Supt.'s Call: Lt. Gen. Johnson speaks on accomplishments, challenges

U.S. Air Force Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. Michelle D. Johnson speaks to Academy Airmen at a Superintendent's Call Jan. 7 at the Arnold Hall Theatre. At the event, the general spoke on how the Academy can maintain it's leading edge in an era of fiscal constraints and other challenges./U.S. Air Force photo by Elizabeth Copan

U.S. Air Force Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. Michelle D. Johnson speaks to Academy Airmen at a Superintendent's Call Jan. 7 at the Arnold Hall Theatre. At the event, the general spoke on how the Academy can maintain it's leading edge in an era of fiscal constraints and other challenges./U.S. Air Force photo by Elizabeth Copan

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- Air Force Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. Michelle D. Johnson discussed budgetary uncertainties and the essence of the Air Force Academy's mission during a series of Superintendent's calls in Arnold Hall Jan. 7.

A decline of $53.5 million in the Academy's budget from fiscal year 2013 to FY 2014, and uncertainty leading into FY 2015, will force the institution to focus on its essence and examine how it can continue to meet mission requirements, Johnson said.

"One thing we know for certain is, we'll be a smaller Air Force: 25,000 Airmen and 550 aircraft smaller," Johnson said. "The budget numbers we get in February will determine the impact on the total number of positions we might have to cut here."

Though the Academy will not see cuts as drastic as those at Fort Carson, whose 4th Infantry Division is set to inactivate its 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team in FY 2015, the cut positions here will disappear quickly once they're identified, Johnson said.

"That's why I wanted to start talking with you now about what's happening and get more details," she said. "We'll have pools of people affected by this. We'll know who in June, and the separation dates will come up in September."

Johnson said the Academy wants to be a good steward of taxpayer money, but that leaders here needed to identify a point beyond which cuts would render the Academy unable to complete its mission. They started by focusing on what the Academy's essence -- to ask what the institution is, and historically has been, about.

"We went back to source documents. We went back to our charters. We went back to Air Force instructions," she said. "And we said, 'Let's agree about what we think the essence of a service academy is. Why have an academy?'"

The team captured seven main areas, Johnson said: developing character and leadership; focusing on the Air Force mission in air, space and cyberspace; immersing cadets in a total experience; harmonizing science, technology, engineering and mathematics with the liberal arts; competing; internalizing the Air Force ethos; and exposing cadets to a professional Air Force culture.

"That won't completely turn the tide of the budget, but it will help us plan more effectively," she said. "Now what's going to be incumbent on us is to be creative in how we do this. We may not be able to do it the same way we've always done it, but we want to make sure we still do it."

For example, developing character and leadership may include giving cadets more responsibility and more accountability, which Commandant of Cadets Brig. Gen. Greg Lengyel began doing during Basic Cadet Training last summer. Johnson said both she and Lengyel felt the dearness of that responsibility would give more value to the cadets' experience.
And while STEM is important, it cannot supersede the value of a well-rounded liberal arts education, Johnson said.

"The foundations of our Academy come from President (Dwight D.) Eisenhower and the first superintendent, (Lt. Gen.) Hubert Harmon," she said. "They talk about the importance of a liberal education and the humanities in harmony with STEM in a technological service.

"It's important that we have that breadth. Maybe not everyone becomes scientists, though we can be competent that way, but we can also understand the human condition and history in context and be there for people as leaders. That's why it's so important, and that's why the education we provide here is so extraordinary."

The superintendent pointed to some of the Cadet Wing's fall semester milestones to highlight staff and faculty members' accomplishments. The previous semester saw an average GPA of 2.95, the highest in at least 10 years, along with fewer than 300 cadets on academic probation and the highest number of cadets with a GPA higher than 3.0.

"We have 4,000 people between 18 and 22 years old, and they're learning and growing," she said. "They're doing great, and you're part of that."