Graduating Air Force Academy cadets reflect on challenges, including putting sibling first

Author: Tony Peck, The Gazette - May 23, 2018 - Updated: May 23, 2018

World War II veteran Franklin Roop, 92, made the trip from Texas to see greets his grandson, Jonah Roop, graduate from the Air Force Academy. After a Graduation Parade at Academy, the veteran greets his grandson and his future granddaughter-in-law, Alexis O’Leary. Roop will be here for two big family events, Alexis and Jonah are getting married in the Air Force Academy Chapel on Thursday. This will be the last parade for the Class of 2018 as they turn over leadership of the Cadet Wing to the Class of 2019. (Photo by Jerilee Bennett, The Gazette)

Nearly 1,000 Air Force Academy cadets will graduate Wednesday, crossing the stage at Falcon Stadium during a ceremony that features a speech from Defense Secretary James Mattis and a performance by the Air Force Thunderbirds flying team.

The academy poses challenges for every cadet. Here are stories of struggles faced by a few senior cadets joining the newest batch of Air Force officers.


Crime leads to club
Noelle Heiser tackles problems head-on. She played soccer for the academy during her freshman year and recently helped the Air Force women’s rugby team win the USA Rugby College 7s National Championship.

But she faced a different kind of challenge nearly four years ago.

“In August 2014, I was sexually assaulted here at the academy,” Heiser said.

She said she struggled mentally over the attack for 10 months before reporting it.

Then she took a year off to clear her mind and decide her future.

During that year, she said, she realized two things:

“I am a smart, young, capable woman. I am a survivor.”

Her confidence was back, and she wanted to return to the academy, to become an Air Force officer.

Once back at the academy, Heiser started Stand Up USAFA, a cadet-run club to combat sexual assault and support survivors through knowledge-based action.

Even with 65 active participants and two years of work, Heiser said, she wants the club to do more.

“One thing we thought of is a summit, like Pathways to Thriving,” she said. The 2018 Pathways to Thriving was the first of its kind at the academy, bringing in experts to discuss with cadets not only how to survive a sexual assault, but also how to thrive afterwards.

Heiser said she is happy with her legacy.

Quoting her father, “Know what you are leaving behind as you look ahead.”

The club is in good hands, she said.

“I am very proud. They are people who care about this as much or more than I do.”


Putting sibling first
Jasmine Jorden has known homelessness.

“My mother, sister and I were evicted from our (Dallas) apartment,” she recalled. “We didn’t have a plan, so we walked for hours to get to my aunt’s house.”

But her aunt wasn’t home, so the family had to make do on the streets.

Jorden said she and her sister attended a new school almost every year.

“My family was really poor. We didn’t really have much.”

Then their mother died of lymphoma, leaving the high school sophomore to care for her sister.

“I wanted to come here out of high school,” Jorden said of the Air Force Academy. But providing for her sister came first.

“I went and enlisted in 2011 so I could financially provide for her.”

Once she had a paycheck and could send money home, she applied and was accepted into the Air Force Academy’s Preparatory School, where she spent one year before starting her freshman year as a cadet.

Now she uses her experience to mentor others who have had similar struggles.

“One of my mentees, she came to me one time wanting to leave the academy,” Jorden said. “Now she is giving me my first salute, so I guess it (the advice) helped her.”

Jorden will enter the cyber world as an officer, “I just think it is cool, and I know that is the direction the Air Force is going.”

But before she begins her career, she plans to spend her summer traveling from Europe to Asia.

“My family had never flown anywhere,” she said. “And then I joined the Air Force.”


Everyone but the cat
Anna DeMoret’s parents are in the Air Force, and her younger sister is wrapping up her sophomore year at the academy.

“Everyone but the family cat is in the military,” she joked.

No wonder, then, that DeMoret excelled early in her military career.

The aeronautical engineer’s next stop is the graduate program at the Air Force Institute of Technology at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio.

And she isn’t going empty- handed.

DeMoret’s research in quiet propeller technology landed her a first-place spot at a regional American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics student conference, setting her up for the national competition in January.

It all started with an independent project, in which DeMoret focused on how to eliminate noise from small drones’ propellers.

She found the way. Cutting a notch near the tip of the propeller blade’s leading edge cut the noise, DeMoret said.

“What we saw was a 75 percent decrease in the noise at a cost of 9 percent efficiency,” she said.

That notch disrupted the formation of vortices in the air – the noisy culprits.

While conducting her award-winning research, DeMoret used the academy’s Ludwieg Tube – an air tunnel capable of producing winds of 4,600 mph.

“You don’t appreciate what you have here,” she said. “It’s not until you visit another university that you realize we have stuff few other schools have.”

Those opportunities led DeMoret to continue her academic career with the Air Force – teaching the next generation of cadets.

“I’ll be back in five years to teach.”


Once wanted to quit
Ryan Robb was unsure about the Air Force Academy when he arrived the summer before his freshman year.

“I was in basic for two weeks or so, and I originally decided I would leave,” Robb said. “I didn’t want to be there. I didn’t want to be a part of the military.”

After a friend persuaded him to stay, Robb thought he would just finish basic training. Then he resolved to finish his first year.

During that year, he became one of the last cadets to make it onto the academy baseball team. The next year, he was a starter.

Robb even went back and guided newbies through their basic training.

“Coming through basic and going through a phase where I didn’t want to be there really helped me relate,” he said. “Working the other side of that was really cool.”

Now the ballplayer is a dual threat. He not only played collegiate athletics, but also tried his hand at research as an aeronautical engineer.

His two projects this year were studying how wind affects observatory domes over time and how to develop small 3D-printable drones for the Marine Corps.

He said he spent most of his time running modeling software for the projects.

And while he played ball and learned 3D printing, he grew comfortable at the academy, eventually commanding a cadet squadron his senior year.

Now the left-fielder is preparing to go to pilot training, hoping to fly C-17s for the Air Force.

Remembering how he nearly quit but didn’t, Robb shared his perspective.

“It’s just learning how to be comfortable with being uncomfortable,” he said.

Tony Peck, The Gazette