The Essence of USAFA: Essence document outlines Academy's principles, priorities

  • Published
  • By Don Branum
  • U.S.Air Force Academy Public Affairs
What defines an institution's core principles? They're what's left when you cut everything else away.

A fiscal year 2015 budget drill, held in the spring of 2013, forced Academy officials to take a close look at what programs fit into the Academy's foremost mission: to educate, train and inspire men and women to become officers of character motivated to lead the Air Force in service to their nation. If the Academy cut programs until it couldn't cut any further, what would be left?

When Lt. Gen. Michelle D. Johnson assumed command of the Academy that summer, she turned that question on its head. Instead of asking what the Academy would cut in a worst-case scenario, she said, the Academy must look at what makes up its essence.
"Before Corona (in October), I asked my staff, in the midst of everything else, to put together a page on the essence of USAFA," she said. "To the Air Staff, we said, 'Look, we want to be good stewards. We want to shoulder our burden, but it would be irresponsible of us to go so far that we would lose who we are.'"

The Essence of the Academy
The Essence of the Academy, Johnson said, is built on eight pillars:
· Developing character and leadership
· Focusing on the Air Force mission in air, space and cyberspace
· Immersing cadets in a total experience
· Harmonizing science, technology, engineering and mathematics and the liberal arts
· Competing
· Internalizing the Air Force ethos
· Exposing cadets to professional Air Force culture
· Building upon the foundation of an exemplary installation

Defining the Academy's essence allowed Johnson to fight some of the more draconian cuts. The Air Staff later told Johnson they would support her plan in the overall fiscal year 2015 budget. Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James said the rest of the Air Force can look to the essence document for lessons on how to preserve programs related to their units' key capabilities.
"When I received the briefing on the essence, to me that meant that General Johnson is doubling down on the things that matter most," James said during a visit to the Academy Feb. 14. "Items that are not within the essence by definition matter somewhat less, so if you have to choose, you have to double down on what matters most. And I think that's correct. That's what we in the rest of the Air Force have to do as well."

Essence in Detail
The Air Force Academy is unique among the Air Force's commissioning sources. The key components of the essence include:

· Developing Character and Leadership: "The Academy's unique opportunities allow cadets to practice leadership theory and learn from their experiences. Daily leadership challenges and opportunities abound to learn, apply and refine leadership principles. The intentional and integrative nature of this officer development, catalyzed by the Center for Character and Leadership Development but implemented throughout, is pervasive at USAFA and not available anywhere else. The Honor Code guides this leadership development to set cadets on a path of living honorably."

· Focusing on the Air Force Mission in Air, Space and Cyberspace: "Our nationally recognized airmanship, cyber and space teams and programs are second-to-none. They expose cadets to the modern way of warfare and prepare and motivate cadets for operational careers. These operational activities provide cadets their first exposure to how the Air Force applies and projects Airpower. Together, these experiences develop an operational mindset and systemic appreciation for the wide spectrum of the Air Force missions and uniquely posture cadets for the profession of arms."

· Immersing Cadets in a Total Experience: "Per Department of Defense Directive 1322.22, 'Service Academies,' our cadets are 'immersed in the tradition and professional values essential to the institutional character of the Air Force.' They experience an 'intensive professional military environment while achieving a four-year college education.' This leadership training environment crystallizes their internal commitment to the core value of service before self and enables them to become fit, ethically based, service-minded officers prepared to lead and mentor Airmen."

· Harmonizing STEM and the Liberal Arts: "Built on a strong core curriculum, our rich academic courses of study, combined with practical hands-on projects and hands-on activities, equip our graduates to deal with the technological, organizational and personnel challenges they will face on active duty. Theoretical, abstract thinking (humanities and science) education, coupled with applied problem-solving disciplines (social sciences and engineering) are fundamental and practical for the uncertain and ambiguous operational environments our graduates face."

· Competing: "A wide range of competitive opportunities challenges our cadets to excel and requires them to balance time between academic, intercollegiate, team, club, cyber, military and airmanship demands. Competition enhances their determination, demands commitment and teaches life lessons that will build skills and resiliency while shaping cadets into more capable leaders."

· Internalizing the Air Force Ethos: "Our cadets must apply Air Force doctrine and guidance to internalize the desired behavioral and personal characteristics in our graduates. This ethos will 'develop and produce a leader of character with a warrior spirit and expeditionary mindset who is a culturally aware, motivated professional dedicated to serve the nation and prepared to lead in the 21st century.'"

· Exposing Cadets to Air Force Professional Culture: "More than half of our faculty and staff are currently serving or retired Air Force/military officers and enlisted. Exposure to uniformed personnel and professional career civilians enriches every experience for cadets and is an invaluable part of their early development."

· Foundation of an Exemplary Installation: "The Academy receives several hundred thousand visitors annually and hosts numerous competitions and community events, much like colleges and universities across the nation. Unlike most academic institutions, we conduct these events while maintaining stringent security postures and force-protection requirements. Over 60 years ago, Air Force leaders and renowned artists and designers embarked on a remarkable journey to create a landmark campus that would equal the best of the world's architecture. The result holistically integrates site planning, architecture, landscape, interiors, man in nature, and the spaces between -- it is a national treasure that must be responsibly maintained and protected."

Future Imperatives
The Academy's essence document does more than simply define what constitutes the essence. It also offers a vision for how the Academy will continue to execute its mission, with a focus on what it can do within its fiscal constraints. The Academy's imperatives are:

· To foster a culture of commitment and a strong climate of respect. Commitment to Air Force core values is fundamental to building effective leadership. Respect among all at the Academy is essential to unit cohesion and effectiveness and to preventing the scourges of sexual assault, harassment, discrimination and suicide.

· To provide a rigorous, accredited Bachelor of Science degree built on a foundation of breadth and depth of topics and inquiry that prepares cadets to support the Air Force mission with a rich set of experiences and capabilities. The Academy will balance core requirements with specialized learning and facilitate comprehensive exposure to mission areas including airmanship, space and cyber operations.

· To improve its organizational direction, alignment and commitment and adopt a "business philosophy" to identify and implement effectiveness and efficiency improvements.

· To continue to maintain standards and enforce discipline focused on increasing cadet responsibility and holding cadets accountable for their actions.

· To simplify and focus cadet schedules to increase opportunities for them to develop individual and unit responsibilities.

· To take a more fundamental approach to athletic competition, blending a business-like approach to harness Air Force Academy Athletic Corporation benefits, with clear focus on intramural program makeup and recruited athlete requirements, to enrich the programs that build positive physical cadet attributes.

· To examine the degree to which the Preparatory School is achieving its original purpose of providing firm foundations in math, science and English to students who need more academic preparation to succeed and lead at the Academy. The Academy will also seek out and implement creative new ways to accomplish its mission given current Academy and Air Force resource constraints and priorities.

· To create a national-level resource for character and leadership development by creating an iconic structure and maturing an effective catalyst that will help the Air Force develop key characteristics and leadership capabilities in Airmen on a continuum throughout their careers, from cadets through general officers.

Click here for more information about the Essence of USAFA.