On the afternoon of April 8, Wyatt Shamblin and some of his classmates were summoned to a classroom to film a promotional video for ATEMS and The LIFT.
At least that’s what Shamblin was told by Jay Ashby, the director of The LIFT.
“I didn’t think much about it; I just figured we were doing it because this is a new building and everything and the district wanted to promote it,” Shamblin said. “Then I was handed the microphone to pick up ambient noise, which didn’t seem right. And then I saw a bunch of different people walk in the room and I knew something was up.”
What was up was a representative from the office of U.S. Rep. Jodey Arrington (R-Texas) was there to put Shamblin on the phone with the Congressman, who had a piece of news to relay to the ATEMS senior. Shamblin, Arrington told him, had received a Congressional appointment to the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado, one of only about 1,100 students across the country to receive the honor this year.
“I’ll never forget that moment,” Shamblin said as he recalled that day. “I was a little confused by the whole thing, and then about 10 seconds before the phone call, one of the guys who interviewed me from the Congressman’s office walked in and I knew the only reason he would be there would be to inform me of my appointment. Then when they put me on the phone with the Congressman, it was just a very surreal feeling.”
With both his mother and father serving as nurses in the Air Force, Shamblin was already on the nomination list for a Presidential appointment, but only up to 100 appointments are available annually in this category. That meant a Congressional appointment was his only realistic route to gain entry into the Academy. Each member of Congress is allowed to have a maximum of five cadets attending the Academy at one time. For each cadet vacancy that occurs, the member may nominate up to 10 candidates to be considered for appointment. Vacancies occur when cadets graduate or leave prior to graduation.
Shamblin, who began thinking about attending the Academy about 12-18 months ago, was interviewed by two members of Rep. Arrington’s office back in October, and from there it was a waiting game.
“We talked a lot about leadership, academics, and my community involvement,” said Shamblin, who has already earned his pilot’s license. “As we were going through that process, I realized they were looking at the whole person and not just one aspect.”
With only about 1,100 appointments available this year – down from the usual 1,200 every other year – Shamblin began thinking about other options and applied at the University of Oklahoma. Applicants were to be informed by April 21 if they had received a Congressional appointment, and as that date closed in, Shamblin began wondering if his goal of entering the Academy would come to fruition.
He also had a health scare during his wait. During a routine checkup, he was found to have an enlarged heart valve, and he wasn’t immediately medically cleared by the Air Force. However, his family took him to a heart specialist in San Antonio, who cleared him, and he received a medical exemption from the Air Force, putting his nomination back on the front burner.
Then came April 8 and all of his worries were put to rest.
“I had a lot of people telling me that I needed to have a ‘Plan B’ in case I didn’t get an appointment,” said Shamblin, who is No. 3 in the ATEMS graduating class. “I submitted a non-refundable deposit to OU, so I guess I lost that money.”
He will report for Basic Training on June 19, and that will go through the end of July. School starts Aug. 9, and along with it, the life of a “Doolie” or “Smack,” slang terms for freshmen in the Air Force Academy. He wants to be either a weather officer (meteorologist) or a pilot, flying C-130s or fighter jets.
“A big part of me is excited, but I’m also nervous and scared,” Shamblin said. “I know that I’ll have no rights as a freshman on campus, but I’m ready for that. It’s part of the process, and it’s something everyone has to go through before you can reap the rewards of being at the Academy. What I end up doing for a career will depend on how I perform academically.
If I do well – which I plan on doing – I’ll have a chance to sign up for a spot in the pilot program. I guess it’s the unknown that’s a bit nerve-wracking. I kind of think I know what to expect, but I probably really have no idea.”