1 event, 2 celebrations: Polaris Hall opens, Academy educator Wakin retires

  • Published
  • By Ray Bowden
  • U.S. Air Force Academy Public Affairs

When one door closes at the Air Force Academy, another opens.


This was the case at the Air Force Academy April 25 when Polaris Hall, the tower housing the Center for Leadership and Character Development, officially opened for business and a longtime Academy educator retired from an his active 57-year teaching career.


Retired Brig. Gen. Malham Wakin, the Academy’s professor emeritus of philosophy, gave an inaugural address celebrating the grand opening of Polaris Hall, the mission of the CCLD, and doubling as his retirement speech.


Wakin discussed the evolution of character-building at the Academy, and the burgeoning acceptance in military circles that lessons in character and integrity can profoundly affect military leaders.


At the top of Wakin’s list for character development was integrity, the most important character trait every Academy cadet and military leader should cultivate, he said.


“What if you, as a leader, do not have integrity?” he said. “No one will trust you. Do you think that without integrity, that [leader] will get loyalty and trust from his troops?”


Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson said Wakin’s long-lasting impact on the Academy is rooted in his profound belief that integrity, above all other virtues, is the foundation of the profession of arms.


 “As General [Hubert] Harmon [the first superintendent of the Academy] and the rest of the early founders vigorously debated the appropriate balance of science versus the humanities, theory versus application, General Wakin understood that neither intellectual brilliance alone, nor moral character and discipline alone will sustain us in our most desperate hour,” she said.


During the Vietnam War-era, the faculty agreed cadets would take an ethics course, Wakin said.


“The other service academies followed, with the Army purchasing 39,000 copies [of our textbook] for ROTC candidates,” he said.


Later, while Wakin was away from the Academy on a temporary assignment, philosophy was removed from the curriculum.  


“They thought if it wasn’t taught at West Point [the U.S. Military Academy], it wasn’t worth teaching. I called a meeting to change that as soon as I got back,” he said with a laugh.


Wakin discussed the role the Academy had in first expressing the Air Force’s core values of Integrity first, Service before self and Excellence in all we do, in the ‘90s.


“Core values became the Air Force’s way of life,” he said, after then-Secretary of the Air Force, Shiela Widnall consulted him. This is one more example of [the Academy’s] impact on the entire Air Force.”


Wakin began teaching at the Academy in 1959. He served as head of the philosophy department, humanities division chair and associate dean. He helped found and chair the Joint Services Conference on Professional Ethics from 1979 through 1993. Wakin retired from active duty in 1993, after a 42-year Air Force career, but continued to teach at the Academy and promote ethics and character development.


Retired Lt. Gen. Christopher Miller, a senior scholar at the CCLD, said the CCLD is the Academy’s catalyst for character development, elevating and integrating character and leadership development as an integral part of the Academy’s academic, military and athletic programs.  The CCLD will also focus on improving character research and information sharing and facilitating further development of professional excellence, particularly for Academy staff and faculty.


 “As inspirational as the surroundings may be, General Wakin’s lecture was a pointed reminder that what’s far more important are the people who gather in Polaris Hall to wrestle with the true north of age-old principles and how to master the modern challenges that face us,” he said.


 Miller said Wakin’s presentation is the first of many to occur in Polaris Hall.


“The Academy has added over 43,000 square feet of distinctive new space, built to inspire important conversations centered on cadets but extending the Academy’s impact much further over time,” he said. “Over just the next few months, Polaris Hall will be the venue for cadet honor code meetings, a technology innovation exposition, award and commissioning ceremonies, academic and other discussions, Basic Cadet Training activity and an event recognizing those who made the plan a reality. Everything that happens here will be enabled by state-of-the-art collaboration rooms, offices, meeting spaces, technology and an iconic central forum, capped by the north-pointing skylight that gives Polaris Hall its name.  ” 


Wakin wrapped-up his presentation by thanking Airmen, cadets and faculty members who played a part during his career.


 “Thank you for the immeasurable privilege of being able to teach,” he said. 


Visit www.usafa.edu/Commandant/cwc/index.cfm?catname=cwc for more information.