‘Flying on cloud nine’

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Kaitlyn Cuevas
For The Salisbury Post
When Will Paul answered the phone on Feb. 7, the United States Air Force Academy notified him that he had been accepted into their prestigious program.
A senior at Salisbury High School, Will has been a member of the JROTC program since his junior year. With the help and guidance from Salisbury’s JROTC leaders, Chief Robert Blackburn and Major Queen Williams, Will gained the knowledge and strength to pursue his dream of becoming an Air Force pilot.
“I knew when I was little I wanted to fly,” says Will, who got his pilot’s license recently. He says he’s always been curious about planes.
When he first joined the JROTC program at Salisbury High, he admits he was “skeptical at first.” He decided the program was right for him after a few days of debating between JROTC and a statistics class.
Williams and Blackburn knew Will had the potential to be a great asset to the JROTC program and pushed him toward achieving his goals. Through determination and focus, Will became Salisbury High’s first student to be accepted into the U.S. Air Force Academy.
Unlike any other college application process, Will’s started in December 2006, when he applied to be in a summer program at the Air Force Academy. In March 2007, Will was one of 750 students to be accepted into the week-long program, which was held in June. That gave him a good idea of what being a cadet would be like.
In August, Will completed multiple medical and fitness assessments, including a mile run, a shuttle run, a basketball throw, sit-ups, push-ups, and pull-ups.
Administered by Blackburn, Will completed the fitness assessments in less than 30 minutes each time.
The medical assessments are no joke. All three different evaluations are geared toward finding something wrong with the applicant. Poor eyesight, bad hearing, broken bones, and ACL tears equal an automatic disqualification from the Academy.
To stay in shape now, Will goes to the YMCA every day for an hour and a half. His daily workout includes running a five- to six-minute mile and weightlifting.
Will received a nomination from N.C. Sen. Richard Burr in order to complete the Air Force Academy requirements. In January, Will received Burr’s final approval and finished the application.
On June 25, just 12 days after graduating from Salisbury High, Will leaves for Colorado Springs, 50 miles south of Denver.
“I got off the plane and it was the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen,” says Will, who will spend the next four years at Colorado Springs.
For the first two months of Will’s stay at the academy, he will not be able to make any phone calls and will come home only for Thanksgiving, Christmas and spring break.
“Life gets harder,” Will says, adding that it will be tough to say goodbye to his mother, Kay Paul. “It’s just another challenge that builds you.”
Attending the Air Force Academy will not be the typical college experience. In between classes, study time, military training, and athletics, opportunities to experience the night life and the state-of- the-art gymnasium will occupy Will’s time throughout the duration of his stay.
Of course, flying will be one of Will’s top priorities while he’s in school. The academy’s aviation program will teach him the principles of flying and help him in the pursuit of becoming a fighter pilot.
Will’s ultimate goal is to become a Thunderbird pilot รณ one of the most elite Air Force pilots in the country.
“I could not have done this without the help of other people,” says Will as he reflects over his achievements within the past year.
As Williams puts it, Will and everyone around him are, “flying on cloud nine.”
Kaitlyn Cuevas, a senior at Salisbury High School, is a Post intern.