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Airmen take opportunity to LEAD


Basic cadets take an oath of allegiance during a swearing-in ceremony at the United States Air Force Academy, Colorado, June 25, 2010. The Leaders Encouraging Airmen Development is route enlisted Airmen can take to earn appointments to USAFA. The program offers 85 slots for direct appointment to the Academy and 50 slots for the Academy Preparatory School annually. (U.S. Air Force photo by Mike Kaplan)

SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Leaders Encouraging Airmen Development is a commissioning program available to the top-performing enlisted Airmen to allow them the opportunity to further excel with appointments to the United States Air Force Academy.

LEAD began in 1995 as an ongoing effort for unit and wing commanders to nominate outstanding and deserving enlisted Airmen identified by their commanders with officer potential to compete for admission to USAFA.

“The purpose of the program is to further develop our Airmen as it pertains to education,” said Master Sgt. Janelle Amador, career assistance advisor with the 50th Force Support Squadron. “Depending on the program, Airmen can apply prior to their 23rd birthday directly to USAFA or prior to their 22nd birthday to the USAFA Academy Preparatory School.

“Something to keep in mind is the different eligibility factors such as being a U.S. citizen, being unmarried with no children and being of high moral character among other requirements,” she continued.

The program is competitive as 85 slots are reserved for direct appointment to the Academy while 50 slots are reserved for the Academy Preparatory School annually.

LEAD application requirements include submission of Air Force Form 1786, pre-candidate questionnaire, school transcripts and commander’s approval statement.

According to Amador, the board also looks at previous work performance, meeting all of the ACT and SAT requirements, grade point average, athletic abilities and community involvement.

Once cadets have graduated from USAFA, they earn a Bachelor of Science degree and commission as a second lieutenant.

Cadet 3rd Class Fuhren Tsai, pursued cadet life and used his prior military experience to help him succeed at USAFA.

“I had no idea that the Academy existed until an officer informed me of her alma mater,” he said. “When I arrived to my first base at Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota, as a brand new Airman 1st Class, she saw I had the strengths and potential to be a cadet at USAFA and eventually become a commissioned officer. I was hesitant for a while, but decided to apply and was accepted.

“My experience so far has been amazing and there is so much to look forward to at this point,” he continued. “I am excited to commission in 2021 and have the opportunity to lead Airmen. I want to be able to use my enlisted background to connect with my Airmen and set them up for success the same way my supervision and leadership did for me.”

While the LEAD application process is challenging and competitive, Amador shared advice for those who would like to pursue this path.

“This is a great program, but it is highly competitive, so ensure you are eligible and meet all of the criteria - this is something you cannot procrastinate with,” she said. “Also remember that the age cut-offs are very specific. What is extremely important in having a successful and competitive application is to do thorough research, ensure you have the updated information and follow instructions carefully.”

Tsai also offered advice for prior-enlisted Airmen interested in attending USAFA through the LEAD program.

“For those interested in the LEAD program, I would say go for it,” he said. “Once I realized that I was too young in life to be comfortable in my career, I knew I needed to step outside my comfort zone and challenge myself. Once I took that step, growth began.”

The LEAD point of contact at USAFA can be reached at 333-8987 and is available to answer any questions. For more information on LEAD, visit here.

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