SALT LAKE CITY — Utah has a rich history of military service and armed forces readiness, with Camp Williams, Fort Douglas, the Tooele Army Depot and Dugway Proving Ground among the numerous installations located in the Beehive State.
The largest is Hill Air Force Base, stretching into Davis and Weber counties.
For young people in Utah, wearing a military uniform is an aspiration often passed down from generation to generation, particularly as it relates to the Air Force. However, others may choose their own path and make the decision to pursue a military career on their own.
A few exceptional Utahns are fortunate and talented enough to be among a select group of young men and young women to attend the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
The academy offers an intense four-year program of education and experience devised to give students the knowledge and principles required to become leaders, as well as the motivation to serve as officers in the Air Force, explained Lt. Col. Krista DeAngelis, Utah admissions liaison officer.
According to the website, prospective Air Force Academy candidates must demonstrate excellence in academics, leadership and athletics. Students must also pass a candidate fitness test, undergo a full medical exam and obtain a nomination from a U.S. senator or member of Congress in the candidate’s home state. Each candidate must also complete a personal interview with the liaison officer.
DeAngelis said the candidates are "well-rounded" students that are interested specifically in college programs. Each year, there are approximately 70 applicants, with about 11 students gaining acceptance into the academy, she said.
"It's a very competitive process," she said. "The average (composite) ACT score of a candidate is about 30." The average score nationally in 2017 was 21, according to ACT.org.
The education is valued at more than $400,000, DeAngelis said. Graduates leave with a bachelor of science degree in one of 27 majors, she noted, and a five-year commitment to the U.S. Air Force.
Jordan Dahle, 22, recently graduated from the academy as a 2nd lieutenant and is also an alumnus of Cottonwood High School in Murray.
Having grown up in the Murray-Holladay area as a member of a military family, Dahle was steeped in the culture of the armed services. His father and grandfather were both military pilots, he explained. His dad was a U.S. Army helicopter pilot, while his grandfather was a U.S. Air Force fighter pilot.
"Being a pilot is just something I have always wanted to do," Dahle said.
In junior high school, his family introduced him to the idea of the Air Force Academy as a way to possibly become a military pilot one day himself, he said.
"Pretty much since the ninth grade it was the one place I always wanted to go," Dahle said. "The military was the only option I ever considered because it was something I really wanted to do, and I could be a pilot (by) doing it."
Cottonwood High did not have a Reserve Officers' Training Corps program, so Dahle took a somewhat unusual path to receive an academy appointment. Last May, he graduated and is preparing to pursue his pilot training.
While he said the experience of being an Air Force Academy cadet was challenging, Dahle is grateful to have had the chance to pursue his dream through the crucible of military training.
"As you go through the academy and do all these difficult things, you finally see at the end (that) it all comes together," he said. "It was a long, slow learning process with a very quick culmination and a very large reward at the end."
For Monroe Dauwalder, 21, a senior at the academy who graduated from the Utah County Academy of Sciences in Orem in 2014, his path to the Air Force was paved through his own interest in military service that began in childhood.
"I knew I wanted to be in the military, and I knew I wanted to study some kind of engineering," Dauwalder explained. "The Air Force Academy set me up to (have) the best of both worlds."
Similar to Dahle, Dauwalder didn't go through ROTC either, instead choosing to apply to the academy after going through the Civil Air Patrol as a Boy Scout. The Civil Air Patrol is a nonprofit organization and the official civilian auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force. The organization's missions are to "search for and find the lost, provide comfort in times of disaster and work to keep the homeland safe."
Much of what Dauwalder learned as a freshman cadet in the academy he was exposed to through his time in the Civil Air Patrol, which aided in his transition from civilian life, he said. Participating in quasi-military training in the patrol and expanded academic programs in high school helped prepare him for what was to come in the academy, he added.
"Being a well-rounded person, (involved with) community service, being good in your studies academically, being athletic on sports teams really helped," he said. "That's what the academy is looking for."
As a high school senior, Dauwalder considered a full-ride scholarship to Stanford along with his appointment to the academy. He felt like the military was better suited for his long-term career prospects, he said.
"I want(ed) to fly, I want(ed) to be in the military. My lifestyle and my personality more lined up with the military, therefore the academy would set me up better for my career and what I want for my life," Dauwalder said. Upon reflection, he said his decision "was 100 percent the best call."
"Looking back on it, there are such a unique set of opportunities here," he said. "I'm already getting to do some flying (as a glider instructor)."
Last semester, Dauwalder was informed that he had earned a slot to become an Air Force pilot. He noted that all the difficult training as a cadet helped him achieve more of his potential than a typical college experience ever could have.
"All the hard stuff, all the crappy stuff I've done really just made me a stronger person in general," Dauwalder said.