July 12 marked the start of the third week of basic training for the incoming class of cadets at the United States Air Force Academy just north of Colorado Springs in western Colorado. The six-week long session requires new cadets to “go dark,” meaning Marti and John, the parents of South Pasadena High School Class of 2018 graduate Andrew Lee, won’t be hearing much from their son for the next month.
Lee is the first Tiger in at least four decades to go directly into the academy after graduation. In mid-June, before embarking on the 9-year commitment – four years of school followed by five years of service – he sat down with The Review to discuss his journey.
“I’ve always been interested in service and staying active,” said Lee, whose South Pasadena roots trace back to Arroyo Vista Elementary School. Around sophomore year, he became interested in joining one of the military academies, so he enrolled in a summer program at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.
“Just being around the other kids in the program kind of confirmed that this is what I wanted to do,” Lee remembered. “They were like me, active and eager to serve the community.”
As great as the experience had been, however, there was one part about it the southern Californian wasn’t too fond of. “The weather was terrible,” he said, laughing. “That’s when I decided I was going to apply to the Air Force Academy.”
To even be considered for the prestigious distinction, applicants are required to pass a physical examination, meet basic GPA requirements and receive a congressional recommendation. Lee received two, from congresswoman Judy Chu and senator Kamala Harris.
The application process, which began last summer, required extensive work on the part of Lee’s guidance counselor, Tracy Ishimaru, and several of his teachers, including English teacher Katie Jaroch and computer science teacher Garrett Schorr. “I want to thank all my teachers, the administration at the high school and my counselor for everything they did along the way. The application process was long and difficult, and I’m really thankful for their help.”
Lee doesn’t know exactly what he will major in. All cadets graduate with a Bachelor’s in Science before they begin their 5-year service commitment. Because he speaks Japanese, Lee says he has thought about being stationed in Japan, but he isn’t dead set on it. For now, all options are on the table.
On the topic of basic training, which he referred to as boot camp, Lee said all he had heard were “horror stories.”
“I think they try to keep it secretive on purpose,” he said, smiling, “so you don’t know what to expect.”