Charles Bruce, 18, has grown up around aviation and the military, and will continue in that world this summer as a freshman in the Air Force Academy.
The DSST: Stapleton senior is the second student and the first African American from the school to be accepted into the Air Force Academy.
“I want to be a part of the military heritage and all the things that go along with that,” he says.
Bruce’s father was a pilot in the Air Force for 28 years, which took their family of four around the world—something Charles constantly appreciates. The family has spent time in 14 countries; Jordan being the most memorable for Bruce.
“Being able to go to different countries and see how different our lives in the U.S. are makes me want to be a part of protecting the freedoms and the things we enjoy.”
He hopes to be a pilot like his dad.
His parents’ discipline—not quite military discipline, he playfully clarifies—has made him the person he is today and been a big motivation to go into the Air Force.
Bruce also looks up to his grandfather who was a Buffalo Soldier. He and fellow Buffalo Soldiers (African American) were put at the back of the train behind German prisoners of war returning from World War II. Upholding American freedoms his grandfather didn’t enjoy until the end of his life is another reason military life appeals to Bruce.
Being the first African American from DSST to be accepted into the military academy was something Bruce hadn’t thought about until the school announced it at a presentation. “It kind of raised the stakes a little bit, not necessarily to say I was expecting to fail when I got to the academy or anything like that, but that kind of places a little more pressure on me because I’m representing my school in a completely different way,” he says.
He is nervous about many things going into his freshman year at the Air Force Academy, which is supposed to be the most difficult to weed out people who are not cut out for the program.
Freshmen learn military traditions. They wake up before everyone else and greet all the upperclassmen. They memorize the meals for the day and report those. They walk to class on a thin marble strip that runs along the outside of all walkways so it takes them longer to get anywhere. They cannot wear backpacks on their shoulder, but carry it in their left hand to salute with the right.
At times, freshmen have to eat in detention, which means sitting on the front one-third of a chair, back completely straight, eyes forward at all times, and a 90-degree angle at the knee. “It’s a lot of uptight super-strict stuff. It’s going to be hard, but it is possible so that’s the plus side.”
Bruce will graduate this May and begin basic training June 26.