Academy's dean reflects on valuable experiences, lessons

  • Published
  • By Amber Baillie
  • Academy Spirit staff writer
After a rewarding and far-reaching career in the Air Force traveling the world, teaching at the Academy and serving as dean of the faculty here for nine years, Brig. Gen. Dana Born will retire on June 25, exactly 34 years from the day she first arrived here as an eager basic cadet.

Born, a 1983 graduate, has spent 30 years of commissioned service in the Air Force including time as an exchange officer with the Royal Australian Air Force, commander of the 11th Mission Support Squadron at Bolling Air Force Base, Washington, D.C., and much of her Air Force journey where her military life and success first began; the Air Force Academy.

"I came here with a big learning curve and will say I still have a big learning curve," Born said. "I think that's the neat thing about life, you keep learning (at) different levels, and that's what we hope to pass on to cadets as they graduate. Once you finish your bachelor's degree and get your commission from the Academy, it's really just the beginning. I think the same thing is true throughout people's careers. What we hope is that people are growing as leaders of character over their lifetime."

Born was appointed as the Academy's dean in 2004; she was the first woman to serve in that role. She also served as the Academy's chief architect for the Officer Development System and was the Academy's lead point of contact during the 2003 sexual assault scandal.

"I've seen a lot of the issues the Academy has been through and I think it's a great institution," Born said. "I'm proud to be a part of an institution that doesn't try to do deny that there are issues to face. Whether regarding sexual assault, gender, religion, drugs or honor, we've owned it and said, 'Let's do better.'"

Born said she's proud of the Academy's cadets, who are performing at a much higher level than she remembers in the past.

"Many of them are doing graduate-level work by the time they graduate," Born said. "I'm proud of the types of opportunities cadets have here, and excel at whether it's going off to graduate school upon graduation, in their international cultural immersion program, or unmanned aerial systems program. I'm proud that we now have that at the Academy."

Born said during her time at the Academy, she's seen a stronger culture of respect, a stronger culture of learning and stronger culture of accountability.

"That's something we across the Academy are working on," Born said. "I think it's important for new officers who are going to be entrusted with our nation's security that we have such a culture embedded in them and the behaviors that go with a culture of accountability."

Born said before she joined the service, she was a small town girl who knew little about the military and had never boarded a commercial airplane until she headed to the Academy in 1979.

"I think the strength of the program here helps already promising young men and women develop into reaching or being able to reach their fullest potential," Born said. "It's about integrity and helping them practice to live honorably with every decision, every statement they make and all they do here."

As dean, Born said her definition of success is "celebrating others' success and feeling a part of it with the mission to educate, train and inspire cadets to become officers of character motivated to lead the Air Force and service to our nation."

"While in this position I've had the opportunity to live with a passion of developing others, individually, in teams and in organizations," Born said. "It's been a terrific journey."

Upon retirement from the Air Force, Born will head to Boston with her husband and two daughters July 1 to teach at Harvard University in the Kennedy School of Government. She said she'll initially be teaching management leadership, work strategy organizational change, and within their executive programs.

"One of things that attracted me there is their mission isn't far from the mission my family and I have been a part of in terms of the Air Force and the Academy," Born said. "Their mission states, 'Ask what you can do to make the world a better place.'"

Born said people often ask her, "Have you accomplished everything you set out to accomplish?"

"I say, 'no' but feel very proud of what we, at the Academy, certainly the faculty and most especially the cadets, have accomplished in the time I've witnessed the Academy for nine years."

The Air Force is addictive to be a part of, she said.

"You really grow to love and be committed to a very important mission and the people that perform that mission," Born said. "As the dean, I've had a variety of interactions with students. Being able to participate in events across their experiences whether it's their 100s night celebration where they receive their assignments, marching out to Jacks Valley, running out to the rock for Recognition or performing a memorial ceremony. It's been a wonderful experience."

Born said her favorite site at the Academy is the Eagle and Fledglings statue near Mitchell Hall because it's symbolic of the education mission here: to develop cadets or "fledglings" she said, for independent flight.

"It displays a quote from a retired lieutenant colonel that says, 'Man's flight through life is sustained by the power of his knowledge,'" Born said. "That can be knowledge of self, knowledge of other people as a leader, or knowledge of understanding your enemy to be more effective in your offense or defense. I love that."

Born said as her time at the Academy comes to an end, it reminds her of lyrics from one of her favorite songs, "Hotel California" by the Eagles.

"'It says 'You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave,'" Born said. "What I'm going to miss is the day-to- day interactions with the students and faculty here. Whether that's in the classroom, on the athletic fields, down on the flight line, in Arnold Hall, at our various homes, on the ski slopes or in the community, it's that daily interaction of being with a very large family. There are many things at the Academy that I'll hold in my heart and in my mind, and want to stay contributing in any way I can in the future."

Aim high, aim higher, Born said.

"It's about valuing and empowering every person, and being resilient to work through challenging times to stay focused on the mission and vision and where you're trying to go," she said.

Born has made a positive difference in the lives of thousands of cadets at the Air Force Academy, said Brig. Gen. Gregory Lengyel, the Academy's commandant of cadets.

"She is one of the primary architects of our current Officer Development System, and she has skillfully led the cadets and faculty to make the Academy one of the elite academic institutions in the nation," Lengyel said. "General Born genuinely cares about every cadet's well-being and helping to make them better Air Force officers. She has been a great colleague and friend and we'll all miss her."

The general's retirement ceremony is scheduled for June 25 at 2 p.m. in the Falcon Club.