Character Corner: What USAFA gave this graduate
By Col. John Norton, Center for Character & Leadership Development
/ Published November 20, 2009
U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. --
Albert Einstein once said, "Education is that which remains when one has forgotten everything learned in school." While I've certainly forgotten much of what I learned here long ago as an engineering major, some things stuck with me. In fact, four specific skills I took from the Air Force Academy have been keys to my effectiveness as an officer.
First is the ability to think critically in order to make good decisions. It takes practice to recognize all possible solutions and consider their second order effects and unintended consequences. The Academy experience teaches cadets to consider all points of view and gives them practice making increasingly complex decisions.
Next is the ability to communicate clearly. Leadership is all about positively influencing others--through one's actions and words. An officer's written and verbal communications must be clear and concise. This is harder than it sounds. I left the Academy thinking I knew how to communicate, but it took me many years after graduation to really develop this skill.
I also learned from my cadet experience to remain calm under pressure. No matter what your Air Force specialty, leading in pressure situations is inherent in the military profession. The right action depends on staying calm in these situations. Countless experiences in the squadron, at the airfield, on the athletic fields, and in the classroom build the foundations of this skill.
Finally, and most importantly, I learned to make morally correct choices. The Honor Code and cadet culture of trust became part of me. There are plenty of grey areas in real-world situations--recognizing the moral implications within these situations is the crucial first step to doing the right thing. The instinct to choose the harder right, even when this decision carries a high personal cost, starts with learning to make tough choices in the cadet culture.
The Air Force Academy molds its graduates in many ways they don't necessarily recognize or appreciate until long after their cadet years. Internalizing the attributes needed to be a leader of character is essential to cadets' indoctrination into the profession of arms. This is what the Academy experience is all about!