Cadet balances academics, military roles

  • Published
  • By Don Branum
  • Academy Spirit staff writer
If you think senior-level astronautics courses are tough, try taking one while also serving as the leader of a 4,000-person student body.

Intimidating as that may sound, it didn't stop Moranda Hern from diving right in and forging a culture that emphasized both commitment to the nation and respect for everyone in the Cadet Wing.

Hern, a native of Clovis, Calif., entered the Air Force Academy in 2010 after graduating from Fresno Sunnyside Christian Academy. She led scoring for the Air Force swimming and diving team her freshman year, scoring 254.40 in a meet against Denver University and UNLV. She was named Cadet Wing commander for the Fall 2013 semester based on her military performance and recommendations from her peers and leaders.

As Cadet Wing commander, Hern was responsible for shaping a culture of commitment to serving the nation, the Air Force, the Academy and fellow cadets.

"My biggest goal was to empower other people to do their jobs and make this Academy their own," Hern said. "I asked the seniors to remember what they thought cadets were like when they came to the Academy and restore that image in their minds."

Hern, who competed on the Air Force swimming and diving team her freshman year, said she held cadets in high regard before she enrolled. She still does.

"I can't say my image has changed, because I see all the things they're accomplishing, the ways they're contributing to the community and the way they're progressing academically, militarily and athletically," she said. "I know even more now from serving as Cadet Wing commander that the image I had was absolutely accurate."

In order to serve the Cadet Wing, Hern balanced a tough academic workload with numerous military challenges vying for her attention. Along the way, she said, her Cadet Wing staff and the group- and squadron-level commanders helped.

"I was able to pull it all off because I had a really great team," she said. "The fellow cadet commanders did really well. Any extra duties or efforts were made easier to do because of the great team and the fact that I was working for 4,000 great, caring individuals."

Hern said she also had the support of the Academy's senior leaders, who empowered her to make decisions for the Cadet Wing and accept responsibility for the decisions she made. Col. Dale Holland, the Academy's vice commandant of cadets, spent quite a bit of time working with and mentoring Hern on how to lead such a large organization.

"We did a lot of mentoring in terms of decision making, thinking through second-, third- and fourth-order effects of decisions the Cadet Wing needed to implement or places that she wanted to take the wing," Holland said. "Your typical 22-year-old has never faced something like that before."

One significant challenge, Holland said, is peer leadership. A quarter of the Cadet Wing is made up of fellow seniors, and the Cadet Wing commander has to find ways not to force compliance but to inspire commitment.

"How do we go about shaping the wing into a culture of commitment and getting buy-in from all the cadets?" Holland said. "The best way of doing that is by having cadets lead other cadets. If it were permanent party dictating, 'This is what you're going to do,' that doesn't develop cadets' leadership and it sells them short because it doesn't give them the opportunity to make a decision and be held accountable for it."

Holland said Hern played a crucial role in creating a climate of accountability within the wing.

"She's humble, approachable, smart and articulate, and she understands how to draw that out of others," he said. "She does an extremely good job of upholding personal appearance standards, customs and courtesies, the intangible definition of what Brig. Gen. Greg Lengyel was after when he said we need to create a culture of commitment and respect.

"She was key to the whole thing -- not only her specifically but the whole cadet staff. They all realized that no one individual could have done this alone," Holland continued.

"Pulling all that together is part of the Cadet Wing commander's job, but ... she was very good at delegating to the Cadet Wing staff things that they could be doing so she could focus on the things she needed to be doing."

A leader's accountability travels both ways along the chain of command, Hern said, both to one's superiors and one's subordinates.

"I felt my job was to take everyone's job as my own and go out of my way to fix it," she said. "The most important part of any leader is the willingness to go the extra mile for the people I'm leading.

"I never saw myself as being in charge of that many people. I saw it as my job to serve the wing," she added.

Hern, who will enter pilot training after she graduates, said she's grateful for the experience, even if it meant a bit less sleep than normal.

"I learned a lot, and I can't think of a better way to end my cadet career than by serving the nation's future officers," she said. "I can't imagine a greater privilege."