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Strickland aiming high at Air Force Academy

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Strickland aiming high at Air Force Academy

College can be expensive, especially if someone chooses to go to a four-year school straight out of high school. Most students don’t really know what the final cost of their college education will be when it’s all said and done.

But for 2018 Hobbs graduate Brenden Strickland, the cost has already been paid and it wasn’t as bad as it could have been.

The cost of Strickland’s college education was $900.

Of course, that $900 went to a school he won’t be attending, but Strickland is OK with that. The Hobbs graduate, who had a 3.93 GPA, paid $900 as his non-refundable deposit to attend Texas Christian University and be a part of the ROTC program. However, after making the payment, Strickland got a call that changed everything. Now, instead of going to TCU, he will be heading to the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo.

“If that is what it costs for me to get this essentially Ivy League education, I am OK with that,” Strickland said.

He reports on June 28. First up is basic cadet training, which lasts six weeks. When the fall 2018 semester starts in August, he will officially start his classes at the academy.

Getting to this point is a lifelong dream, that almost didn’t happen, for the Hobbs graduate. Strickland said he has wanted to go into the military since he was in the seventh grade.

“It was more an interest in the academy side of things,” he said. “My parents are both educators and really involved in Hobbs schools. They have always instilled in me that your education is important. You need to go to college and move on. … I have also always wanted to serve in the military and be a pilot or a JAG (lawyer) and the academy essentially offered me the best of both worlds. I get that top-notch education, but I also get to do the fun things that I want to do.”

While serving as a pilot and a lawyer are two vastly different career choices, they are both still something Strickland intends to pursue.

“That is what I love about the academy, such a large percentage of those individuals do become pilots upon graduation,” Strickland said. “I can make that a career and become a pilot, and then, once I retire from that or once I am done with that, I still have the opportunity to go back to law school and still, with my credentials from the Air Force Academy, be able to get into a JAG Corps somewhere.”

THE AIR FORCE ACADEMY was his first choice, mostly because that is the service around the area in New Mexico. The Air Force has Cannon Air Force Base up in Clovis, Kirtland Air Force base in Albuquerque, and Holloman Air Force Base near Alamogordo. However, Strickland did not limit himself to just one opportunity, so in addition to the Air Force Academy, he also applied to West Point (U.S. Army) and the U.S. Naval Academy.

“Initially, the Air Force was close to home. It was kind of all I really knew,” the Hobbs graduate said. “So, when I decided to apply to the academies, I was not going to put all my eggs in that one basket, given that the chances are so small of me getting in.”

For a while, it looked like he would end up in the U.S. Navy after receiving three nominations to the Naval Academy from Congressman Steve Pearce and New Mexico Sens. Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall.

“All three of them nominated me to the Naval Academy,” Strickland said. “So I was like OK, that is the path I am on, so I will go that direction.”

However, despite the nominations, Strickland was not accepted into the Naval Academy.

“I was crushed,” he said. “That had been my dream since the seventh and eighth grade.”

Looking at his options, Strickland made the choice to enroll at TCU and be a part of the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC). However, almost as soon as Strickland placed his deposit at TCU, things once again took a twist.

“The very next morning I got a call from Colorado Springs and I never answer unknown phone calls,” Strickland said. “I wasn’t doing anything. I was just sitting around, so I was like alright, and I answered it.”

On the other end of the line was the admissions officer for the Air Force Academy.

“She said, we need you to decide if you are coming to the Air Force Academy or not,” Strickland said. “I was like, what are you talking about and she said you have an appointment here and you have seven days to tell us if you are coming here or not.”

WHAT STRICKLAND DIDN’T KNOW at the time was, in addition to the three Naval Academy nominations he received, he also got a nomination to the Air Force Academy from Vice President Mike Pence.

“I was shocked,” he said. “At first I thought she was kidding because this was some random number and I thought it was a prank or something.”

After talking with his dad during class on a Friday, Strickland went on a church retreat for the weekend. Upon returning, he accepted his appointment on a Monday. Then, he had 36 different items he had to complete and turn in, and it was all due in four days.

“It was crazy,” Strickland said. “It wasn’t really my timing at all. It really just was God’s timing. It was crazy fast.”

As for the nomination from Vice President Pence, Strickland did receive a letter in the mail from him. One of the things that most impressed Strickland with the VP’s letter was, unlike the letters from the congressman and the New Mexico senators who had a stamped signature, Pence actually signed his letter.

“It was like a real signature with a marker and everything,” Strickland said. “I was like this was cool!”

As he prepares for the next step in his life, Strickland has been following a workout regime the academy provided him.

“It’s been tough. You do as many pushups as you can in a minute, then you get a minute rest. Then you do as many pull-ups as you can in a minute and you get a minute rest. Then as many dips in a minute and a minute rest, and sit-ups in a minute and a minute rest. That is like one set and you go through it three times,” he said. “Initially I was like that is not hard. It is just like a minute. But no, that sucks. It sucks. It is hard stuff.”

Working out is nothing new to Strickland. As a member of the Hobbs football and track & field teams, he was used to working out regularly to compete. But the Air Force’s program was different. It was so different that even some of his friends and his own brother, who also plays sports at Hobbs High School, couldn’t keep up.

“My brother was working out with me, but as soon as he started summer football, he said he was done and the workout program was too hard,” Strickland said. “I am too sore from all that. I will just stay with summer football. A couple of my friends tried it too and it was kind of disheartening because I know it’s hard, but I told them you don’t have to tell me that.”

ONE OF THE THINGS ALL ACADEMY cadets must do is be involved in athletics. They have to play or participate in something. For Strickland, that gives him a chance at some unfinished business on the gridiron.

“I went to a football camp up there this summer and I really like their football program,” he said. “So, I am going to try for football there. … Track is also a very real option as well.”

Back during the high school football season, Strickland thought his football career came to an end when he broke his leg during a game at Watson Memorial Field. Now, as a soon-to-be member of the Air Force Academy, Strickland will have a chance to play football again too.

“The last time I was on a football field, we all know what happened,” Strickland said. “There are definitely those doubts in my mind, but it kind of makes it like, I want to do that. I want to get back on the football field because of that.”

Determined not to let his high school athletic career end with an injury, Strickland made a goal for the track season and worked his way toward reaching it.

“The one thing I told (my doctor) was before I graduate, I will run a 50-second quarter again. I will run that,” Strickland said. “He was kind of like, OK, if you think. He told me three to six months and that three months was my mark.”

At the state track meet, six months after breaking his leg on Nov. 11, 2017, Strickland achieved his goal during his final track performance of the year on May 11.

“I got (the 50) at the state track meet,” Strickland said. “I ended up running on the medley relay and I got the 50. It was the last race I ever ran as a high school athlete and running that 50 was crazy.”

High school is over and Strickland is all healed up from his broken leg. Next week he will embark on the next stage of his life and his career, something he is looking forward to doing. Whether he becomes an Air Force pilot or a JAG lawyer, his future is bright and full of promise.

“I am excited to meet those new people and create those new bonds,” he said. “I am really just excited for this next phase of my life.”

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