What Latter-day Saint cadets learned from Elder Andersen’s visit to the U.S. Air Force Academy

U.S. Air Force cadets learned the importance of building a foundation of faith in the Savior and of serving their country and serving the Lord, in a devotional with Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

A group of 100 Latter-day Saints, mostly cadets and their friends, heard from Elder Andersen and his wife, Sister Kathy Andersen, on Friday, Oct. 22, in a devotional at the U.S. Air Force Academy near Colorado Springs, Colorado, Elder Clark G. Gilbert and Elder Arnulfo Valenzuela, General Authority Seventies, also spoke.

Sophomore Payton Rawson said it was an exceptional meeting and one where the room was filled with the Spirit because Elder Andersen spoke just to them as if he were in their shoes. 

“He described exactly how each of us felt at that very moment. Everything from deciding about a mission to the struggles of military life to future career choices to being involved with church to finding an eternal partner. He got everything spot on for our unique situation,” said Rawson. 

U.S Air Force Academy cadets hear from Elder Neil L. Andersen at Polaris Hall, Oct. 22, 2021.
U.S Air Force Academy cadets hear from Elder Neil L. Andersen at Polaris Hall, Oct. 22, 2021. Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

They met in Polaris Hall, which is a uniquely shaped building full of light. It is sculpted upward like a plane’s tail, and it points north, to the north star, or Polaris. Elder Gilbert said the setting added to the powerful Spirit.

“The cadets were well prepared, and I think it allowed Elder Andersen to speak in a very bold and sacred way, because of who was participating and where we were participating,” he said. “There was a unique convergence of service to country, those who had prepared to gather, and the presence of an Apostle.”

Elder Andersen used President Russell M. Nelson’s words from the October 2021 general conference to impress upon the group the need for a strong foundation and a testimony of Jesus Christ. This would be their guiding light as they are assigned to any corner of the world. And they didn’t need to wait until a different situation in their lives — they can make time for the Lord right now, he said. 

Elder and Sister Andersen also met with Lt. Gen. Richard M. Clark, the superintendent of the U.S. Air Force Academy. The Andersens presented Clark with a Christus statue as a gift. Clark expressed appreciation for the high quality of Latter-day Saint cadets and especially those who have returned from serving missions. 

Military relations missionaries, Elder Mark Melville and Sister Connie Melville, were also in the meeting with Clark and said it was a meaningful meeting and exchange.

Clark and other instructors have remarked on the differences they see in returned missionaries on campus, Elder Melville said. They come back with more leadership skills, sometimes a new language, better planning and a more goal-oriented attitude. They also have a stronger spiritual side, he said.

”Elder and Sister Andersen shared a message of Christ, and also shared how grateful we were for the service of our military personnel around the world, and all they do to protect our country,” said Elder Melville. “There was a beautiful exchange as they shared that experience with the cadets. I think they could sense the appreciation the Andersens had for their service.”

U.S Air Force Academy cadets hear from Elder Neil L. Andersen at Polaris Hall, Oct. 22, 2021.
U.S Air Force Academy cadets hear from Elder Neil L. Andersen at Polaris Hall, Oct. 22, 2021. Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Elder Andersen recognized the service the cadets give to this nation, but he also spoke to them about the blessings of missionary service. He gave them a direct invitation to make serving a mission a priority. 

Cadets are allowed to leave the U.S. Air Force Academy to serve a mission, and then must reapply. Elder Melville said almost all are allowed to return because the commanders recognize how much a mission improves their lives.

Senior Conley Walters left the academy to serve a mission in the Brazil Porto Alegre North Mission. Now he is in the middle of a grueling academic semester and preparation for medical school. In this way, Elder Andersen’s visit to the academy was an answer to his months of prayers.

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“I have a reinvigorated love for development within the gospel and the priesthood, and know that even as a young, confused and overburdened 24-year-old, the Lord will raise me up to achieve my full potential, in accordance with His will and not mine,” Walters said.

Walters said the academy experience is not an easy one. But he knows he was supposed to be there to meet Elder Andersen and hear his words. 

“Wherever you are, move towards God. It doesn’t matter where you are, it’s important that you are moving,” said Elder Melville. 

“Being a freshman at the academy, I constantly feel that I am not enough or that I can never do anything right. Hearing the reassuring words of Elder Andersen has given me motivation in the past weeks,” Emily Cook said. “I know that I am not perfect right now, and that is all right. As long as I can keep trying my best, that is all the Lord asks of me. Hearing this confirmation from an Apostle of the Lord has given me a new sense of strength and confidence.”

“Wherever you are, move towards God.”

Cook also has been missing her best friend who recently passed away. She was comforted by Elder Andersen’s remarks about the recent death of his mother and his testimony that he would see her again.

“What was most impressed upon me by the Spirit was the character of Christ displayed by Elder Andersen and his wife, Sister Kathy Andersen. It was a personal assurance to me that we all can, through a dedicated lifetime of service, truly become like our Savior,” said sophomore Jacob Fuller.

Academy Prep School institute teachers Trevor and Cheryl Rosenberg were also in attendance. They said there was a wonderful spirit there.

“When an Apostle of the Lord testifies of the Savior, it brings a different spirit. You could tell everyone in attendance was moved by it,” said Trevor Rosenberg.

“I have a reinvigorated love for development within the gospel and the priesthood.”

The Rosenbergs said it can be a challenging environment to be one of a few Latter-day Saints at the academy, and they felt Elder Andersen understood and recognized that. He advised them on how they could live their beliefs, like kneeling to pray even in a dorm room full of others who were not members of the Church. 

He gave them a way to talk about their faith in a way that could build respect and understanding, said Elder Gilbert.

“He took the time to walk around and shake everyone’s hand. He made sure everyone felt loved and noticed, one-to-one. They all felt that spirit. They appreciated that he came and took the time. What a unique, special opportunity for them,” said Cheryl Rosenberg. 

“I will rely on the knowledge gained and testimony strengthened that night for the rest of my life,” Walters said.

Correction: A previous version of this story misidentified Emily Cook.