Inside look at the Air Force Shadow Day

Cadet London explains the ROTC program at UNLV to high school students, during the shadowing event. Photo by Jimmy Romo.

The elevator doors open to the top floor of the Cottage Grove parking garage where dozens of cadets are in tight formation, hit by the brisk breeze balanced out by the warm Mojave Desert sunshine. 

This is the same sight prospective students experienced during UNLV’s Air Force Reserve Officers Training Corps (AFROTC) shadowing day on Oct. 16. 

Shadow day is hosted by the AFROTC program in order to give students of all walks of life a better perspective into the Air Force’s officer program.

“It is intended to be a learning and welcoming experience for students,” said Cadet Alexander London, recruiting officer of the Air Force ROTC program.

At 8:20 a.m., atop of the Cottage Grove parking garage, students shadow eight different groups of cadets in their dress service uniforms. Cadets performed various coordinated marches and commands that could be heard from a couple floors below, and were given the direction of rotating lead cadets.

The student shadows came along with two different attitudes: For one side, it was a familiar experience, and for the other, it was something entirely new.

“One kid had more military experience with a junior ROTC background, so he could piece together everything that was going on,” said London. “We had another student that seemed like a complete culture shock because he doesn’t have any background or family in the military.” 

Shadow days take place every Friday during the cadet’s leadership lab, a period known as professional military training. Cadets are actively being evaluated during these labs by other more experienced cadets. During these times, cadets are put in stressful situations to build their character and leadership capabilities.

“The shadow days basically allow interested students to go ahead and envision themselves in that specific environment,” said London.

Those who were shadowing were quiet and tense, regardless of prior experience.

“When we first picked them up, they were definitely more on edge,” said London. “I could tell they didn’t know what to expect. They didn’t know if they were going to get yelled at or taught, which is really cool because it does some soul-searching for them.” 

The recruiting officer also plans to expand the shadowing program into other aspects of military life. Going on a base tour or having shadows join in on a physical training session with the other cadets are ways to help gauge if the program is right for them.

As the day went on, the students became more comfortable and started opening up, asking various questions about what was happening and how things worked.

At the end of the cadet’s leadership training, the program was able to match a shadow with someone who was in the same major as well as a similar interest in career paths. 

“They were able to make a connection, which created a much more comfortable environment for the student,” said London.

After the cadets finished their leadership training, shadows were shown the rest of the college campus. A look inside of ROTC’s detachment revealed a completely different atmosphere of the program.

In the detachment, cadets can be found laughing and team-bonding with their peers in an informal environment.

“Everything is not so serious all the time,” said London. “It’s a lot of team-bonding and a lot of fun.”  
For future information about Air Force ROTC shadowing day events, visit their website:


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