Mount Si grad earning Air Force academy wings

Mount Si grad Chad Hennig is pursuing a career in the cockpit at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo. He will test his survival skills in combat training. - Courtesy photo
Mount Si grad Chad Hennig is pursuing a career in the cockpit at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo. He will test his survival skills in combat training.
— image credit: Courtesy photo

Having earned his place at the United States Air Force Academy, 19-year-old Mount Si grad Chad Hennig is about to face his greatest challenge yet.

Hennig, who is on the dean’s list at the Colorado Springs, Colo., academy, will face Combat Survival Training this summer, testing his navigation, evasion and survival skills.

This past month, though, he made it through a different kind of challenge — ‘Recognition,’ the rite of passage that all the academy’s freshmen face.

“Life as a freshman is hard,” said Hennig, who is from North Bend. “It’s not supposed to be much fun. It’s always frustrating. Sleeping and weekends are the best things to look forward to.”

Hennig’s freshman birthday passed by unnoticed — which is a good thing. That’s because Basic Cadet Training includes “birthday presents” from upperclassmen including demands for plenty of pushups.

At the Recognition ceremony, freshman cadets spent three days proving themselves to upperclassmen and showing them what they had learned throughout the year. Afterwards, they gained almost all their cadet privileges, such as being able to listen to music, watch movies and wear backpacks.

Now, Hennig is readying himself for Combat Survival Training as best he can.

“The most important thing to get through it is to keep up the motivation,to keep pressing on even though I’m starving and tired,” he said.

Pilot’s wings

Hennig’s final goal is to earn a pilot slot and continue flight training after graduating. Henning said he’d be happy with any flight assignment, cargo, fighters or bombers — any job except flying in circles all day in an air tanker.

“Ever since I can remember, I was intrigued with flying,” he said. “I had dreamed about becoming an airliner pilot, but then I found out about the military side of aviation, and that just sucked me in.”

Henning’s grandparents founded the Regal Air flight school, where he first earned his chops. Hennig started training in July of 2005, with a flight that lasted 30 minutes. Since then, he’s logged over 85 hours of flight time. Hennig passed his check ride eight days before leaving for basic training.

“I cut it close,” he said. “It took me so long, in part, due to the Northwest weather.” Rainy conditions had restricted Hennig’s ability to fly.

All his training paid off, though. Hennig said his flight instructor congratulated him as being one of the best young pilots he’d met.

In training

Basic Cadet Training was the hardest thing Hennig has ever done.

“Words don’t do the Academy justice,” Hennig said. “It is an entirely unique experience, one you can’t find anywhere else.”

First, Hennig spent time in the Cadet Area, learning about basic military customs, and attending countless briefings on expectations and heritage.

Then, he marched out to a place called Jack’s Valley, sleeping in cots and tents, and taking part in team building and physical fitness activities.

Hennig described it as six weeks of being a nobody, and being told what to do all the time.

“I took everyday meal by meal, and eventually I found myself.”

One of the best parts of his week are “Spirit Missions,” done by cadets to bolster morale “and prove to the other squadrons that yours is the best,” Hennig said.

His group went to another group’s area and graffitied the walls and floors with squadron logos

The catch was that the graffiti needed to be cleaned up by Hennig’s squad within 24 hours.

“But it’s entirely worth it,” he said.

Code of honor

Hennig is fascinated by the academy’s code of honor.

“We will not lie, steal or cheat, nor tolerate among us anyone who does. Furthermore, I resolve to do my duty and to live honorably, so help me God,” he said.

Cadets are bound to the code, and failure to follow it leads quickly to disenrollment.

“I’d say that it is the most important thing here,” he said. “It gives all cadets a common bond.”

Hennig feels that, despite the hurdles and challenges, the academy is where he belongs.

“There is nowhere else I would rather be,” he said. “This place is truly one of a kind.”

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