The U.S. Air Force Academy: A call to the future

Lt. Gen. Michelle D. Johnson, U.S. Air Force Academy Superintendent (U.S. Air Force photo/Bill Evans)

Lt. Gen. Michelle D. Johnson, U.S. Air Force Academy Superintendent (U.S. Air Force photo/Bill Evans)

U.S. Air Force 67th Birthday

U.S. Air Force 67th Birthday

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- The U.S Air Force Academy celebrates its 60th anniversary this year, coinciding with the 67th Anniversary of the Air Force. It's remarkable to think how quickly the Academy was established after the Air Force's founding. In less than a decade, Air Force leaders, with the support of  President Dwight D. Eisenhower, recognized the importance of a separate institution dedicated to educating those expected to "slip the surly bonds of earth" to fight the enemy, often in one-on-one air battles reminiscent of medieval  knights. 

As technology and modern warfare has evolved, so have the ideas of what it means to be an Airman. No longer is it a single pilot, or perhaps a small crew, strapping into an aircraft. Rather, it's a complicated network of effort that couples technology with innovative decision-making to ensure the right effect is delivered to the right location at the right time.

In today's Air Force, it's a team sport. Intelligence analysts gather data from technologies operated by space experts and protected by cyber warriors to work with pilots, who employ technology developed by engineers, all supported by Airmen operating the biggest weapons system in the Defense Department - the Air Force installation. For this networked system to work, it takes Airmen dedicated to those ideals on which the Air Force was founded: innovative problem solving, calculated risk-taking, the ability to learn from early failure and rapid decision-making.

Since its establishment Aug. 14th, 1954, the Academy has been developing many of these Airmen by remaining on the forefront of both innovation in higher education and development of the Airman's ethos and Air Force culture. It has continued to adapt as the problems faced by our nation have evolved.

Recently, the Air Force released a short document, "America's Air Force: A Call to the Future." This third-in-a-series of foundational documents serves as a call to action and sets a sight picture for where the Air Force needs to go over the next 30 years. It highlights the need for agility of mind and diversity of thought to tackle the complex problems we'll encounter in an ever-changing future. These qualities are guideposts for what we're trying to instill in every Academy graduate. What we do at the Academy - develop character and leadership in a competitive curriculum designed to balance liberal arts with science, engineering and math and immerse students in the Air Force mission and culture - has remained unchanged. It's how we do what we do that is changing.

Recognizing the importance of diversity of thought and inclusivity in decision- making, we're not only attempting to recruit students with diverse experiences, but we're intentionally designing pathways enabling our students (and students from other Air Force commissioning sources) to develop new experiences after admission. We're examining alternatives because many of today's students apply to the Academy with an already diverse set of experiences and accomplishments that can be leveraged for the benefit of the individual and institution. Although certain Academy traditions are unwavering, as described in "America's Air Force," "developing airmen ... may not follow the well-trodden [paths] of old."

Academy faculty and staff are working with colleagues across higher education and the DOD to develop and employ educational innovation to ensure our graduates are the agile thinkers needed for tomorrow's problems. Fortunately, we are uniquely positioned to ensure we graduate agile and innovative leaders for tomorrow's military. We do that through unique opportunities such as flying remotely piloted aircraft and satellites, a demanding combative' curriculum and partnering with University of Colorado at Colorado Springs to develop midcareer officers for future leadership opportunities. 

As the Academy Superintendent (i.e., college president and installation commander), I'm motivated by all we've accomplished over our six decades. I look forward to where we're heading and I'm encouraged that "America's Air Force: A Call to the Future," sets a clear sight picture for our future. I welcome you to visit your Academy to see many of the great things our young cadets - your future Air Force leaders - are doing.