Athletic director reflects on 60 years at the Academy

Dr. Hans Mueh

Dr. Hans Mueh

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- As I reflect on 60 years of history for our still-young Air Force Academy, I've come to grips with the realization that I've been associated with the Academy in some capacity for 42 of those 60 years. It's hard to believe it's been 52 years since I stepped off a bus from Denver and started a journey no on could have imagined or explained. The early years of the Academy were tough because we were trying to build our own traditions and show those Army guys who helped forge our direction that we were just as tough, if not tougher and would find our own way.
The interesting constant during all of those 60 years is the cadets. We got the best cadets the country could send us back in the early years, and we're still getting the best the country can send us as we look to the future.

The academics were tough back then, but they're tougher now because we've brought so much more into the classroom and laboratory than in my day. The research opportunities were available when I was a cadet, but we've pushed this to levels that match major research universities today.

As I reflect on 60 years of history for our still-young Air Force Academy, I've come to grips with the realization that I've been associated with the Academy in some capacity for 42 of those 60 years.

It's hard to believe it's been 52 years since I stepped off a bus from Denver and started a journey no one could have imagined or explained.

The early years of the Academy were tough because we were trying to build our own traditions and show those Army guys who helped forge our direction that we were just as tough, if not tougher and would find our own way.

The interesting constant during all of those 60 years is the cadets. We got the best cadets the country could send us back in the early years, and we're still getting the best the country can send us as we look to the future.

The academics were tough back then, but they're tougher now because we've brought so much more into the classroom and laboratory than in my day. The research opportunities were available when I was a cadet, but we've pushed this to levels that match major research universities today.

Back in the "old brown shoe days," we pushed the Commandant's tolerance on more than one occasion, but we tried not to embarrass the institution and always took pride in the Academy. We might have been a little cynical here and there, complaining about the same things cadets complain about today, but we stood tall and defended this institution against anyone who would disparage us.

Vietnam had a huge impact, and we found ourselves on the defensive more and more as the war became more unpopular. Yet we went proudly; we fought against a tough enemy who was trying to impart communist tyranny on most of Southeast Asia. We lost a lot of good friends who gave their all for their brothers in arms, but also built even stronger bonds with those friends and classmates. That same camaraderie is seen today as we wind down from several decades of war in Southwest Asia, so that same constant - the great cadets and future officers - still makes this institution one of the greatest on earth.

Maybe the biggest change I've observed has been in the area of athletics. The Academy started off strong from beginning when it recognized the impact of big time athletics as a way of gaining immediate credibility. Army and Navy had both established themselves as powerful performers, particularly on the gridiron, and produced dozens of All-Americans and several Heisman Trophy winners. Our early success in football, to include an undefeated season in 1958, did much to put the new Air Force Academy before the American people and certainly helped us recruit future generations of cadets. We have one of the real longstanding traditions at the Academy in the form of the dreaded Physical Fitness Test, and that actually gives us a great measure of the change in athletics and athleticism over the course of those 60 years. The PFT is basically the same test it was back then except that it is actually a little harder due to the change in number of pull-ups, push-ups, and sit-ups required to achieve the test's maximum score. To put this in context, one member of my class, the Class of 1966, retired Col. Tom Brandon, achieved the maximum score of 500 on the test. The Class of 2014 has almost 100 of their members maximize their PFT! This dramatic change in physical fitness is also evident among our almost 1,000 intercollegiate athletes, who are breaking longstanding performance records in all sports. When we were cadets, no one ran around the Academy grounds to get or stay in shape and very few of us lifted weights. Now, everyone runs and every sport has strength and conditioning programs, which contributes to a better-prepared, more self-confident, physically fit future officer.

It has often been said that the more things change, the more they stay the same. The only real constant here is the quality of the cadets we're now bringing into the Academy. The Academy is still producing the best that America has a right to demand of its military leaders, and this level of excellence is far beyond where we were 60 years ago. I'm just glad I applied to the Academy when I did, because I'm pretty sure that I couldn't get in today with the credentials I had back then.

Happy 60th Birthday, Air Force Academy! Here's to your next 60 years.

Academy Athletic Directors:

· Col. Robert Whitlow, June 1954 - June 1957

· Col. George Simler, August 1957 - July 1960

· Col. Maurice Martin, July 1960 - July 1963

· Col. Edmund Rafalko, July 1963 - June 1967

· Col. Francis Merritt, June 1967 - November 1975

· Col. John Clune, November 1975 - July 1991

· Col. Kenneth Schweitzer, August 1991 - February 1996

· Col. Randall Spetman, March 1996 - April 2004

· Dr. Hans Mueh, August 2004 - present