By cadets, for cadets: Maj. Gen. Lengyel reflects on USAFA's culture of commitment

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt. Brandon Baccam
  • Academy Public Affairs
Maj. Gen. Gregory Lengyel may be scheduled to hand over responsibilities as commandant of cadets to Brig. Gen. Stephen Williams here Tuesday, but he says he'll always be concerned with how Academy staff and the Air Force at-large works to instill commitment in cadets.

Lengyel said his No. 1 priority since taking on the mantle of commandant in early June 2012 was to foster a culture of commitment within the Cadet Wing.

One step the general took to do this was giving more authority and responsibility to the lowest possible level.

"If I could sum-up my focus for the last 18 to 24 months, it's been to push more responsibility and authority to the cadets and Cadet Wing," he said. "When you're given responsibility to make something happen and be in-charge of people, your perspective completely changes."

During Lengyel's first few months here, his staff discovered cadets were only intermittently following certain policies.

"We knew we needed to work on that, and I knew we could attack the symptoms by ratcheting up the voltage on punishment for offenses on cadets," he said. "But, it was a cadet who came to me and said, 'sir, we'll comply if you make us. But, isn't it what you really want, our commitment?' The light bulb went on and I said, 'you're absolutely right.'"
Increasing responsibilities at the cadet level builds cadet commitment to the country, the Air Force and themselves, he said.

The Academy's culture of commitment is based on three tenants: commitment to serving the nation, the Air Force and its core values; and commitment to the Academy and other cadets, Lengyel said.

A culture of commitment
The Academy's mission is to educate, train and inspire men and women to become officers of character, motivated to lead the Air Force in service to the nation.

I wanted to make sure these cadets are worthy of earning a chief master sergeant's salute from their first day as a second lieutenant," he said. "Another thing is getting cadets to recognize they're not just regular college students -- they're officer-candidates at a service academy -- and we have higher expectations of them than students at most civilian universities. When they graduate, they need to be worthy of that salute."

This spirit of commitment means cadets have to prepare for any challenge and be ready to serve in any capacity at any time, Lengyel said.

"Even though the focus of our cadets might be that we're in a draw-down period, recent events in Iraq and Syria all highlight that you don't always know what's going to happen," he said. "You can't count on a post-war period."

general said he learned an important lesson about commitment from Army Gen. David Rodriguez, a keynote speaker during February' National Character and Leadership Symposium, who said "There is no problem that we can't solve with leadership and using the chain of command."

"I learned this previously in my career, but it wasn't until I heard this from General Rodriguez that I said, 'That's it, he's captured one of our fundamentals of military leadership.' I've actually used this with our cadets in different situations before. Cadets may be frustrated with something and when they try to come up with a solution I'll ask, 'are we using leadership and the chain of command to solve this?"

Using the chain of command should be common for every Airman, Lengyel said.

We talk a lot about our culture of commitment here but its value cannot be underestimated or understated," said Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. Michelle D. Johnson. "This commitment is part of our essence - that indomitable spirit motivating not just cadets but all Academy staff and Airmen to do their best for their nation. The Academy has made great strides because of Maj. Gen. Lengyel's efforts - he's led from the front as a mentor and a role model for every cadet, and he's demonstrated the intrinsic value of commitment to our nation, the Air Force, and to each other."

A shift in focus focus
Beginning with the Class of 2017, the focus of Basic Cadet Training shifted from basic cadet development to developing cadet cadre leadership, Lengyel said.

It's about cadet leadership, being a role model, taking care of your Airmen and putting their needs above your own," he said.

to this shift, cadets became more committed to each other as a team and relationships between 4th class cadets and upperclassmen improved, he said.

"Lower attrition was not a specific goal, it was a second-order effect," Lengyel said. "We didn't lower the standards for BCT - it's not easier - but I think one of the second-order effects of those changes were that cadet basics didn't want to let down their upperclassmen, because this time they respected them instead of hating them, and so stayed."

Integral to building a culture of commitment among cadets is fostering a climate of respect here for all, Lengyel said.

"I believe my commander's assessment that the sexual assault issue at the Academy revolves around primarily not treating other people with the respect they deserve," he said. "And I believe perhaps our cadets are actually treating each other better in this culture of commitment and climate of respect that we have going on right now."

By cadets, for cadets
Lengyel will soon depart the Academy to become the commander of Special Operations Command Europe.

"It's been a tremendous honor to serve as the 26th commandant and be associated with the Academy." he said.

Lengyel said most of the best ideas implemented at the Cadet Wing during his tenure have come from his staff and cadets.

"There are so many great things that are happening here every day that most people don't hear about," he said. "I just kind of provided some left and right limits and course corrections here or there, but I didn't come up with many original ideas. Most of them came from the cadets themselves or the great staff here."

The general said he achieved his goal of being able to leave behind a self-managing Cadet Wing, led by cadets, for cadets.

"I'm really proud to be associated with an institution that has such great people and such a noble mission of producing the next generation of officers for our Air Force," he said. "I'm glad I could play a small role in influencing that by the opportunity to work with the fine young men and women here who signed up to be future lieutenants."

(Editor's note: This is Baccam's last story for the Academy as he will soon depart for Osan Air Base, S. Korea.)