Ranger Rich: Greening the Academy 

This week the graduates of our village's Air Force Academy sat and listened to the stirring words of master orator Joe Biden, followed by a dozen of Biden's aides running to the microphone to clarify a few of the things the vice president had said.

For example, following the first solo airplane flight across the Atlantic, Charles Lindbergh did not actually "retire and invent the stinky cheese that still bears his name."

But it was a great day at the Academy nonetheless, highlighted by the record 42 stadium fly-overs by the Thunderbirds, which had to be refueled 22 times as Biden went slightly beyond his allotted speaking time.

Which brings me to the lush Kentucky bluegrass that decorates the golf courses and some six miles of medians inside the Academy. (Footnote: Frankly, I don't know how I got from the jokes about Biden to the Academy's lush grass but, well, here we are so let's make the best of it.)

I often drive through the Academy, in part because it's an enchanting place where heroes are made and also because my son, Chester "Tippy" Tosches, attends high school there. (Tippy will be a senior this coming fall, although that's what the teachers and administrators told us the other three years, too.)

During my peaceful meanderings — a tranquility broken only during the occasional playful moment when I don a bed sheet and a fake, scruffy beard, wrap a tablecloth around my head and run through the woods shouting "Ay-ay-ay-ay-ay-ay-ay-ay-ay-ay-ay!" in a shrill, high-pitched voice — I can't help but notice the manicured grass.

I figured we, the taxpayers, are paying for the perfect grass as we continue to reap the almost unbelievable riches and rewards of the economic stimulus plan. (Not wanting to be left behind in this runaway financial upswing, I recently renegotiated my contract here at the Independent and was almost immediately rewarded with a fairly new stapler and an office chair with three unbroken legs and no back.)

Anyway, I called the Academy and asked about how they're spending our money on new sod for the medians and the stunning Eisenhower Golf Club's Blue and Silver courses, which, as you probably know, are named for former president Rutherford B. Hayes.

I asked with some trepidation because, well, let's go back a few years. In 1998, Academy boss Lt. Gen. Tad Oelstrom spent $308,000 from the Air Force "military readiness" fund to remodel the kitchen in his AFA residence, which would have come in handy if we had ever been attacked by Cuisinart.

And in 2005, then-football coach Fisher DeBerry said this about Texas Christian University's football team: "They had a lot more Afro-American players than we did and they ran a lot faster than we did. ... That doesn't mean the Caucasian kids and other descents can't run, but ..." DeBerry went on, but you get the point. That's right, he grew up in South Carolina, in a small town named Cheraw, definitely in the Deep South.

Back then I asked a lot of questions and, in keeping with the long and proud tradition of journalism, made fun of everything. Which was funny until that Saturday morning when someone dropped a Tomahawk missile into my coffee cup.

So last week I nervously asked about the expensive grass and learned the sod replaced each spring is killed by the sand and salt spread on roadways in the winter to keep motorists safe. Can't argue with that. This year, I was told, the replacement sod on perhaps the most breathtaking of our nation's military academies cost $30,607.50 out of a total landscaping and snow-removal budget of about $1 million.

And the golf course not only pays for itself through greens fees and concession and pro shop profits, but it also generates revenue used to run AFA youth and child development centers.

So I won't be making fun of the Air Force Academy today.

Or that brave old fighter pilot, Tad "Seamless Corian Countertops" Oelstrom.



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