By Starrla Cray
WINSTED Ryan Gailey, the son of Dave and Lori Gailey of Winsted, recently graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy (USAFA) in Colorado.
Ryan described the moment of graduation (May 23) as “pure joy.”
“From the day you enter USAFA, there is a countdown of how many days there are until your class graduates,” he noted.
Once the days were winding down, though, the thought of leaving was “bittersweet.”
“After putting up with every challenge USAFA threw at me, I knew I was going to miss the atmosphere and the people I spent the last four years with,” he said.
Reaching for a dream
Ryan first learned about USAFA through his religious education teacher, Chip Guggemos of Winsted. Guggemos, who is a graduate of the United States Military Academy (known as West Point), coached Ryan through the application and interview process.
“Chip later was the man that I asked to commission me as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force,” Ryan noted.
For Ryan, attending USAFA was an opportunity to pursue his dream of becoming a pilot and serve in the Air Force while receiving a high-quality education.
“The Air Force Academy has 26 academic majors to choose from,” Ryan noted. “I chose economics as my path to study.”
For his minor, Ryan took six semesters of German language and culture classes.
Regardless of their field of study, all cadets are required to take five courses in engineering. They also take numerous science-based courses.
Ryan commented that one of the most difficult parts of Academy life is balancing multiple priorities academic tests, physical fitness tests, military training, and other mandatory duties/activities.
“It is easy to get stressed in that environment, but that is something cadets learn to deal with quickly,” he said.
Advice for applicants
For high school students considering applying to USAFA, Ryan said it’s important to maintain a high academic record. He also advises staying active in school activities and seeking leadership opportunities whenever possible.
“The Academies love to see applicants who have taken initiative to lead and provided themselves with a well-rounded high school experience,” Ryan noted.
When it comes time to apply, Ryan encourages those interested not to be overwhelmed by the lengthy process.
“They require hours upon hours of work and numerous interviews, but reach out to the resources the Academies give you, including the representative that is appointed in your area.”
For those who are accepted to an Academy, the rewards are often well worth the effort. Ryan said he learned many skills at USAFA that wouldn’t be taught at a conventional college.
During the summers, for instance, he learned how to fly gliders (planes with no engines), gained wilderness survival skills during Expeditionary Survival and Evasion Training (ESET), spent time in Qatar learning how Al Udeid Air Base operates, practiced the basic skills of flying a powered aircraft, and led incoming cadets through basic training.
USAFA has prepared Ryan for the next stage in his career.
“After commissioning and graduating, I will be headed to Vance Air Force Base in Enid, OK,” he noted. “During my time there, I will be living my childhood dream and training to become a pilot.”
Ryan also has changes ahead in his personal life. In December, he plans to marry his fiancée, Kyla Mauk.
After one to two years of pilot training, Ryan will serve in the Air Force for 10 years.
Ryan said his plans after that are “up in the air, literally and figuratively.”
“Literally, I hope to be flying a lot during my career, and figuratively, who knows where I will end up after 10 years in the Air Force.”