Recent CMR grad ready to become USAFA cadet

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Dillon White
  • 341st Space Wing Public Affairs Office
One officer's home will be missing an 18-year-old varsity soccer player, choir member, youth soccer coach and church youth group vice president June 25. 

Keegan Vaira, son of Maj. Rusty Vaira, 219th RED HORSE Squadron operations flight commander, and soon-to-be Cadet 4th Class Vaira, graduated from Charles M. Russell High School in the top 10 percent of his class last week, and is scheduled to begin cadet training at the United States Air Force Academy June 26. 

"I plan to earn a degree in engineering and make the Air Force a career," Keegan said. "I've been running a lot and doing push ups, pull ups and sit ups on top of playing soccer to stay in shape for cadet training. I'm excited to go." 

Maj. Conn McKelvey, USAFA liaison officer, recruited Keegan for three main reasons, and said he was first impressed by his well-roundedness. 

"The United States Air Force Academy is looking for the high school individuals who will make the best officers for the Air Force-plain and simple," said Major McKelvey. "There are lots of high school students who are good students, good athletes or good at student government activities, but there are very few who do well at all of them." 

Secondly, Keegan has excelled in leadership situations [as vice president of his church youth group], but, Major McKelvey said one of the reasons he wants to go to the USAFA is to learn to be an even better leader. 

"Sometimes, being able to find your own weaknesses and then working on them, is the mark of someone who will end up as a great leader," he said. "That impressed me a lot."
The third thing that impressed the liaison officer about Keegan was his honest approach, the Major said. 

"We see a lot of students who say they want to go to the Academy to be pilots because they think it is the best way to be accepted, which is not true. He had the confidence to be honest about his desire to be an engineer after he is commissioned," Major McKelvey said. 

Keegan got his first glimpse of life as a cadet during a week-long construction camp sponsored by the Society of American Military Engineers held at the USAFA in 2006 as a high school student. The camp is lead by cadets, USAFA instructors and engineers.
While there, Keegan built concrete beams, sprinkler systems, wastewater filters, and participated in team-building and problem-solving activities and toured the USAFA laboratories and cadet facilities. 

The honor graduate said he wanted to attend the Air Force Academy over other colleges because he is familiar with the Air Force and that the military appeals to him. 

"My other choice was to go to Montana State University and enroll in ROTC, but I wouldn't get the same extracurricular and leadership opportunities," he said. 

Keegan plans to play soccer for The Falcons and join the choir. He also intends to participate in a summer parachuting course, and possibly a glider course. 

"This is a great opportunity not only academically, but for leadership, and athletic growth as well," said Major Vaira. "It's taken a lot of people to help him get accepted to the Academy from support and mentorship from parents and family friends, to letters of recommendation from pastors, coaches, teachers and one from Brig. Gen. John Del Toro, Montana Air National Guard commander. We're proud of him." 

Middle and high school students who are interested in the USAFA or Air Force ROTC can contact Major McKelvey at or (406) 736-5739. 

"We have officers who cover every school in Montana and tons of info can be found at," Major McKelvey said. 

Current enlisted members should contact the Malmstrom Education Office for USAFA recruiting info.