when he greeted his parents. “Dads, this is Will Bender. He’ll be my roommate for the next two years.” Once assigned rooms, C4Cs retained the placement until the upper classman squadron shuffle right before junior year. “Will, my parents. César Abelló and Captain Brett Davenport. Don’t hold the fact he’s a measly Marine against him.”

“You, little shit. You’re not going to make it to graduation at this rate,” Brett threw a punch at his son’s arm but missed when Ritch adroitly stepped out of the way.

Bender saluted Brett and offered César a hand. “It’s an honor to meet you, Captain. You too, sir.”

While César shook the proffered hand, Brett rolled his eyes. “Enough with the saluting, Cadet. You don’t see me wearing a uniform, do you? Nobody else knows I’m a Marine, and we’ll keep it that way for now.”

Although there were activities scheduled for visitors the entire weekend, César and Brett had told their son they had little interest in touring campus facilities again or sitting in seminars to find what military life while in school and after was like. Brett knew from personal experience, and César had a pretty good idea after a dozen years with the Marine.

“We’ll stick around today until they release you.” Brett knew that wouldn’t happen until the afternoon. “I’m hungry, where’s the chow line?”

“Mitchell Hall. I bought lunch tickets for you guys.” Ritch knew his roommate was a more sedate person than his family and hoped Will could deal with the rambunctious way Brett acted most of the time. “Dads, Will’s parents couldn’t make it down, so I invited him to hang with us this weekend. Hope you don’t mind.”

“Fine by me. But if we don’t go get food now, I’ll drag César away and head back to the hotel. I’m sure we can find something to do until you two can join us.”

“Jarhead! Pay no attention to him, Will. So, where are you from?” César draped an arm around Bender’s shoulders and the two followed Brett and Ritch.

“Wyoming, sir. My parents live right outside Casper.”

From asking what his parents did to where he had gone to high school, César’s question were typical of a parent meeting a child’s friend for the first time.

“My dad’s an insurance salesman, sir. My mom teaches history in high school. The same one I went to.”

When Ritch and Will excused themselves to return to Vanderberg Hall, their dormitory building, they suggested the fathers browse through the exhibits and information booths. “Kill some time and then ask for directions to Vandy. Someone will escort you.” Fourth Classers were required to be in their room to greet visitors during the open house. Finally, at exactly 4:30 pm, they were allowed to leave the Academy with their guests.

“Are you guys staying with us at the hotel tonight?” César sat at Ritch’s desk, staring at the family pictures he had printed on plain paper and stuck to the corkboard above it. “The second room we got has two beds in it. Plenty of space for both of you.”

Ritch shook his head. “Not tonight, Dads. Since tomorrow’s the football game, we want to hang around with our squadron.”

“Come on, guys. Let’s get out of here. This place reminds me too much of living in barracks. Even if it looks like a five-star hotel instead of what we poor Marines had.”

“Cry me a river, Jarhead.” César propelled his husband out the door. “We were thinking of sushi for dinner tonight, Will. Is that okay with you?”

“Sure, sir. That would be a big change from what we normally get here.” He eventually admitted he had never eaten raw fish before but had enjoyed the experience.

 

The Air Force Falcons defeated Duquesne University the following day. Winning the first game of the year had everyone in good spirits. Afterwards, Will and Ritch carried backpacks with a change of clothes, and left the Academy grounds with Brett and César. When they returned to base on Monday, Ritch had new ski gear and both cadets had received a parting gift from the Washington couple.

“I asked around after seeing the pitiful pictures on your board, Ritch. We would have gotten you a bigger one, but realized desk space’s limited.” They had purchased identical electronic frames for the cadets. “We figured Will could use one too. You can download pictures from your phone or from the cloud. It can handle about 8,000.”

“Thank you, sir. You didn’t have to buy me anything. You and the Captain have already been more than generous this weekend.”

“Of course we didn’t have to, but we wanted to.” Brett was his usual flippant self. “You better get used to our ways, Cadet. You’re stuck with our son for at least the next two years, so you’re stuck with us too.”

Copyright © 2021 Carlos Hazday; All Rights Reserved.
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My thanks to Mann Ramblings, Parker Owens, and WolfM for their assistance. The story is better that it would have been without their assistance.

Story Discussion Topic

Welcome to the discussion thread for CJ’s series. All things CJ are fair game, I simply ask you be respectful of others. I will actively participate in the discussion. Ask questions, speculate about what’s coming, or bitch about what happened. We’re now open for business!    

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Chapter Comments



5 hours ago, Butcher56 said:

Great chapter. Ritch seems to be settling in for the next 4 years as an Airforce cadet having made it through the basic training part of his training. Now it’s all about learning about being an officer and other things they need to know about. Can’t wait to read the next chapter. 

Not sure if he'll survive 4 years yet. It's been less than four months so far. LOL

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5 hours ago, Daddydavek said:

The two young cadets will face much in the next two years.  The Academy is intense. 

Hopefully, I'll be able to show just how intense. We now the physical demands are great, but the psychological pressures are just as hard. The classroom portion of this chapter is fictional, but the themes addressed do get air time during BCT and later during their 4 years

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1 hour ago, WolfM said:

I like the way the chapter turned out. Great job!

You read this one so long ago I'm surprised you even remember anything. Then again you're younger than I am so your memory's better!

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I have a feeling this will be my most fav Spinoff, which is exciting!

Ritchie's preparatory programme is paying off.

And really? Will Bender. Is he?

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