Superintendent reviews 1st year at Academy, outlines path forward

Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson speaks to Airmen in Arnold Hall at the Air Force Academy Aug. 14, 2013, during her first superintendent's call. Johnson is the Academy's 19th superintendent and a command pilot with more than 3,600 flying hours. (U.S. Air Force photo/Sarah Chambers)

Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson speaks to Airmen in Arnold Hall at the Air Force Academy Aug. 14, 2013, during her first superintendent's call. The Academy Superintendent spoke with reporters June 26 about what she's observed since assuming command of the Academy last year and how the Academy plans to improve in the future. (U.S. Air Force photo/Sarah Chambers)

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- The Air Force Academy superintendent spoke with reporters June 26 about what she's observed since assuming command of the Academy in August 2013 and how the Academy plans to improve in the future.

Lt. Gen. Michelle D. Johnson covered the essence of the Academy as well as steps the Academy is taking to improve its culture of commitment and climate of respect.

Johnson introduced the Essence of the Academy document in January to address budget challenges that would face the Academy in future years.

"What we're doing with the essence is talking about why we're here," she said. "It helps with our grads, to unify them to see that whether they're from the Class of 1959 or 1981 or 2018, there are some things that this institution is going to provide as an experience -- the enduring values."

If the essence answers the question of what the Academy does, and the Air Force's need for leaders of character is the why, then the pathways to excellence represents how the Academy delivers, Johnson said.

"We want to have relevant and meaningful leadership for the leaders of the future," she said. "It's back to basics: focusing on developing more responsible, committed, mature and understanding cadets who understand the profession of arms."

Commandant of Cadets Maj. Gen. Greg Lengyel set one such pathway with his 2013 vector, which proposed giving cadets more freedom to manage their time, more opportunities to lead and more accountability for their decisions.

"What he did with last year's Basic Cadet Training ... was really transformational," Johnson said. "We took the feedback we got from cadets at other academies and our leadership experience in the Air Force, especially over this last decade of conflict, and said, 'What's relevant leadership?' So we focused on the upper classes' leadership development."

Lengyel's vector stressed taking care of their Airmen and leading from the front, Johnson said. She referred to the BCT cadre who are helping with Class of 2018 inprocessing as an example.

"If you hear them out today, their volume's up," she said. "But what they're saying is exhorting (the basics) and inspiring them, not to denigrate. And last year was the lowest BCT attrition rate in 45 years."

Johnson said it's important for senior cadets to get a feel for leadership while they're still at the Academy.

"We said to them, 'You guys are going to be lieutenants next year. You need to practice leading and take your shot at it,'" she said. "'We as active duty (Airmen) should be your backstop. If you make a mistake and veer too far off course, we need to give you a bump. But if you make a mistake, learn it here so that when you're a lieutenant, you have the maturity and experience to learn from that."

The Class of 2014, which graduated in May, rose to the higher standard, Johnson said.

"We're anxious to see their performance as lieutenants," she said.

Johnson said she wants to continue to improve unity of effort and accountability across the faculty and staff as well.

"We have to be great, and the cadets will be great," Johnson said.

Another high-priority task for the Academy has been improving its climate and culture, Johnson said. She has consolidated the many offices responsible for promoting diversity into a single point of contact.

"Instead of having 11 or more offices, with none in the Athletic Department and some in the 10th Air Base Wing and none of them coming through my office, this person works for me now," Johnson said.

Col. Ron Machoian currently holds the chief diversity officer position, but a civilian will be hired for the position after he retires. Since taking over the position, Machoian has set up Safe Zone training to help leaders establish safe spaces for gay, lesbian and bisexual cadets entering the Academy.

"After Don't Ask Don't Tell was repealed, we didn't follow up with as much training as we had with other actions," Johnson said. "We thought that didn't need tending. But as with any other cultural attribute, with 1,200 people coming in from across the country every year, they're not all going to have come with the same sight picture about openness and diversity."

Cadets also take part in externships for a few weeks at a time, to organizations such as the NCAA Diversity Office and the Underground Railroad Museum, Johnson said.

To address sexual assault prevention and response, the Academy's Athletic Department set up a Mentors in Violence Prevention program. The MVP model, developed by Dr. Jackson Katz, teaches student athletes how they can confront abusive behavior.

"The football team and athletes from other men's sports programs really received that positively," she said. "They're starting to understand their importance and their role in leading on this front."

The Dean of Faculty mission element has integrated culture and climate into the curriculum with courses that include ethical reasoning and action, respect for human dignity and intercultural competence, Johnson said.

"We're measuring how we're doing on achieving these outcomes," she said. "We know we need to be businesslike and measure things so we can make informed decisions."

The Academy's Center for Character and Leadership Development can serve to unite the Academy's internal effort to develop leaders as well as serve as a utility for the greater Air Force, Johnson said.

"This is the Air Force's Academy, so we're delighted to collaborate with Air Education and Training Command on working to help develop, for Basic Military Training, Air Force core values and character lessons," she said. "It's nice to be asked for help if people think we can be helpful."

Johnson said she hopes to see the Academy Preparatory School's recent successes continue. The Prep School's Class of 2014 saw a 50 percent drop in the number of cadet candidates on academic probation, and its GPA was the highest in seven years. Col. Gerald Szybist is set to assume command of the Prep School on June 30.

Johnson also responded to reporters' questions about allegations of cheating in a chemistry exam in February and an event in December 2011 that led to three court-martial convictions in 2013.

Ten freshmen out of 42 were found by the Cadet Honor Committee to have violated the Academy's Honor Code, which states, "We will not lie, steal, or cheat, nor tolerate among us anyone who does," Johnson said. One cadet resigned, and eight were found not in violation. The remaining 23 cases were dropped.

A total of 32 cadets were investigated in the wake of the December 2011 event. Half of the cadets under investigation were football players, two were basketball players, and one was a diver.

"When the charges were made known, five of them were immediately taken off the (football) team," Johnson said. "As soon as they knew about the allegations, officials started investigations and took action."

The investigations resulted in convictions for Jamil Cooks and Anthony Daniels Jr., both football players, for sexual assault and a conviction against Kami Bohannon, a women's basketball player, for making a false official statement.

Five cadets, including two football players and one basketball player, received non-judicial punishment under Article 15 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice and were disenrolled, Johnson said. Six cadets, including two football players and the diver, resigned in lieu of punishment. Three cadets, all football players, were discharged for conduct unrelated to the original allegations against them.

The remaining 15 cadets who were investigated, including seven football players, graduated. Five of the 15 cadets received punishment under the cadet disciplinary system, Johnson said.