Canton man’s dream taking flight with Air Force wings

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN CYNTHIA MARTENS
Some children dream of what they want to be when they grow up. Fifteen years ago, young Aaron Bandy knew he wanted to be a pilot.

“I’ve wanted to fly since I was 5 years old,” said Bandy, 20, of Canton.

As a sophomore at Canton-Galva High School, Bandy and dad Richard sat down at the family kitchen table on their 80-acre homestead in rural Canton and had a father-son talk.

“He asked me what I wanted to do for my career in life,” Bandy said.

An outstanding student at CGHS, Bandy told his father he still dreamed of becoming a pilot.

“He said, ‘Well, let’s look at the options.’ And the Air Force Academy was the best option to fulfill that dream. That’s what started the ball rolling my sophomore year.”

There must have been a heavy dose of realism at that kitchen table, because the admission standards set by the academy are high.

“The actual number that apply to the Air Force Academy is about 40,000, and they accept about 1,200,” Bandy said of the yearly quota.

“So it’s difficult to get into. They say to apply the beginning of your senior year so you can get all the paperwork done and all the interviews. Because they really want to know who they’re bringing in.”

Now in his third year of a four-year curriculum, Bandy is encouraging his younger brother, Adam, who wants to follow his lead. Adam, a senior at CGHS is applying to join his brother-as a cadet in the United States Air Force Academy near Colorado Springs, Colo.

Dad Richard, a pumper in the oil fields, works at Bandy Truck & Supply Inc. of Canton, and mom Gail is employed at the Roxbury Bank. In addition to Aaron and Adam, the couple have one younger son, Kelly, a junior at CGHS.

“My family’s really supported me throughout this endeavor,” Bandy said. “They’re proud.”

Bandy fits the profile of a cadet at the academy.

“The academy seeks to enroll students of high-moral character who have a well-rounded background of academic, leadership and athletic preparation in addition to the motivation and potential to successfully complete the academy’s four-year program,” according to the admissions philosophy listed on the Website www.usaf.af.mil.

When he graduated from CGHS in 2001, Bandy had a grade-point- average of about 3.95.

“I was salutatorian,” he said. “I got a B in Spanish my sophomore year. That was my only B.”

He was in the National Honor Society for three years, and he also played football, basketball and ran track. His best sport was football.

“I played offensive and defensive line on varsity for four years,” Bandy said.

To be accepted into the academy is to be offered an appointment.

“In my sophomore year, I got some information through the high school counselor and made some phone calls,” Bandy said. “The Air Force sent me a big packet of paperwork to fill out.”

The admission’s board considers a student’s academic performance in high school or preparatory school, and SAT/ACT scores. This academic composite comprises 60 percent of the cadet’s admission score for consideration.

Participation in athletic and non-athletic extracurricular activities is 20 percent. And an admission’s panel-taking into consideration an interview with a liaison-officer, a writing sample and the student’s overall record-is the final 20 percent of the composite score.

Additional factors for selection are the results of physical-aptitude examinations, medical qualifications, the absence of any criminal violations and the recommendation of government officials.

Bandy was interviewed by representatives from the offices of State Sen. Pat Roberts, State Sen. Sam Brownback and United States Congressman Jerry Moran.

“They really get to know you,” Bandy said. “They want to know who they’re nominating.”

The acceptance letter from the academy was delivered to his doorstep in January, 2001.

“I was excited,” Bandy said. “That was my goal for the two years through high school. It was a dream come true.”

Bandy’s appointment includes a four-year accredited academic program of 96 core semester hours upon graduation-48 semester hours in engineering and basic sciences, 37 semester hours in humanities and social sciences, six semester hours of military strategic studies and five semester hours of physical-education courses. He will also accumulate a total of 64 semester hours toward his major.

Choosing from a list of 32 academic-major options, Bandy opted for a degree in civil engineering upon graduation.

When he graduates in 2005, he will be a second lieutenant in the USAF, and all cadets are committed to five years of military service in the United States Air Force.

The cadets receive room, board, education, a stipend and spending money.

“You don’t have to pay anything to go the Air Force Academy,” he said. “It’s a great deal. You’re getting four years, 160 credit hours, without costing you anything.”

Basic training for new cadets begins in June.

“You don’t see your family again until they come up in August,” Bandy said. “I suppose you get a little homesick, but it’s such a new environment and new opportunities that you get really caught up in what you’re doing.”

His day begins when he wakes up at 6:15 a.m., and reveille is at 6:30 a.m. After military-training exercises, cadets eat breakfast at 7 a.m. in the cafeteria, and first-period classes start at 7:30 a.m. Lunch is at 11:30 a.m.

“You get in military formation and march to lunch,” Bandy said.

Classes, athletic programs or extra-curricular activities continue through the day, and the last class is over at 4 p.m. Following dinner, Bandy studies and generally goes to bed by 11 p.m.

“As far as school, college is pretty tough no matter where you go,” Bandy said.

“As far as being what I expected, you’re just really busy. Canton-Galva really prepared me for the academic challenges at the Air Force Academy.”

Free time is reserved for the weekends, although some weekends involve military-training exercises.

“You get really good at time management,” Bandy said. “You get more efficient at homework.”

But he also budgets time for working out at the gym and snow skiing in the mountains of Colorado.

As a tribute to his success in the academy, Bandy was chosen to be a glider-instructor this year-an extra-curricular activity.

In the USAFA Soar-For-All program, Bandy was selected from about 400 applicants to become one of 95 instructors. The program is designed to form a foundation for a future career in aviation.

“This is just something I like to do,” Bandy said.

Similar to other colleges, the academy is divided into two semesters and summer break.

But summer break includes military programs and about three weeks off total.

That means that Bandy looks forward to the holidays, such as Christmas and Thanksgiving.

Qualifying with a current GPA of 3.48, Bandy will participate in a GrassRoots program during Thanksgiving break. He will come home and speak before students and faculty at three area schools, including his alma matter, CGHS, on Nov. 24.

What will he tell them?

“Follow your dreams,” Bandy said. “If your dream is to fly, just be determined. Put your eyes to the horizon and go for your dream.”

And Bandy’s own dream leads to the next step, to be accepted into pilot training after graduation.

“Pilot training lasts for about a year,” he said. “Then, you get your Air Force Wings, and you’re a pilot. To be a pilot, it’s a 10-year commitment after you graduate from the Air Force Academy.”

And what aircraft does he have his sights on?

“Hopefully the F-15,” Bandy said. “That’s the goal.”

But for the next two years, Bandy is content to be among others who share his goals.

“There are a lot of awesome people in the military,” Bandy said. “People of high character, really intelligent and motivated to serve in the armed forces.

“Every morning, I wake up, I’m glad I’m here, and I’m glad I’m serving my country in the armed forces. I just can’t wait to graduate and get in the operational side-to get into the Air Force and serve my country.”

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