Little more than two weeks after high school graduation, it was my second day of basic cadet training at the US Air Force Academy. Life was whirling. During the frightening noon meal formation, the cadre of upperclassmen demanded we recite newly learned military facts and information. All morning long we’d been running, drilling, and performing calisthenics. The cadre roughly introduced us to the spartan basic cadet training (BCT) lifestyle, military history, policies, and procedures of the Academy.
The stern upperclassmen harshly grilled us, demanding we flawlessly regurgitate a multitude of newly learned information. They reinforced our learning by requiring we perform push-ups whenever we hesitated to answer correctly. It was impossible to determine if shouting was their chosen method of training, or if they were simply relegated to shouting in order to be heard above the din of 1,560 basic cadets simultaneously being drilled, vigorously barking replies to the intimidating cadre with ample exclamations of “Yes, Sir!”; “No, Sir!”; “No excuse, Sir!”
While my body barely had the time and energy to satisfy the rapid-fire orders of the rabid cadre directing our Academy BCT, or Beast as it was affectionately known, my mind found time to reach beyond the bounds of the cadet area in the midst of the harrowing beastly experience. During the noon meal formation, I surreptitiously gazed from under the brim of my hat toward the top of the nearest Colorado mountain peak west of the Academy Cadet Area. Catching a glint from a shiny rock, my eye was drawn to an intriguing sight.
A large rock outcropping just beneath the summit of the peak, which I would later come to know as Eagle’s Peak, cast an ominously vast shadow beneath the pinnacle. As my attention was drawn to the immensity of the rock, it occurred to me that it appeared to be precariously suspended—seemingly threatening to dislodge and come crashing down the mountain. The rocky outcropping seemed to be mysteriously balanced, almost as though it were held in place by some inexplicable supernatural force on the sheer face of the rocky mountaintop peak.
My pondering was suddenly, violently interrupted as a foaming-mouthed cadre member shouted, “What are you gazing at, Basic?”
“Nothing, Sir!” I heard myself immediately reply. “If you’re so bored you have nothing better to do than gaze around in formation, then you must need to do push-ups. Drop, Maggot!”
I scrambled down onto the terrazzo—the concrete cadet marching area—into a push-up posture, ready to pump them out. Apparently I’d not satisfied the upperclassman with the speed with which I dropped, for he jumped back up, exclaiming that I wasn’t fast enough in that I did not beat him to the ground. “Get up, Maggot,” he exclaimed.
As I quickly scrambled back up into my best at-attention posture, the chiseled upperclassman shouted, “Drop, Maggot!” and again immediately assumed a taunt push-up position more quickly than me. “Too slow; Get up!” came the now expected reply.
Three more times we went through this grueling exchange until I somehow beat him to the ground and assumed the push-up posture in a time with which he was satisfied. As we began doing push-ups, I called out the number, “One, Sir…two, Sir…three…Sir…” Somewhere around “twelve, Sir,” my mind left the sweaty terrazzo and raced back to the grand, ominous rock just beneath the summit of Eagles’ Peak.
As my perspiring body pumped out push-ups on autopilot and my voice mechanically shouted the count, my desperate mind successfully sought the rock. When the upperclassman was satisfied I was nearly fatigued, he ended his shouting and the session of grueling push-ups. As he recovered to his feet, I scrambled to mine and on-command bellowed, “Air Force, Sir”
“Keep your eyes straight ahead and focus, Basic!” he yelled before turning away.
In the next moment, while my chest heaved for air and my heart raced from exertion, I stole a risky second glance at the rock. In a flash, my mind transcended the harrowing noon-meal formation harassment and rough demands of Beast. I mused that just as that rock somehow remained steadfastly in place despite its immense size and lack of apparent anchoring, so would I somehow depend upon the compelling hidden force that sustained it. Despite the horrific struggles of Beast, I would daily draw strength from that force to endure and remain.
Thus, I aptly, secretly named the rock Inspiration Point, for my daily glances not only connected me with the Unseen Force that securely held the rock in place but also reminded me of the Rock to which I could cling for mental and emotional strength to endure, remain, and succeed. I determined that as long as the rock remained, so would I. I would not be defeated; I would not give up. Four years later, Inspiration Point remained steadfastly in place, and the young basic cadet who daily snuck a peek, seeking inspiration from the peak, graduated and became a second lieutenant in the United States Air Force.
11 Discretion will guard you, Understanding will watch over you,