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Cadet takes OAF lessons on diversity home to Colombia

  • Published
  • By Cadet Cristina Pawlica and Staff Sgt. Tonnette Thompson
  • 82nd Training Wing Public Affairs
The U.S. Air Force Academy sponsors the training of cadets from allied Air Forces around the world in an effort to build international relationships.

In the most recent wave of Academy cadets to serve internships at Sheppard for Operation Air Force, one such sponsored cadet was a member of the Colombian Air Force. Cadet Angelica Plazas, a native of the country, worked with the 361st Training Squadron.

"She was awesome, the most interested, enthusiastic cadet I've seen through here in a while," said Capt. Daniel Dittrich, 361st TRS weapons flight commander.

While working with the 361st TRS, Cadet Plazas became qualified in recognizing danger zones, familiarized herself with aircraft propulsion and absorbed as much information as they could give her about F-15s and A-10s.

"In the few days we had her here, she just took it all in like a sponge," Captain Dittrich said.

With Operation Air Force, the cadets may or may not be paired up with squadrons that have commonality with the cadets' interests. However, in Cadet Plazas's case, the opportunity to learn about aircraft was right up her alley, as she plans to fly them one day.

"I want to fly the Kfir fighters once I finish the Academy," Cadet Plazas said.

Cadet Plazas is continuing a standing tradition in her family. Her grandfather served in the Air Force, and her father retired from the CAF as a colonel. Her father also served the CAF as a pilot, the inspiration for Cadet Plazas's career choice.

Although the rules concerning fraternization between male and female cadets is more strict with the CAF, with no dating and separate dorm buildings, Cadet Plazas finds no discrimination or difference in treatment based on her sex.

"I'm treated and trained like everyone else," she said.

Soon after her training with the USAFA began, the cadet noted the change in class structure. Whereas with the Colombian Air Force cadets were purposely separated based on their year of training, the USAFA allows more interaction between cadets of different levels of education.

The cadet has also noticed a few differences in discipline. Whereas with the USAFA it's considered everyone's job to correct a cadet when needed, Cadet Plazas is used to an environment where only certain individuals have that right.

"With the Colombian Air Force, only the seniors can train freshmen or lowerclassmen," Cadet Plazas said, referring to an order to do pushups as punishment for wrongdoing. "If a cadet does something really bad, the whole class will train with the senior cadet of the day at (9 p.m.)."

By far, the biggest challenge Cadet Plazas said she faced is the language barrier.

"My English is not so good," she admitted, "so sometimes when people are yelling at me really fast, I can't understand what they're telling me."

Still, gaining a better understanding of others is one of the best lessons Cadet Plazas will take from the USAFA.

"I get to study with others, not just Colombians," she said. "With Americans and other nationalities, I get to hear different viewpoints, learn about other cultures and backgrounds. I'm glad for it."

The ability for women to serve in the CAF is only a recent development: females were integrated into the CAF Academy in 1997. The application process for entrance into the CAF is a thorough one, with not only academic, athletic and medical tests required, but also interviews, a review board and even an investigation of the applicant's home and family.