The Essence of USAFA: An exemplary installation

06/12/2014 -- U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- Editor's note: This concludes an eight-part series detailing the essence of the Academy.

Many words can describe an institution hosting several hundred thousand visitors, staging dozens of community events, and producing roughly 1,000 Air Force officers annually, but when it comes to describing her particular organization, the Academy superintendent prefers "exemplary." 

"Since its founding, the Academy has always been an exemplary installation -- none of this is new," said Lt. Gen. Michelle D. Johnson. "Because of our mission and the care and concern for that mission, exhibited since the inception of the Academy in all avenues including installation support, we truly are exemplary."

Johnson published the Academy's Essence Document last year, which describes the essence of the Academy and the eight pillars this essence rests upon. 
The eighth pillar, "Building Upon the Foundation of an Exemplary Installation," concerns installation support.

In the document, Johnson said, "Over 60 years ago, Air Force leaders and renowned artists and designers embarked on a remarkable journey to create a landmark campus that would equal the best of the world's architecture. The result holistically integrates site planning, architecture, landscape, interiors, man in nature, and the spaces between -- it is a national treasure that must be responsibly maintained and protected."

Three 10th Air Base Wing squadrons with a direct role in Academy maintenance and care, allowing it to fulfill its mission of developing leaders of character, are the 10th Civil Engineer Squadron, the 10th Force Support Squadron, and the 10th Security Forces Squadron. 

Behind the scenes
The 10th CES manages all Academy buildings and natural environments, with an emphasis on preserving and respecting the institution's heritage, sustaining facility excellence, and focusing on infrastructure, said Lt. Col. Patrick Carley, the squadron's commander.

"We're also charged with operating and sustaining more than 350 buildings spread across about 18,500 acres containing nearly 7 million square-feet of facilities; 2,460 dormitory rooms, more than 5,000 square yards of airfield pavement, and 172 lane miles of roadway," he said. "Without all these systems operating today and for decades to come, the Academy mission could not continue."

Carley said his squadron has a vast level of responsibility.

"Everything from managing dormitories for cadets and enlisted Airmen and multi-million dollar renovations, advocating for construction projects, snow removal, fire prevention and response, special event support such as that seen at the cadet graduation ceremony, natural resource management, managing the installation utility system and many other responsibilities," he said. 
In a word, the mission of the 10th CES is "essential" to the Academy's mission of developing leaders of character, Carley said.

"Absolutely nothing would take place at the Academy without the 10th CES operating behind the scenes to make it all possible."

The 10th FSS has an important role in helping fulfill the Academy's mission of developing leaders of character, said Lou Van De Mark, the squadron's director. 

"In our direct role, we provide for the needs of more than 4,000 cadets, to include food, laundry and recreation," he said. "By providing these services, cadets are more able to readily focus on their primary mission of becoming Air Force lieutenants. Indirectly, the services we provide to Academy staff members and their families are crucial to sustaining their lives, both on and off duty.

Van De Mark's squadron provides all who live and work on the Academy with basic needs including food, child care and lodging and higher-level needs such as recreation, education and personnel career management, he said. 

"No other unit on the Academy has such a diverse mission," he said. 

The essence document also reads, "Unlike most academic institutions, we conduct (special events) while maintaining stringent security postures and force-protection requirements."

Directly responsible for these security postures and making sure the Academy complies with force protection requirements, are the men and women of the 10th SFS.

This team of civilian, active duty and Reserve Airmen conduct law enforcement and security operations and protect the population of the Academy, including cadets, high-level distinguished visitors, and those attending Academy sports and special events. 

"Sometimes our fellow Airmen and visitors think of Security Forces as the Airman at the gate or those they see in patrol cars, but from our Airmanship sorties to protecting installation construction projects, we're involved in pretty much everything that occurs on the installation," said Maj. Jose Lebron, the 10th SFS commander. "Security is one of the pillars that keep the Academy running." 

The Academy might not have critical aircraft or a missile field to secure, but the mission of his squadron is still very unique and dynamic, Lebron said. 

"Among other things, we're the only open installation in the Air Force," Lebron said. "Every day, our Defenders have to balance the security requirements of a military installation with a semi-open historical national landmark and college campus. We not only perform the in-garrison (a permanent military installation) mission, but we also deploy our Defenders overseas to bring the fight to the enemy."

Challenges
The three leaders say the main challenge to providing their services at the Academy revolves around the stringent budget and personnel cuts set in place last year. 

"Like most Air Force organizations, the biggest obstacle to supporting the mission is the scarcity of resources," Van De Mark said. "We continually examine our programming, services and assets to ensure we are providing the best support possible with resource limitations. Many of our programs and activities are self-sustaining and operate as any civilian in the civilian business world."

Working within these fiscal constraints, the 10th CES has decreased in manpower and budget to save tax-dollars, Carley said.

"We've streamlined our processes and created efficiencies such as reducing energy consumptions, teamed with off-base emergency responders, and relied on higher headquarters subject matter experts support for technical issues." 

Van De Mark too recognizes the Air Force has tightened its belt in an era of budget cuts, but remains undaunted, saying his squadron "carefully balances financial success and capital reinvestment with providing affordable service to successfully meet the needs of the Academy community."

As with all Air Force specialties, Security Forces manpower allotments continue to decrease, a state of affairs Lebron said often requires "a great amount of flexibility to deal with."

"We have requirements no other Air Force installation has such as our quasi-open base concept, securing the visitor cordon for football games and the annual graduation ceremony at Falcon Stadium," he said. "These are events no other installation or security forces squadron is responsible for. Our level of responsibility here is similar to a base having to host 10 airshows every year and due to our manning, we have to be very flexible. We're very fortunate to have a team of security forces experts and motivated Airmen who can accomplish miracles to accommodate our unique requirements and keep our Airmen, cadets and their families safe."

Together, the men and women of these three squadrons and all Academy organizations strive to keep the Academy an exemplary installation even as it must deal with mandated cuts, but they're more than capable of fulfilling the Academy's mission while at the same time, saving tax dollars, said Col. Stacey Hawkins, the 10th ABW commander. 

"Without the 10th Civil Engineer Squadron, the 10th Force Support Squadron and the 10th Security Forces Squadron and the other 10th Air Base Wing units, we absolutely would not be able to serve our community and develop leaders of character here; we would not exist," he said. "Their work is absolutely integral to what we do here, and to keeping the Academy an exemplary installation. They define the essence of the Academy through their extraordinary efforts. Because of their determination to succeed, and the caliber and quality of the 10th ABW staff, I am confident that the Air Force's Academy will remain an exemplary installation well into the future."