U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- Brigadier Gen. Andy Armacost said goodbye to the Air Force Academy Sept. 13.
You could tell it wasn’t easy for the school’s former dean or his family, friends and coworkers to accept, but there he was, capping-off a 30-year military career with an official retirement ceremony in Arnold Hall.
Armacost was more than just “popular” as the Academy’s leading academic. His low-key charisma, egalitarian spirit and concern for cadets and their education was esteemed by staff and cadets. His commander’s calls typically began with several minutes of exuberant cheers from cadets and faculty alike.
“Whenever he’s announced somewhere with me, I’m always humbled by the roar of applause he gets,” Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria said with a laugh during the ceremony. “General Armacost is beloved by cadets and faculty.”
Armacost has never been one to brag about his accomplishments, which include a master’s of science in operations research and a doctorate of operations research from MIT, a stint as chief analyst for Air Force Space Command, and becoming a permanent professor and head of the Academy’s management department before the Senate confirmed him as dean in 2013. In all, he’s served at the Academy for two decades.
“Twenty years is a long time, and I’m thrilled to have worked alongside so many wonderful faculty members – including incredible superintendents, first Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson and then Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria – and provide a world-class education to our future leaders,” he said. “That education is the root of creativity and critical thinking that prepares our graduates for a world with increasing complexity.”
Silveria seemed more than happy to brag about the former dean.
“What an incredible career he’s had,” he said. “I think many of us who set out on careers as leaders in uniform hope to have a fraction of the impact he’s had on our people, on our Air Force as an organization and on this Academy. It’s certainly a career to envy and an example for our cadets.”
Silveria trumpeted the catalog of Armacost’s accomplishments at the Academy. The list includes:
-- Leading the Academy through highly successful evaluations by the Higher Learning Commission for institutional accreditation, the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business for accreditation of the management program, and ABET for accreditation of the engineering, computer science and cyber science programs.
-- Establishing the Academy’s first tech-transfer program, expanding the Cadet Summer Research Program and standing up the Air Force’s Cyber Innovation Center.
-- Increasing the diversity of the faculty with respect to gender and members of underrepresented groups.
-- Expanding recognition programs for cadet academic excellence and growth.
-- Receiving recognition for lifetime achievement from the Air Force, the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences, the Military Operations Research Society, and the Pi Kappa Alpha Foundation.
“General Armacost led the most comprehensive revision of the Academy’s curriculum and developmental outcomes in over 20 years,” Silveria said.
During his time as dean, the cadet wing achieved its highest collective GPA in 20 years.
“Your influence and support of the Academy spans all mission elements, has profoundly affected the lives of thousands of cadets and officers, and will ensure the world-class stature of the Academy for years to come,” Silveria said.
Armacost said everything the Academy does revolves around caring for cadets’ academic and personal growth. If there’s anything about the institution he’s proud of, it’s cadets.
“One of the most important things is our relationship with cadets,” Armacost said. “I made an effort to connect as best I could with a large group of people.”
Cadets referred to Armacost as “Uncle Andy” – behind his back of course. Here’s why.
“He’s different. There’s an aura about him,” said 2nd Lt. Drew Burman, a 2019 Academy graduate waiting to attend pilot training. “I remember when he would speak to us from the staff tower. Everyone would go absolutely insane when he was announced. I think he was called ‘Uncle Andy’ because he left a mark. We knew he truly cared and wanted us to succeed.”
Cadet 1st Class Daniel Carpenter said Armacost is universally respected.
“No matter how much he knew or didn’t know you, he would just walk up to you with a handshake,” Carpenter said. “It was like being at a family reunion. It’s pretty evident [cadets] liked having someone with that attitude and personality as the dean. His professional reputation preceded him and cadets respected him for that, too.”
Cadet 1st Class Swathi Samuel said Armacost’s optimism resulted in loyalty from cadets.
“I’ve never heard any cadet having anything to say about him that wasn’t positive,” she said. “General Armacost just exudes positive vibes. Whatever he’s doing, it works.”
Armacost shared a “defining experience” with the audience he said continues to influences his personal approach. He was harshly belittled by a senior officer for a simple blunder when he was a lieutenant. To make matters worse, he said, the criticism occurred in full view of a general officer who did nothing to quell the senior officer’s hyperbolic response. Armacost said the verbal abuse clashed with what he described as his “never-ending quest to treat others with dignity and respect.”
“This was a formative experience and I vowed never to treat anyone that poorly,” he said.
Armacost capped-off his speech by thanking his family and the audience for their support, and for the staff and faculty’s advocacy for the Academy.
“This is a place, a venue, a location where we do amazing things for the entire Air Force,” he said.
Armacost officially retires from the Air Force December 1. He and his wife Kathy plan to stay in Colorado for the next year while he looks for available university president or provost positions.
“This is my ambition,” he said.
[Editor’s note: Col. Troy Harting will take on the responsibilities of dean until the Senate confirms President Donald Trump’s nomination for Col. Linell Letendre to become the school's next official dean.]