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In their own words: Andy Berg

The current assistant men’s ice hockey coach at Air Force was a junior at the Academy during 9/11.

I was in a military strategic studies class that day. We were all watching on television when the second plane hit the towers. Our class started talking about it. It was like everybody felt more committed to the cause and what we all had committed to do. I don’t remember anyone second-guessing their decision to come to the academy after 9/11. Everyone was more proud of making the commitment to serve in the military. It was something to see. There was never any sense of fear or hesitation. It was a feeling of, “Hey, this is what we have to do.” You learn that in your training at the academy. Wherever the mission is, you are going to do it.

My active duty was a little different. After I graduated, I spent one year as a graduate assistant for the hockey team (he was the captain of the team his junior and senior years). Then I spent a year and a half at Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina. I was a contracting specialist there. That was my only real Air Force assignment. I came back on the staff of the hockey team after that. I served out the rest of my commitment at the academy. I was an instructor in the physical education department, and I was a full-time assistant coach.

I grew up in Stillwater, Minnesota. I wasn’t thinking about attending the academy while I was in high school. I don’t come from a military family and have no military background in my family. It’s funny to look back now, because one of the stories I tell my recruits is that when the academy started recruiting me and sending me letters, I threw away the first three or four. I thought they were recruiting me to join the Air Force. I had no idea what this place was all about. My dad got hold of one of the letters, and he read through it. He told me I might want to check this out a little bit. I took an official visit to the academy. I just said to myself, “How could I not try this?” When you grow up in Minnesota, everyone wants to play hockey for the Gophers or play in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association. Nowadays, kids aren’t just looking to stay in the state of Minnesota. They are venturing out and trying different things. Once I made the decision to come to the academy, I was committed to coming here and giving it my best shot.

My junior year we went to West Point to play Army early in the season. When we play at West Point, it is a big rivalry. You are caught up in the emotion of the military and the service academies. On the way there, we went to Ground Zero. It was sobering to be there. When we visited Ground Zero, you could still see some smoldering and some ash. It was a surreal feeling to be there. Since we were part of the Air Force Academy, some of the police officers and security guards brought us down pretty close. Again, it was very sobering and humbling to be there.

Now, my job is to help recruit kids to come play ice hockey at the academy. It’s difficult to recruit at times. We’ve had some success in the program the last four or five years. Now it is easier for us to get our foot in the door and have the kids listen to what we have to say. Once we do, we have a pretty good success rate of getting kids to visit. Once they see the environment and our facilities, we have a high success rate of getting those kids. Once we are able to educate kids what this is all about, we have a good success rate.

You still have the military commitment, and I understand that’s not for everybody. We do a good job of identifying kids who aren’t afraid of the military part of it. These kids have a guaranteed job in four years. Our kids do a real-world job wearing an Air Force uniform. It is very applicable. If a person decides after their five-year commitment they no longer want to continue their military service, it is a fairly seamless transition to the civilian sector.