September 21, 2010 — Col. Jon Wolfe, the new Air Force ROTC commander at the University of Virginia, wants to whip his cadets into shape. Really good shape.
"The Air Force has fitness standards, but if you are going to be a leader, you need to exceed those standards," he tells the cadets.
He is pushing his cadets physically so they will do better mentally.
"There is a correlation between physical fitness and grade-point average," he said. "We all struggle with fitness, but a physically fit student is more alert, gets better grades and needs less sleep."
And a student who is more fit, with better grades, will be better able to stay in the ROTC program. Wolfe said because of the economy, the Air Force is currently at a 15-year high point for recruitment retention, and at the same time is reducing its number of officers. This means only about 65 percent of the cadets nationwide will be able to remain in the Air Force ROTC program at the end of their second year of college.
The determination of who stays will be based on a combination of fitness scores, grade-point averages and commander recommendations. Since U.Va. cadets are competing with cadets from around the country, Wolfe believes being fitter will give his cadets an edge.
Air Force cadets have physical training two days a week, but Wolfe expects them to maintain a daily regimen of sit-ups, push-ups and running, as is expected of active duty personnel. He hopes the rigorous training can keep his cadet losses to a minimum.
This is the second year the Air Force is culling the ranks of its ROTC. Last year, the detachment lost seven second-year cadets from a group of 38; this year, 56 started with the second-year group. There are 170 cadets in the entire detachment, which includes students from U.Va., Liberty University, James Madison University and Piedmont Virginia Community College.
Wolfe, 48, most recently the deputy commander of the 18th Operations Group at Kadena Air Base on Okinawa, Japan, is a product of the system he is now running. A 1984 graduate with a bachelor of science degree in aerospace engineering from Auburn University in Alabama, he was a distinguished graduate of that school's Air Force ROTC program.
"Twenty-five years ago, I was where these guys are now," he said. "It's been updated, and tweaked and technology has been added, but looking back over 30 years, it is largely the same process. We are teaching skills to college students to be successful in a very competitive environment."
Wolfe also holds a master of science degree in aeronautical science from Embry Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla., and a master of arts degree in strategic studies from the Air University at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Ala.
During his Air Force career, Wolfe has flown combat missions in the F-15C during three Operation Southern Watch deployments in Iraq. During Operation Allied Force in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia during the Kosovo War, he was deployed to the NATO Air Operations Center in Vicenza, Italy.
Wolfe's experience includes being a command pilot with more than 3,000 hours flying time, primarily in the F-4 and F-15 fighters and the AT-38 Talon training jet. He has spent much of his career training pilots, including working as an instructor pilot on the F-15C and the AT-38C, as well as being the commander of a fighter training squadron. He has also served as an electronic warfare officer on an F-4G "Wild Weasel" fighter plane.
"I taught new lieutenants to be fighter pilots," he said, noting that directing an ROTC program will be different. "I don't want them all to be fighter pilots. We need nurses and intelligence officers. This is preparation for them for active duty. I want them to understand how to succeed in the ranks."
Wolfe is excited about teaching at U.Va.
"This is my dream job," he said. "Colonels are not made to fly. We're focused more on mentoring future officers, so I am thrilled at this opportunity."
To Wolfe, an advantage of the Air Force ROTC program is that it gives him and his staff an opportunity to work with the students over a period of time, to work on developing skill sets, discipline and maturity.
"It is so much fun to be around young people," he said. "They ask a lot of good questions and they want to be challenged."