JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. -- Earlier this year, Airman 1st Class Chad Schuch, 62nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron crew chief, was accepted into the U.S. Air Force Academy Prep School and is expected to graduate with the class of 2025.He will be leaving Joint Base Lewis-McChord at the end of this month to attend the AFA prep school first for 10 months, before beginning his AFA classes in the fall of 2021.The AFA in Colorado Springs, Colorado, accepts about 1,000 students per class year, 170 of which can be candidates already enlisted in the U.S. Air Force.“I won’t say that it’s a long time coming, because I’m very grateful to have gotten in on the first try,” Schuch said. “I’m ready to get started on the next part of my life.”Schuch enlisted in September 2018 with the intent to commission, but wasn’t sure which route was best for him. While attending crew chief technical training, he began looking into other routes to become a pilot and an officer, such as the ROTC and Officer Training School, but decided pursuing the AFA was the best option for him personally.“I made the choice to attend the prep school before starting academy classes, because I wanted to get integrated back into academic life,” Schuch said.The prep school is an avenue of opportunity for a carefully selected group of Airmen and civilians by providing them the academic, leadership, and physical skills that will prepare them for success as cadets at the AFA. Cadet candidates are not guaranteed an appointment to the academy, but earn consideration and a recommendation from the preparatory school commander by successfully completing the prep school program.After re-taking the SATs and ensuring he met all the basic requirements for application, Schuch had to get a letter of recommendation from his unit commander.“I had to reach out to the commander and first sergeant to get recommendations to build my package but at the same time, I’m doing my job,” Schuch said. “So I’m volunteering and taking classes, but I also want to be a standout crew chief at the same time. There wasn’t much time to just hang out, because I was very serious about pursuing this.”He said there were definitely points in the application process when he considered stopping, because it was overwhelming. He understood that many cadets apply multiple times before being accepted, which was discouraging, but he knew that if he did not try it now, he would never know.Though the AFA has 170 spots available each year for prior enlisted applicants, the amount of prior enlisted Airmen who get accepted and graduate from the academy is far fewer.“This program is difficult to get into, but much harder to complete,” said Capt. Amanda Barrett, 62nd AMXS section commander and an AFA graduate herself. “I am confident that he has the skill, drive, and capability to graduate and become a successful Air Force officer.”To be eligible for the AFA as a prior enlisted Airman, candidates must be at least 17 years old for the prep school, must not have reached their 22nd birthday by July 1 of year of entry, be unmarried, bear no legal obligation to support a child or other individual, not be pregnant, and be of high moral character.Schuch said that having the firsthand knowledge and experience in the enlisted corps of the Air Force will make him a better officer down the road.“If I had the option to go straight from high school to the AFA, I wouldn’t change what I’ve done,” he said. “I think it’ll give me a better perspective on how people think and how decisions are made.”