The Essence of USAFA: Developing an indomitable spirit

  • Published
  • By Capt. Ricky Ricciardi
  • U.S. Air Force Academy Public Affairs
Editor's note: This is part five of an eight-part series detailing the essence of the Academy.

The Academy's top-officer says competition is pivotal to the growth of all cadets and an integral element of what the institution defines as its essence, the indefinable character and commitment of every cadet.

"One of the eight key components of our essence is competition, and a wide range of competitive opportunities challenge our cadets to excel and requires them to balance time between academic, intercollegiate, team, club, cyber, military and airmanship demands," said Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. Michelle D. Johnson.

Competition lives within each one of the Academy's 4,000 cadets, said Dr. Hans Mueh, the Academy's athletic director.

"I would submit that competition is vital to the cadets and all of those lessons learned during competitive events certainly enhance those qualities of leadership we expect of our Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Airmen," he said.

"To those who have competed, they competed with courage, stamina, self-discipline, self-confidence, as a team and with that indomitable will to win," Mueh said.

Decades ago, Army Gen. Douglas MacArthur showed his own feelings on the value of competition when he said, "On the fields of friendly strife are sown the seeds that on other days, on other fields, will bear the fruits of victory."

Mueh said he couldn't agree more with this quote.

"I'm a strong believer in General MacArthur's quote because the point was simple: it is difficult, if not impossible, to simulate the emotions and personal reactions to a wartime battle, but athletic competition at the highest levels is the closest you can come to simulating that environment," he said.

Competition at the Academy includes athletic club sports, academic capstones, military training events and competitive airmanship programs, resulting in all-encompassing competition.


While 24 percent of the cadet wing participates in 27 Division I intercollegiate sports, all cadets are heavily involved in competitive club and intramural sports, mandatory physical fitness testing and physical education classes.

"For those cadets not on NCAA Division I or competitive athletic club teams, the Academy's intramural program offers athletic competition opportunities," said Lt. Col. Brandon Doan, head of the Physical Education department.

The intramural programs are managed and coached by cadets, giving them leadership opportunities.

The best intramural competitors here are sometimes offered the chance to compete nationally, such as the men's extramural basketball team, which won the National Intramural Regionals in March and the women's fast pitch softball club team, which finished third at the nationals last weekend.

Currently, the Academy has 13 competitive athletic club teams. To maintain "competitive" status, teams must demonstrate regional and national competitiveness.


The Academy has multiple competitive dean's teams, including Cyber, Forensics and Mock Trial teams.

The oldest "dean's team" is the Forensics Team founded in 1955. The team held its first forensics tournament in 1959. More recently, the cyber competition team took second place at the 14th annual National Security Administration inter-service Cyber Defense Exercise.

Cadets also compete in various capstone projects and conferences, including the Service Academy Challenge, the Clara Barton International Humanitarian Law competition, National Security and Innovation competition, Service Academy Student Mathematics Conference, Boeing's Advance Concept Energy Supply 2040 competition, Colorado State University "Blue Ocean" Innovation competition and the Flightline of the Future competition.


Each summer roughly 1,000 basic cadets process into the Academy and face strenuous training.

Upon their arrival, the competitive spirit is instilled into each cadet with each basic cadet squadrons competing for the best squadron, top flight, or winner of "Big Bad Basic," which concludes second basic cadet training.

During the academic year, competitive events like Polaris Warrior, Sabre Drill Team competition, Combat Shooting and the Sandhurst competition demonstrate the cadets' competitive drive.


Each year more than 3,000 cadets take part in numerous airmanship programs with a percentage going on to represent the Academy in national competitions each year.

Cadets involved with the flying team, sailplane racing team, sailplane aerobatic demonstration team and Wings of Blue Parachute Competition Team have competed at the highest levels nationally with tremendous success.

The flying team recently won its 27th straight Region 1 championship, the sailplane racing team won the 2013 National Collegiate Soaring Association Championship Trophy for the 9th consecutive year, the sailplane aerobatic demonstration team swept eight trophies in trophies categories at the National Collegiate Aerobatic Championship and the Wings of Blue won their 34th Collegiate National Championship in 2013, garnering 34 total medals.

Competition plays a vital role in the Essence of the Academy and within out it, producing leaders exceptionally prepared to lead in complex, challenging, technically sophisticated and ever-changing geopolitical environments would be more difficult to do, Johnson said.

"Competition enhances their determination, demands commitment and teaches life lessons that will build skills and resiliency while shaping cadets into more capable leaders," she said.

Click here for more information about the Essence of USAFA.