FALCONS ABOUND
Cadet Col. Adam McMurray, the 2009-10 battalion commander of the Columbia/New Century JROTC Battalion, is looking forward to pursuing a military career as a pilot with his recent appointment to the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo. McMurray initiated plenty of "firsts" for the young JROTC unit at Columbia/New Century. He will build on his leadership skills as one of 1,000 cadets accepted at the Air Force Academy for the 2010-11 school year.

REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- Fighting fires, completing high school near the top of his class and serving as an Army JROTC battalion commander have been Adam McMurray's duties for the past year.

But flying airplanes and helicopters, and serving in the Air Force have been his dream.

So, this spring, McMurray decided to follow his dream. He gave up any aspirations he had to continue his role as a firefighter, and focused on completing a successful high school career at New Century Technology High School and leading his JROTC battalion on to achieving honor unit with distinction during its first-ever inspection.

And, along the way, he applied for the Air Force Academy.

"I decided I wanted to fly more than I wanted to be a firefighter," he said. "I really enjoyed being a volunteer firefighter with the Big Cove Volunteer Fire Department and then the Gurley Volunteer Fire Department. But I'm an Air Force kid and I wanted to fly."

He, admittedly, was a 12th-hour applicant for the Air Force Academy. But, sometimes, when you have so much going on in your young life, it's hard to decide what direction you want to go in. With a full-tuition scholarship to the University of Alabama in hand, McMurray changed his direction. He submitted his application to the Air Force Academy in February and was accepted two months later.

"Because he waited so late to declare, there were several hoops he and his dad and I had to jump through to get the application submitted," said retired Chief Warrant Officer 5 Harry Hobbs, the senior instructor of the combined JROTC program at Columbia and New Century Technology high schools.

"But, because of his caliber, we jumped through those hoops. We went the extra mile. It involved the whole program. We had to get honor unit with distinction for him to be commended for a spot at the Air Force Academy. Everyone in our program had to do their best to give him a shot."

McMurray is following in his father's footsteps. Darrell McMurray is a 1981 graduate of the Air Force Academy, and served nearly eight years flying satellites as an astronautical engineer for the Air Force. He continued his career launching GPS satellites for private industry. Although his son was born after he left the Air Force, the senior McMurray has often shared stories of his military experience with his son.

"We talk almost every day about what he learned at the Air Force Academy," McMurray said. "And with his work, we've lived all around the world."

In April, McMurray learned that he was among 1,500 cadets out of 12,000 applicants approved to attend the Air Force Academy. He is the first cadet from the Columbia/New Century JROTC program to be accepted into a military academy.

"Everyone was very supportive of what I wanted to do," McMurray said. "My dad and my uncle have both been in the Air Force, so they've helped to prepare me for what to expect. Everyone is very excited. I know this is the right course for me."

McMurray began his path toward the Air Force Academy during his sophomore year, when he enrolled at New Century and became a JROTC cadet. His high school cadet experience has included the Junior Cadet Leadership Challenge at Anniston Army Depot and the Norwich Drill Camp at Norwich University in Burlington, Vt. He has served as commander of his school's award-winning regional drill team and the exhibition drill team, and as the battalion's command sergeant major. As this year's battalion commander, he has been responsible for leading the 170-member cadet unit, and for promotions, daily management and the welfare of the cadets. He recently was promoted to cadet colonel, the highest rank for a JROTC cadet.

He's done all that while maintaining a 3.77 grade point average, taking advanced honors courses, being one of the top students in New Century's aerospace engineering strand of study and holding down a job as an auto photographer.

McMurray has also excelled outside of his JROTC program and the classroom. Last year, during his JROTC unit's participation in CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) training, McMurray became interested in the firefighting and emergency response fields. He applied to serve as a volunteer firefighter, and became the youngest state certified firefighter in Alabama.

"During the fall semester, I went to the fire academy three nights a week. It was rough at times," McMurray said. "But I was committed to it because I knew as a firefighter I could have a positive impact on somebody's life. I could help to make the best positive impact on somebody's worst day.

"And I was trying it out to see if I could handle going to the Air Force Academy. But I had no idea it would open so many opportunities."

Those opportunities include pursuing his private pilot's license during his last semester in high school.

"I've flown almost every day," he said. "I was flying through Albertville (with my instructor) the night of the (April 3) tornadoes. We were dodging (tornado) cells in a little tiny airplane. The winds were so strong that we were hovering at times."

McMurray, who has since flown by himself to Muscle Shoals and Knoxville, is hoping that his pilot's license will give him an advantage in one of the stiffest competitions he will face at the Air Force Academy.

"Most people want to try out for a sports team. But I want to try out of the flying team. Only 18 cadets make the flying team. To be eligible you have to walk in the door with your pilot's license," said McMurray, who hopes to someday fly Pave Hawk (the Army's Black Hawk) helicopters for the Air Force.

As a cadet in a young JROTC program, McMurray was involved in establishing Columbia/New Century's JROTC drill, saber and rifle teams. The unit's efforts have quickly put it among the top color guards and drill teams in the state.

"A lot of people don't like to start things up. But I've enjoyed watching these programs and our cadets grow," he said. "I've seen cadets go from saying 'I can't do it' to learning so much about themselves and what they can really do."

But the most challenging and rewarding part of his senior year came with the Honor Unit With Distinction competition.

"It was our first formal inspection. We were preparing for it for two years. The preparation taught us all about attention to detail to the ninth degree," McMurray said. "I was pretty nervous about the inspection. But it ended up being one of the high points of my year. It's great to know I leave this program as one of the top 98 percent in the nation."

McMurray will now take all he's learned in his JROTC cadet experience and apply it to his next opportunity as an Air Force Academy cadet. He reports for duty at the end of June, will go through six weeks of basic training and then begin classes in the fall.

"As a battalion commander, I had to take responsibility for any failures of the cadet corps, and ensure the staff and chain of command worked properly," he said.

"But I especially enjoyed my time as the battalion command sergeant major because it was about taking care of the enlisted cadets. That was a very fulfilling job. Our main mission is to motivate young people to be better citizens and to live by the seven core Army values. That will stay with me for my entire life."

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16