33FTS’ short trip to USAFA leaves long memories for pilot grads

  • Published
  • By David Poe
  • 71st Flying Training Wing Public Affairs
A government van slid through midday traffic in uptown Colorado Springs, Sept. 11.

Inside, more than a dozen 33rd Flying Training Squadron instructor pilots chattered about the cloud cover that kept them from landing on the U.S. Air Force Academy's airfield and forced them to land at the nearby Colorado Springs Municipal Airport. Amongst the sky watching, was the same jocularity that seems to happen when two or more pilots inhabit a single space.

Capt. Tyler Ringwald watched the clouds out of the back window and wondered if they'd break before the Sept. 11 memorial ceremony at the academy. The team was in town to perform a "missing man" formation flyby during the memorial.

The class of 2011 USAFA graduate knows Colorado Springs well. He was introduced to his wife here while she was going to the University of Colorado campus, which is south of USAFA, and returned here a lot after graduation while she stayed to get her nursing degree.

But, with all of those visits to Colorado Springs, Ringwald said the day's visit to the academy was only one of a few he's made since graduation. He said being only four years removed from the grind of cadet life, he's only now starting to find sentimental feelings about his alma mater.

"After a couple of years, you start to appreciate Colorado Springs and what it meant to be a cadet here," he said over a slice of Boriello Brothers pizza as the Dragons filled in three booths in the popular cadet hangout.

Capt. Scott Addy, who after growing up a military brat, spent his senior year of high school in Colorado Springs and was able to meet up with his mother for the crew's short time on the ground.

Another academy grad, Addy shared a vegetarian pizza with his mother at mid-table and echoed Ringwald's thoughts on being proud of what he had accomplished at USAFA, but still not being in a rush to get back to a place that had been so demanding of him.

"Freshman year there's a lot of good and bad things obviously, but I made a lot of good friendships," Addy said. "I was in Guam earlier this year and ran into a guy who I was a freshman with here back in 2007."

Although landing at Colorado Springs kept them from formally visiting campus, the crew insisted on cramming a visit to the Cadet Chapel and The Terrazzo to their itinerary, two staples of any Air Force Academy visit. 

"This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do something like this," Ringwald said when they arrived on campus. "Not everyone (in the group) has been to Colorado Springs."

Ringwald has several T-6 landings at the academy field under his belt and was only one of two on the trip who had ever landed on campus, instead of nearby Colorado Springs.

During their stop, the skies finally opened and the sun shined on the pilots as they looked down onto the USAFA quad from the chapel level. Ringwald, Addy and fellow graduate 1st Lt. Tim Martinelli, seemed to find each other among the larger group as they watched the hordes of cadets hustle from building-to-building.

"Who knows if I would have been able to become a pilot had I not gone to the academy?" Addy said, who dreamed of being a pilot while growing up on Air Force bases worldwide. "I could never fully put into words what it meant to come here."

Ringwald also reflected a bit as a bugle call sounded in the distance.

"Coming in, I didn't know anything about the military - I can't believe it's only been four years," he said. "I knew I wanted to fly, so I knew that coming here was going to give me that chance as long as I worked hard. The (USAFA) holds our core values high. I'd like to say that they've stuck with me."

As Ringwald and Addy were ushered south toward the T-6s waiting for them at Colorado Springs, the distance between them and USAFA lengthened again, but maybe on Sept. 11, the spaces in their memories between them and their academy may have shortened a bit. 

"It's fun to go back and see what it's like there now - the academy is always doing new and different things," said Addy. "Doing the missing man already has a lot of meaning behind it and to do it over the place from where I graduated - a place that has a lot of respect in the first place -- is special."