West Point, the Naval Academy and the U.S. Air Force Academy hold a special place for all Americans.

The Air Force Academy has been part of this elite military triumvirate since the first USAFA class graduated and was commissioned in 1959. The Air Force's core values of "Integrity First, Service Before Self, and Excellence in All We Do" fortifies the academy's four "pillars of excellence": military training, academics, athletics and character development.

For over half a century, the USAF has been fulfilling its stated mission "to educate, train, and inspire men and women to become officers of character, motivated to lead the United States Air Force in service to our nation."

I received a taste of the academy experience while attending a football game in Colorado Springs on Sept. 11, 2004, which was the third anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks against the U.S. The pre-game activities, which included a flyover by a B-1 bomber, were especially moving.

It was sad to learn that this year's commencement at the academy did not include the Air Force Thunderbirds demonstration team, which usually caps each graduation ceremony. The F-16 fighters were reportedly grounded due to sequestration, the automatic budget cuts to the Pentagon budget.

It wasn't the first time that government bureaucracy or Washington D.C. politics cast a shadow on an academy graduation. Just last year, President Obama spoke at the AFA graduation ceremony and shortly after the traditional hat toss, he wanted to leave for a campaign event in Denver.

His quit exit, however, forced a long delay in the traditional Thunderbirds demonstration. Thousands of people, including the graduating cadets, parents, friends and others parked in lots waiting to the Thunderbirds fly, had to wait while the president and his motorcade got to their precious campaign event.

One irate observer said it would have taken only about 20-30 minutes more time to stay until the fly-over was finished, thereby honoring the graduates, the Thunderbirds and the military in general. But Colorado was a key swing state and that seemed to be the priority of the Obama campaign that day.

You might recall that last Sept. 11 the president rushed off to another campaign event, and this one was just hours after the terrorist attack against in Benghazi, which cost four American lives. Once again, the president couldn't keep his political donors waiting.

Thankfully, two nonprofit organizations stepped forward to provide nine World War II-era planes for the traditional flyover at the Air Force graduation. The Houston-based Flying Legends museum spent about $100,000 in private and corporate donations to bring the aircraft to Colorado Springs for the flyover. The National Museum in Colorado Springs was the other group that made the day special for graduates and their families.

Flying Legends president Tyson Voelkel gave a simple answer as to why his group responded.

"Any chance we get to reach an audience, inspire young people and honor veterans and their families, we try to," Voelkel said.

If only we could see that kind of dignity and selfless patriotism from the president and the other professional politicians running - or should we say ruining - Washington.

By Jim Zbick

jzbick@tnonline.com [1]