For most high school students, graduation has come and gone, and the bliss of a restful summer has finally set in. But for one young man, the rest and relaxation of summer will be cut a bit short. But it will mean he’s taking the first step in accomplishing a dream.
"When I was little I was always interested in air planes and if the History Chanel ever had something about air planes on, I wanted to watch that," Tanner Bennett, a senior at Austin High School said. "I was fascinated with the movie ‘Saving Private Ryan’ and I really liked ‘Pearl Harbor.’"
With his father Joe Bennett serving in the Navy, it’s no wonder this self-proclaimed history buff had an interest in the military and U.S. war involvement. But his interest was grounded in aerial warfare.
"I’ve always liked studying about wars, but I enjoy the two world wars the most because they had the most flying in them and there was U.S. domination," Tanner said. "I think my dad being in the military definitely had something to do with me becoming interested, but I was one of those kids who would always look up at the planes when I was playing t-ball. I always loved airplanes and birds, and when I got older I started watching documentaries on WWI, WWII and flight."
Just like his military interest, the love of aviation may run in Tanner’s blood as his grandfather, Tom Bennett, flew planes commercially.
So, as a child, Tanner began flying planes too — model ones of course. But he set his sights on one day being in the pilot’s seat.
Before long this flight-fascinated little boy started high school at Austin High and he gained several interests — baseball, basketball, Student Ambassadors, National Honor Society and became more involved in his church, Decatur Christian Church. But he never lost sight of his childhood dream to one day take flight. So he enrolled in flight lessons, and before long he was registering hours that would count toward his pilot’s license.
So when the time came to decide what life would hold for him after high school, Tanner started exploring his aeronautical options.
"I was thinking about doing ROTC at Auburn and studying Aeronautical Engineering or Aerospace Engineering," he said. "Then my dad said something about going to the Air Force Academy; I’d never really thought about it before then. But when he said something about it, I thought, ‘That actually may be a better idea.’"
When asked about his father’s feelings on going into the Air Force instead of Navy, he said he was very supportive. Tanner added he was a bit leery of the underwater requirements the Navy may present.
"I figure 30,000 feet in the air is a whole lot better than 3,000 feet under water," he explained.
Then he started looking at the admission requirements to the Air Force Academy.
"I thought, ‘Wow, this is a whole lot more than I expected.’"
Admission to the Air Force Academy is not for the faint of heart, but Tanner was up for the challenge. After getting nominations from two U.S. senators, submitting his ACT scores and transcripts, passing rigorous physical fitness tests, and having to meet with multiple admission boards, Tanner received his letter of acceptance to the distinguished United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, CO.
A trip to the Academy for orientation this spring cleared any doubt Tanner may have had about starting school there this fall.
"It was amazing," he said, "It made me want to go even more."
Tanner graduated May 27th and less than one month later will leave for the Academy where he’ll almost immediately begin Basic Training, which he said he’s a bit anxious about.
"I’m kind of nervous, but I’m sure I’ll be a whole lot more nervous once I get out there and they start screaming at me to get off their bus," he said.
But Tanner said he’s had some thorough training for even the toughest for any drill sergeant. He said his grandmother, Loretta Bennett, who is a Senior Store Accountant at Alabama Farmers Cooperative, has been one of his biggest fans and toughest critics. Loretta has eight grandchildren and they all say Tanner is the favorite, but she said he gets yelled at more than any of them. So Tanner said he’s not worried about the drill sergeants.
"If I can handle her yelling at me, I can handle any drill sergeant," Tanner laughed.
Loretta is proud of Tanner and he is an outstanding young man. She added that she’ll miss him, but she knows he’ll do well at the Academy.
"Tanner is a very well-rounded and out-going person," Loretta said. "I can’t waste my time worrying — I just have to wish him well."
Loretta’s already making plans to visit Tanner commenting she’s already bought her ticket for a visit on Parent’s Weekend in early September.
Tanner is considering either Mechanical or Aerospace Engineering as his course of study and his ultimate goal is to be an F15 pilot because he said "it’s the fastest and can do the most damage." Tanner knows the Academy is going be challenging, but it’s the ticket to accomplishing this dream.
"A lot of people have told me, the academies aren’t the best place to go to because of what you have to go through, but they’re the best places to come from because of the opportunities you get after graduating."
Tanner is one step closer to accomplishing his goal and, as he follows the path to his dream, no doubt he’ll consider the words of author Henry Van Dyke:
"When once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.
Grace Smith is an associate editor for AFC Cooperative Farming News.