College Park High School Graduate, Air Force Lt. Tyler Mortenson, stood tall as he held an old, signed baseball in his hand on Saturday.
The baseball, the three-year letter winner said, was signed by U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady, R-The Woodlands, and awarded to him when he was in junior high after answering a now-forgotten trivia question.
He had just learned about Congress in his history class, he recalled, as the congressman sat before him at the Black Walnut Café in The Woodlands at the 2019 Academy Send Off Breakfast. Eventually, the junior high kid who played baseball for nearly his entire life, faced his future as a graduating senior — unsure of his next step.
“I didn’t even know the academies existed until about a year ago, from today, from you guys,” said Mortenson, now dressed in a different uniform, as he addressed four of soon-to-be eight academy appointees sitting in the room with their families. “… Little did I know that the next thing Kevin Brady would be signing would be a nomination to be where you are and going to the academy.”
Mortenson accepted the appointment to the Air Force Academy in 2015. By Spring 2017, the sophomore headed the daily accountability of 1,000 cadets as Group Chief Clerk. That summer, he led administration and training efforts for 130 Basic Cadets during Basic Cadet, Training as a Squadron Superintendent. In Fall 2017, he was the immediate supervisor of nine cadets as an Element Leader.
During his senior year, Mortenson went on to lead tactical training for 300 cadets as the director of operations for the military operations on urban terrain squadron; and was the immediate supervisor for 40 cadets as a squadron flight commander. He played four years of baseball as a pitcher for the USAF Academy.
Today, Mortenson is preparing to get married next weekend, before he heads to Laughlin Air Force Base in Del Rio for undergraduate pilot training.
But on Saturday, Mortenson reflected on the realities and lessons of the experience the appointees would soon share with both humorous and straight-forward tales about basic training, and indescribable emotions of accomplishment and tradition. He also addressed learning from what can be one of the biggest punches in the face: failure, including academic failure, whether as an individual or as part of a group.
“No matter what, that’s kind of what the academy is all about,” said Mortenson grateful for the experience. “Regardless of what you define failure, it’s all about failing, making mistakes, learning to readapt, coming back and re-attacking the same problem, over and over again until you get it right.”
He encouraged the appointees to blend who they are with who they want to be and to commit themselves to attack each challenge with pride, character, and integrity as they enjoy the success with the support of their families and others.
“You are supposed to be where you are today,” Mortenson said. “I was in your shoes thinking I had no business being there and that I was going to fail out. I had no military background and no idea what I was getting into — it’s worth it and everybody is proud of you. And, if you will let them, every single person here today and that you see at the academy is going to be willing to help you see it through.”
Magnolia West High School graduate and baseball player Zachary David Wall attended as one of the Air Force Academy appointees. Like Mortenson, he also hoped to continue to play baseball in college and did not originally have an interest or experience in the military. Now, he’s excited to start.
“It’s coming pretty quick, so here at the send off a couple of weeks before — it’s kind of getting real,” Wall said. “To hear from people that know about it and have some wisdom regarding it, it’s great to hear their point of view and advice and to know that your family and everyone is going to be here for you.”
USAF Preparatory School Appointee Margaret “Maggie” Marlow of The Woodlands High School is following in the footsteps of her mother who also attended the academy.
“Listening to his stories versus her stories is so inspiring to me,” Marlow said. “I cannot wait to be in his shoes, being yelled at, that is what I know that I am here for. … I hope I can help people with the knowledge that I have learned (including by taking the extra year at the preparatory school). Every time someone talks, I just feel so ready to hop on an airplane and get there.”
Brady commended the appointees who he shared all are excited to see grow into leaders.
“And as we know, true leaders aren’t about lifting yourself up, it’s about lifting others — that’s why you were chosen,” Brady said. “I hope you all leave here with a better understanding of the path that you are about to follow and what lies ahead. Cadets thank you for volunteering to serve your country. You are our future leaders, the defenders of our freedom, and we wish you the very best. It is my honor to represent you in the U.S. House of Representatives and to send you off to what we are certain to be a very, very bright future.”