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In their own words: Ben Bertelson

The former baseball student-athlete and management major at the U.S. Air Force Academy was in his fifth-grade classroom in Midland, Texas, when the events of 9/11 occurred. He is now a C-17 pilot stationed at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.

It was home hour, which is the first class of day. We turned on the televisions because the principal made an announcement about it. We watched the towers collapse. When you watch something like that, something changes in you. You realize, and this sounds cliche, but you realize freedom isn’t really free. Someone has to step up to defend it. At that point, I didn’t decide what I would do, but that event sent me down the path to join the military.

I chose the Air Force Academy because it had the best package to offer to me. It had the best academics, and it seemed to present the toughest challenge for me. It was close to home, and I hit it off with all the guys I talked to. I loved the fact that after four years of going to school, I could have the opportunity to serve my country.

To be honest, knowing that we were at war made my decision to come to the Air Force Academy easier. Someone has to step up, and I’m that guy. All of the Air Force Cadets, and all the Cadets in general – we’re the guys who want to step up.

Deciding on what I wanted to do after leaving the academy was a slow process. I entered wanting to do something like being a special-tactics officer or combat rescue officer. I talked with guys who do that job, and I decided that it wasn’t the best fit for me. One of my best friend’s older brothers was a Marine. After talking with him, I knew that’s what I wanted to do.

When you decide to come to the academy, you know what kind of commitment you are making. After you finish basic training, everyone here knows they are in this for the long haul.

Being a student-athlete (pitcher) on the baseball team enhanced the whole experience. Just being a Cadet, you get incredible leadership opportunities. As a student-athlete, I got to learn teamwork, determination, toughness, leadership … just everything you can think of, really, I got to work on it twice, both as a Cadet and as a student-athlete.

My feelings about 9/11 haven’t waned over time. It may have for some people. It is like people just get used to the feeling. That’s something I try not to do. At the academy, you are reminded that you are in the military every day. You have chosen the profession of arms. Every day you think about it. Being an officer and leading America’s finest men and women is something that Cadets take very seriously.