The U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs is among the most difficult schools in the nation to get into. Retired Lt. Col. Rob Oswald ought to know — he has been the academy’s recruiting liaison officer for Palm Beach County for more than a decade.
“I’ve been doing this for the last 13 or 14 years, and very few get to the acceptance part. To have three from Wellington in one year is pretty miraculous, and they’re all friends,” Oswald said. “Usually I get one accepted every other year out of all the 12 schools I have assigned to me.”
The three young men are Wyatt Boswell, Mikey Garofalo and Zack Beatty.
“I give them all the credit. It takes a lot of hard work — studying and extracurricular activities, outside volunteer work — to get into the academy,” Oswald said. “In addition, they have to get a letter from their senator or congressman.”
Usually, students interested in attending the academy will reach out to Oswald.
“I start out as a mentor and, if the academy likes what they see when the candidate initially applies, they will ask me to interview them,” he explained. “I put in my recommendation, and the Air Force does their thing.”
Now that Boswell, Garofalo and Beatty are in, Oswald has taken off his evaluator hat and put on his mentor hat.
“Once they’re accepted, I try to line them up with kids currently in the academy and help them through their career,” said Oswald, who was a pilot himself. “Those three kids are pretty incredible.”
Garofalo, whose grandfather served in the Air Force, attended the academy’s prep school before entering the academy itself. “Everyone around you is a leader,” he said of the experience. “Everyone is leading each other; you can’t fall behind.”
He wants to study business, with the aim of working in acquisitions for the Air Force after graduation. In addition to their studies, recruits need to sign up for a sports team. Garofalo played for the Western Communities Football League and was highly sought after by colleges while playing for Palm Beach Central High School, so he naturally chose football.
“My mom and sister were crying,” Garofalo said of when he headed out for basic training. “As for me, because this was my second time going, I was less worried. I knew I could handle it. The first time was rough for me, mentally. I knew I had a lot of learning to do.”
Once there, Garofalo said the physical training (PT) was the worst part, but the best part is the friends you make.
“You’re all going through it together,” he explained. “You see the people next to you at their best and at their worst. In those 38 days, it brings everybody together.”
Garofalo said his day consists of school until noon, then football until around 7 p.m., then homework. “My schedule is jam-packed all day with schoolwork and football,” he said.
Boswell is another veteran of the Western Communities Football League. A recent Wellington High School graduate, he also attended the academy’s prep school.
Unlike Garofalo, Boswell chose the swim team as his sport, having enjoyed it in Wellington. “I got up at 5:45 this morning for a 6:30 practice,” he said. “I do this every other day — Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays one week, Tuesdays and Thursdays the next.”
His ultimate goal, however, is to become a fighter pilot, and perhaps a general one day.
“I was going to join the U.S. Naval Academy, but everyone told me the Air Force has more planes, so there are more options,” Boswell said. “It interested me, and I applied.”
Although his family does not have a long military history, they were very supportive of his decision.
“I had to fill out two applications and write about five essays to get in,” he said. “They have a strong selection process which, last year, meant a 12 percent acceptance rate. Having attended the prep school helped me get in.”
Although basic training at the prep school takes about 18 days, it’s six weeks at the academy.
“For me, the hardest part was being away from my family,” Boswell said. “But I knew what to expect this time and handled it pretty well.”
His day consists of classes until 3 p.m., then swimming from 3:45 to 5:15 p.m., then homework.
“Next semester, I’m going to take about 20 credit hours as a freshman, which is roughly equivalent to the number of hours a graduate student takes in regular school,” Boswell said.
The story is a bit different for Beatty, a 2018 graduate of Wellington High School who played strong safety and wide receiver on the WHS football team, was on the swim team and served as a lifeguard at the Wellington Aquatics Complex.
After his father, an active duty Air Force deployment commander in the Mideast, flew him out to Colorado for basic training at the academy, Beatty was flown back shortly thereafter on medical leave to have surgery on a torn ligament in his foot. Following six months of rehab, he’ll return for a slightly delayed academy career. His stepfather also served in the Air Force.
“I’m hoping for a 30- or 40-year career in the Air Force, becoming a four-star general, and then I’d like to go into politics,” Beatty said of his future. “Nothing has changed; it has only been reinforced. I always knew that I was going to love every aspect of the military. As a kid, I dressed as a soldier every Halloween. Going through it only solidified that. I love the camaraderie and pride in country.”
He even loved basic training — at least until he was injured.
“It was a freak accident that happened during the team sports we do for bonding. My foot just crumpled,” Beatty said. “My heart is still there. It was hard, watching all my teammates do PT and all I could do was motivate them to keep going. I didn’t want to be home. But now I know what to expect and the knowledge I have to learn, and I can help my teammates along the way. Also, some of my closest friends will be able to help me through my first year, which is the hardest.”
Although Beatty’s five younger siblings were glad to have him home, it was still hard.
“They knew how much it hurt me not to be there right now,” he said. “I’ll go back next year stronger and better, and we’re looking forward to that. I have two younger brothers, and they all look up to me. I have a sister in ninth grade, and my youngest brother, at age 7, already knows he wants to fly jets.”
As always, Oswald was there. “I spoke to Zack after he hurt his ankle, tried to cheer him up a little bit,” he said. “He has a pretty positive attitude, but I know how devastating that was. He had been looking forward to going through with Wyatt and Mikey.”
When he returns to the academy, Beatty will be pursuing a bachelor’s degree in one of 20 fields open to him. Right now, he’s torn between biology and aeronautical engineering. He will also choose a sport, most likely the combat shooting team or the parachuting team.
“I got hurt playing flag football, so I’ll stay away from that next year,” he said. “People don’t realize that the Air Force Academy is one of the top three hardest institutions to get into. You need a great grade point average, but you also need to be able to run a 6.5-minute mile and do 90 sit-ups and push-ups. But you form lifelong relationships with everyone there and know that, no matter what, you have each other’s backs.”
For teens interested in attending the Air Force Academy, Oswald is always available with information. “Go to your computer, type in your zip code, and it will tell you who your local rep is,” he said. “Then call or send an e-mail. Some do it in eighth grade, some in their senior year. I have six I’m trying to help out for the next season.”