Port St. Lucie native named Air Force Academy Cadet of the Year

JAN. 27, 2021 | COLORADO SPRINGS, COLO–Recent Air Force Academy graduate and four-year baseball letter winner, Second Lt. Jeff Gerlica,   was named the 2020 Air Force Cadet of the Year, the Department of the Air Force announced Wednesday, Jan. 20.

The award recognizes the best cadet in an Air Force commissioning program, and Gerlica, who attended Lincoln Park High School in Fort Pierce,  was selected in a large and highly competitive pool of Air Force Academy, Reserve Officer Training Corps, and Officer Training School cadets.

“It was a great honor just to be in the conversation for this award, but to be selected is something that I will forever be grateful,” Gerlica exclaimed. “I was fortunate enough to build relationships with mentors that pushed me to lead and better the people around me. I would not be in this position if not for the commanders, coaches, and teammates that I have been surrounded by in the Air Force.”

Gerlica, a Port St. Lucie native, was an active member of the cadet wing in his four years at USAFA. He reached the rank of Vice Wing Commander the summer before his senior year. In this position, Gerlica was the number two ranked cadet in charge of summer operations of all 4,000 cadets, leading through wing-wide changes of more effective training methods.

His senior year, he was the Squadron Commander for CS-04, and helped the “Fightin’ Fourth” jump 31 military ranking spots as a squad. Gerlica was also handpicked to the advisory staff of Superintendent Lieutenant General Silveria and Commandant Major General Edmondson, and was key in the wings’ response to COVID, as well as advising on the graduation plan.

Known as the “Face of USAFA” by his Head Coach,  Mike Kazlausky, Gerlica served as an ambassador for the Academy for numerous VIPs where he helped answer questions about USAFA and helped elaborate on the cadet experience. This included the Secretary of the Air Force, numerous senior ranking Air Force generals, members of Congress, the West Point Commandant, the CEO of Starbucks, and members of Google’s aviation department.

To go along with all of his cadet duties, Gerlica was also a standout on the USAFA baseball team. Gerlica was a 2020 team captain, while also serving as the primary recruiter on the cadet side for future cadet baseball players. He spent hundreds of hours devoted to recruiting new appointees with the baseball team, speaking and sharing his story and experiences with families and possible recruits.

On the diamond, Gerlica appeared in 28 games as a pitcher, making four starts, and totaling 30 strikeouts over 46.2 innings. In the COVID-shortened 2020 season, Gerlica was on pace to reach career personal-bests in appearances, innings pitched, and strikeouts in a single-season. In his final appearance for the Falcons, he pitched a scoreless inning in a 17-12 win over Utah Valley, including striking out a batter.

Not to be outdone, Gerlica was also a model cadet in the classroom. To go along with his copious amounts of responsibilities on and off the baseball field, Gerlica was an expert time manager, finishing with a 3.9 fall GPA and 4.0 spring GPA in his major of operations research. He also completed a capstone paper, written by himself and three other classmates, that is set to be published in the Industrial and Systems Engineering Review. The project used machine learning techniques to quantify the defensive shift in baseball. The project aided both the baseball team and the human performance lab in their research.

Gerlica graduated with his degree in operations research in April and is now training to become a remotely piloted aircraft pilot.

“As great as this award is, my focus is on the future. The job is not finished,” Gerlica continued. “Following USAFA, we have the opportunity to directly affect the mission of our nation’s defense and contribute daily to something bigger than ourselves. That is why I joined the military, and that is where my focus has been and will be. It is humbling to receive this honor within the training pipeline that leads us to a position to contribute to something greater.”

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