After high school, I visit an Air Force recruiter only to learn my eyesight would prevent me from flying for the Air Force. With that, I’ve always had an affinity and admiration for this particular military branch and its members. I’m excited to visit what might have been if only I had been smarter and had better vision; the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.
Both a military base and a Universty, the academy and small airport rests at the foot of the Rampart Range of the Rockie Mountains. Today, the airstrip is buzzing with glider plane traffic and skydivers. I already feel at home.
After a brief security check and vehicle search, it’s off to the visitor center. The center offers several static displays and a large gift shop. The adjacent theater shows a 21-minute film on a cadets’ first year at the academy. Watching the young cadet exiting the bus during in-processing under the yelling of superiors through to the cap toss and blue angle flyover at graduation is a heartwarming tribute to all who have graduated the academy. I ignore the gift shop and head towards the main event, The Chapel.
Going to the Chapel
A short uphill trail from the visitor center leads to the striking chapel, the most visited man-made tourist attraction in Colorado. I’m really excited to see this chapel as its (17) 150-foot spires are striking and the design keeping perfectly with an aeronautical theme. Approaching the chapel, I see many separate troops marching in unison across the terrazzo below. The red-capped 1st-year cadets are required to earn their lunch by performing these formations daily.
I’m not sure why this is so exciting but I’m mesmerized by the rhythmic stomping and shuffling of the footsteps and the Sargent calls resonating and lofting up to the observation deck.
As the troops disappear into the various surrounding buildings, my attention is back on the chapel. The place is just an engineering marvel. Though construction is completed in 1963 its design is timeless.
The most striking aspect of the Chapel is its row of seventeen spires. The original design called for twenty-one spires, but this number was reduced due to budget issues. The structure is a tubular steel frame of 100 identical tetrahedrons, each 75 feet long, weighing five tons, and enclosed with aluminum panels. The panels were fabricated in Missouri and shipped by rail to the site. The tetrahedrons are spaced a foot apart, creating gaps in the framework that are filled with 1-inch-thick colored glass.
This glass is a dark blue toward the rear of the church and becomes yellow and brighter as you near the altar. The designer wanted walking into the Chapel to represent coming in from the darkness of the world into the light of God. I think he nailed it.
The Cadet Chapel serves as an all-faith center of worship for cadets and includes Protestant, Catholic, Jewish and Buddhist chapels, an All-Faiths Room, and a Falcon Circle, each with its own entrance. The Chapel is capable of holding services in all rooms at one time.
I leave the Chapel and drive around the grounds to see the football stadium. Something about the small venue in what is almost a college campus atmosphere is just endearing. I would love to return in the Fall and watch an actual game here.
Been there, done that, got the T-Shirt.
In fact, after walking around the football stadium I fill with patriotism and decide to adopt the Falcons as my new team. Granted, being from Kentucky, I’m not giving up much. I proceed back to the visitor centers gift shop to get some fan gear to show my new profound love and support for MY team. Much to my dismay, the fan shop is now closed for inventory. No big deal, I’m a loyal fan and I’ll be in town a while longer so returning won’t be a big deal…..
Been there, done that, got the T-Shirt (Take 2)
I return 2 days later, on the 4th of July, excited that there may be a special event going on. I head immediately back to the terrazzo to watch a new set of marching drills. This time with weapons. I anticipate a rogue cadet to break out in “Boomshakalaka” and “That’s the fact Jack” ala Stripes. But no such outburst today.
Watching the commitment these men and woman have made confirm my new fandom. Even more excited about my new team, I return to the gift shop for my new fan apparel. Only to see a sign that the shop is closed and transitioning to new management.
Been there, done that, got the T-Shirt (Take 3)
I go through the security gate a 3rd time, wondering if I should have a VIP pass by now. No fooling around this time. I beeline for the gift shop and it’s open. The selection is overwhelming and I finally settle on THE shirt. Waiting in line takes forever. Finally, at the checkout, I’m the Charlie Brown to Lucy’s football. “Sorry, sir. This shirt is not in inventory and we can’t scan it or sell it to you”. What?!? ” There’s a price tag right there”, I counter. “Sorry, sir its a new system”
This dumbfounds me and I leave empty-handed again. My fan loyalty is teetering now. How can I support my team without a T-Shirt? I relay this story to my friend who lives nearby and she is even more indignant than I. She later lets me know that she spoke with the manager and they WILL have a shirt for me if I come back.
Been there, done that, got the T-Shirt. (Take 4)
My own personal Ground Hogs day, back through the security checkpoint, past the sports fields, up the steps into the visitor center and now, what. The rack of THE shirts is AWOL. All of them, the whole rack, nothing, nada. Sheepishly, I approach the counter and ask if by chance there is a dark blue academy shirt set aside. I’ll admit my enthusiasm for my new team has wained by now. When she returns with the shirt I covet, I purchase out of a sense of obligation.
I take one more loop through the Terrazzo observation deck and watch the young red-capped cadets hoofing it in the hot sun to earn their next meal. All I can think is: Go Falcons, BEAT ARMY!!