I made my debut as a cadet, in both Army and Air Force commissioning programs.
Ronald Wilson Reagan (may eternal peace be upon him) was the President and Commander-in-Chief; George H.W. Bush was Vice-President; Frank Carlucci was the Secretary of Defense (but I remembered Caspar Weinberger much better). The Goldwater-Nichols Act had reorganized the military only somewhat recently and the military was still getting accustomed to the new way of doing business. The Soviet Union still existed, but the Cold War had begun to thaw.
Many of us were still dividing the world map into red (Communists) and blue (we unapologetically called it “The Free World”). Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Pope John Paul II was in the Vatican; Helmut Kohl was Prime Minister of West Germany while Erich Honecker was General Secretary of East Germany. Kim Il-Sung was still alive and running North Korea, Ayatollah Khomeini was still alive and running Iran, and Saddam Hussein was still alive and running Iraq (and had only just stopped fighting against Iran), and Muammar Ghaddafi was still alive and running Libya.
We in the U.S. generally knew who our friends were and who our enemies were, and if we didn’t know, we didn’t think it mattered at the time. The peacetime force was enormous. The Army had 28 Divisions (of about 17,000 soldiers each). The Navy had nearly 575 ships (including three battleships). The F-4 was still in the Air Force’s inventory, and the aircraft that became the F-22 was only in the prototype development phase; the Air Force unveiled the F-117 and rolled out the very first B-2. As I recall, the force was structured to be able to handle a major conflict in Central Europe and two smaller events. The wars we would have considered ‘Smaller events’ or ‘Minor conflicts’ would have been something the size of a renewed Korean conflict.
While major events were transpiring in the world and things were about to get much better, I was learning the essentials of military life; not in the immersive way my Air Force Academy and Officer Training School brethren did, but somewhat more evenly paced, two times per week in class and in “Leadership lab.” My fellow cadets and I were learning to follow the orders we were expected to start giving in (what seemed then to be an interminably long) two years. We learned just enough about marching, uniform wear, operations orders, military writing, and the “Big picture” current structure of the armed forces to enable us to learn the critical details later. It was the late 1980s, and uniform wear was in; although some of the older officers and sergeants who’d been in service during the Vietnam era remembered when they wore the uniforms only during classes.
It seemed to be a good time to be getting into military service. What we did not see at the time was the unsteady state the world was about to become, the uptick in deployments, and the eventual mass-casualty terror attacks against civilians that would beget a new kind of conflict.