Veritable Cornucopia of USAFA Traditions on Display

A recent US Air Force news article on the USAF Academy graduation contained a photo encapsulating a veritable cornucopia of USAFA and military traditions.  Here’s the photo:

Traditions displayed in the photo: 

  • Thunderbirds flyby at final “class dismissed” call by USAFA Commandant.  The USAFA graduation is a stop on every Thunderbird tour, every year.  Even in poor weather, they will attempt at least a single flyby.  It is the only fixed annual performance on their schedule, and the USAFA graduation is the only military academy graduation with a dedicated airshow.  (The USNA generally gets a flyby at the beginning of their ceremony.)
  • Hat toss, also at “dismissed” call, timed with the flyby.

Now a closer look:

  • $20 inside the tossed hat, which will be claimed by the lucky kids who are allowed to storm the field and collect the scattered head covers.
  • Actually, $20.10.  This cadet was class of 2010, so he taped a dime to his $20 bill, just below the “B.”  He also added “10” to all the “20” numbers on the bill, in red — his class color.
  • “Luke,” in red in the hat, is probably a reference to Frank Luke, the “Class Exemplar,” a “tradition” started in 2000.
  • “RTB”, in red, written on the bill.  A reference to “red tag bastard,” which, legend has it, was the name given to the first “red” class of 1962, and has been carried as a badge of pride every four years since that time.

There are certainly many other traditions, like the granting of amnesty by the commencement speaker for “minor offenses,” and the giving a silver dollar to the first enlisted person that renders the new officer a salute.  The US military — even the “new” US Air Force Academy — is steeped in traditions, the value of which many outside the military cannot understand.

For those who want a peek behind the curtain:  The commandant of cadets stands at the podium at the end of the ceremony.  He watches for a signal (given from the top of the stadium press box) that warns him of the approaching Thunderbirds.  He then tells the class they are “dismissed,” timed so that his statement ends, and their hats go up, as the Thunderbirds fly overhead.  Sometimes, if timing hasn’t worked out well, there is an awkward silent pause as he waits for the signal, but everybody knows what’s coming.  While the hat toss and flyby makes for a good photo, the new 2nd Lieutenants don’t care.  They’re just glad to be done.  And well they should be.

Congratulations to the new O-1s from all the service academies.