My husband was much more informed than I was as our young family visited this famous campus. He was a fan and knew everything about the sports stats and the championships in football and basketball, and some of its other history as well.
What totally awed the four of us on this stormy summer day was that as the Cadet Chapel came into view, with its seventeen spires sending prayers soaring 150 feet into the Colorado sky and beyond, a triple rainbow hovered over it. Wow! It was a terrific beginning to our tour of the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Fast forward to 2008: Joyce and Doug Jarmuth graciously invited me into their summer chaos in Colorado Springs as they combined two adult households and that of Doug’s mother, who had just come to live with them. One day Joyce said, “Come on!” and, quietly escaping, the two of us went exploring and once more I found myself on the campus of the Air Force Academy. It was again stormy but not forthcoming with a triple rainbow.
A million sightseers a year visit this famous campus that inspires men and women to become leaders. The unique Cadet Chapel has separate chapels to accommodate the four major religious faiths, plus an all-faiths room. Each chapel has its own entrance and services, and is open to the public.
The Protestant chapel ceiling is made up of tetrahedrons that form the walls and the 99-foot pinnacles are stained glass windows that follow the liturgical colors from Advent to Easter. Above the 1,200 pews and the narthex, the choir loft presents a 4,334-piece pipe organ, the largest pipe being 32 feet high and the smallest the size of a pencil.
The Catholic chapel displays 14 marble Stations of the Cross with a 500-pew seating area between. A classical pipe organ with 1,950 pipes provides music. The 100-seat Jewish synagogue is a circle within a square, symbolizing the global mission of the Air Force and the everlasting presence of God, the focal point being the Holy Ark that shelters the Scrolls of the Torah. The Buddhist chapel welcomes Buddhists of all denominations. The All- Faiths Room is a worship area without religious symbolism, making it comfortable for a variety of faiths.
Many of America’s pioneer airmen advocated the idea of an academy to prepare officers for the air service, but it did not become a reality until many decades later. Leading civilian and military educators planned the academy curriculum in 1948, and after considering sites in 45 states, the Air Force chose Colorado Springs. On April 1, 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the bill establishing the U.S. Air Force Academy, and construction began the following year.
Today, state-of-the-art facilities are spread over 18,000 acres against a spectacular Rocky Mountain backdrop.
One of the most controversial events occurred on Oct. 7, 1974, when President Gerald R. Ford signed legislation permitting women to enter the nation’s military academies. The first class of women graduated from the Air Force Academy in May 1980.
The Academy Mission states, “…The mission at the United States Air Force Academy is to inspire and develop outstanding young men and women to become Air Force officers with knowledge, character, and discipline….A cornerstone of cadet life at the Academy is the Cadet Wing Honor Code: ‘We will not lie, steal or cheat, nor tolerate among us anyone who does.’” Each applicant must pass a strict fitness test, a thorough medical examination, and provide a nomination, usually from the member of Congress from the candidate’s home district. Over four years, students live and breathe daily challenges as they grow physically, mentally and spiritually. Each cadet graduates with a bachelor of science degree and a commission as a second lieutenant in the Air Force.
Graduates say it is not easy to get into the Academy nor to graduate but it is definitely worth the effort. In recent years, of an incoming classes of 1,200 cadets, about 1,000 will make it through the four years.
What You Can See
The Barry Goldwater Air Force Academy Visitor Center has information on Academy history, exhibits, maps and a gift shop and shows a movie that follows a typical cadet day. Arnold Hall offers an auditorium for special events, official functions, plus military and Academy exhibits. The Field House is an indoor athletic field, hockey rink, and basketball court. The athletic ticket office is in the Falcon Athletic Center, along with the Academy Hall of Excellence Exhibits. Walking the Honor Court between the chapel and Arnold Hall, you’ll see a collection of bronze statues and aircraft memorials.
These buildings, several overlooks, and the visitor center are open to visitors. It takes an average of two hours to see the main sites, and they generally do not open until 9 a.m. Fast food eateries include Godfather’s Pizza, Burger King and Subway. Mid-August through mid-May, visitors might catch the cadet wing formation marching to lunch from the Honor Court wall surrounding the Cadet Chapel that overlooks the Terrazzo.
Parking is available next to the north gate entrance for the Stanley Canyon and Falcon hiking trails as well as the portion of the Santa Fe hiking trail that passes through Academy grounds. They are open to the public only during normal visiting hours.
Reaching the Cadet Chapel requires walking. The one-thirdmile trail from the visitor center has a steep grade while the second trail from the planetarium parking lot is level. Be aware that the visitor center elevation is above 7,200 feet. Visitors from lower elevations should rest frequently and drink lots of water.
Take your time, enjoy the day in this National Historic Landmark, and I wish for you a triple rainbow (but only a smidgeon of rain). God Bless.
IF YOU GO
Visiting hours for the general public coming through the North Gate (exit 156B from Interstate 25) or the South Gate (exit 150 from I-25), are between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. daily. All vehicles and people are subject to being stopped and searched. Authorized photo ID (driver’s license, passport, etc.) is required for adults. Backpacks or large bags are not allowed in the visitor center, the paved nature trail, the Cadet Chapel or any government buildings.
Pets are not allowed in buildings or pedestrian areas. Once past the gate, stay on the main road and do not enter restricted access areas. Follow the signs to attractions open to the public. For information, call (719) 333-2025 or visit usafa.af.mil/information/visitors