Celebrating USAFA's 60th anniversary: 'We've come a long way'

U.S Air Force Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. Michelle D. Johnson (Air Force photo)

U.S Air Force Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. Michelle D. Johnson (Air Force photo)

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- As we celebrate the Air Force Academy's 60th Anniversary, I salute all of the proud servicemen and women who have devoted themselves to producing leaders of character for our Air Force and our nation. As the United States' youngest service academy, our Air Force's Academy continues a proud heritage built on the foundations of integrity, service and excellence.

When an air academy was first suggested almost a century ago, the notion was quickly dismissed. Even when the Air Force was established as an independent service in 1947, many were skeptical of the value of an Air Force Academy.

To the group of officers and civilians who were charged with establishing guidelines for an air academy, however, it was clear: no one else could produce the right combinations of qualities that would be required of leaders in the nation's newest and most technologically advanced branch of military service. Thus, on April 1, 1954, President Eisenhower signed the legislation that established our Air Force Academy.

We've come a long way in the last 60 years. We have established ourselves as a leader alongside the other military service academies and among the best universities in the nation. We are ranked among the top 25 liberal arts colleges. Our engineering and management programs are consistently ranked in the top five; and we have the distinct honor of being the no. 1 undergraduate-only institution for research funding. Our graduates are general officers, astronauts, professional athletes, business leaders, and civil servants. We are the Air Force's Academy and we have much to be proud of.

We are celebrating our 60th birthday in an exciting, yet turbulent time. We find ourselves entering an interwar period, during sequestration -- an historic period of budgetary decline, and at a time when institutions of higher education are defending their very existence. While some may find the times daunting, we are seizing the opportunity to be bold! We will move with confidence into the next 60 years, contributing to the Air Force mission to "Fly, Fight, and Win in Air, Space, and Cyberspace," and preserving the essence of what we do here at the Air Force's Academy: graduating lieutenants prepared to lead.

While the Air Force finds ways to meet shrinking budgets, the Air Force's Academy must do the same.

We will use these constrained budgets to refine our operations, honoring the vision established 60 years ago while preparing for our future missions. We will become leaner and more streamlined; but we will not lose who we are in the process. We remain dedicated to developing character and leadership.

Our focus on the Air Force mission in air, space and cyberspace remains undiminished. Through the four-year immersion experience, our cadets internalize the Air Force ethos and garner unrivaled exposure to the Air Force professional culture. Competition across the many facets of cadet life, including athletics, is balanced with a strong core curriculum, where the liberal arts find harmony with science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. We do all of this on the shoulders of an exemplary Air Force institution.

This is who we are. Our task to produce leaders for the Air Force and our nation is a profound one. The profession of arms requires much of those who serve. The Air Force Academy was founded upon the notion of service and we are continuing that proud heritage today with a renewed emphasis on our culture of commitment and climate of respect. We are committed to service to our nation, and to the Air Force and our core values of integrity, service and excellence. This commitment is what enables us to endure.

As we enter the next phase in our history, we will continue to provide our Air Force with confident, capable, proud leaders who have the background and the moral courage to tackle the challenges that most certainly lay ahead. We believe that the foundation they build here at USAFA will serve our Air Force and our nation well.