AF Academy’s flagship symposium starts with emphasis on diversity

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

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- The Air Force Academy’s most prominent conference, the National Character and Leadership Symposium, began Feb. 20 with Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria commenting on the event’s theme, “Valuing Human Conditions, Cultures and Societies.”

“It’s vital to our future success as an Academy, an Air Force, a military and an American Society,” said Silveria, the Academy’s superintendent, at the symposium’s opening ceremony.

 The NCLS brings scholars, military and academic leaders, corporate executives and athletes together to speak about honorable living and leadership.  

The two-day symposium provides an opportunity for cadets, Academy staff, university students, faculty and community members to hear diverse speakers and take part in group discussions. The goal of this year’s event is to inspire audience members to examine their identities as human beings and the identities of others to foster constructive engagement.

“In the military, if you look around, what do you see? Uniformity – it’s part of our culture and it’s by design,” Silveria said. “We wear uniforms, march in unison and fly in formation, but the truth is that while we may look similar, we don’t all come from the same place.

“We come from every corner of this incredibly diverse country – from different family backgrounds, cultures and upbringings. Ethnically and racially, we are all incredibly different.”

Silveria said these differences make the Academy, the Air Force and U.S. society stronger.

“Diversity weaves a fabric across the Academy, this Air Force and now the Space Force,” he said. “Diversity makes us more effective, more innovative and more resilient.”

“The symposium’s central purpose is to provoke questions that lead to better character and leadership,” Brig. Gen. Linell Letendre, the school’s dean, said before the event.

“The NCLS is about challenging ourselves,” she said. ‘”It’s about spending two days looking at the world through someone else’s lens.”

Silveria encouraged the cadets and others in the audience to listen to a speaker you know you’ll disagree with.”

“Challenge yourself,” he said. “In so many areas of the human condition, we do not come from the same place and we’re not always ready to hear each other’s stories. Opening our minds to ideas we haven’t previously considered is part of the essence of education.”

The Lineup

This year’s NCLS roster features:

-- Maj. Gen. Michael Fantini, Air Force director of Warfighting Integration Capability and deputy chief of staff for Strategy, Integration and Requirements, at the Pentagon

-- Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates

-- Retired Gen. Stanley McChrystal, former commander of U.S. and International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, and former commander of Joint Special Operations Command

-- Former Green Beret commander Mark Nutsch

-- Chaplain (Maj. Gen.) Steven Schaick, Air Force chief of chaplains

-- Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Kaleth Wright

-- John Urschel, former NFL lineman and dean of science fellow at MIT

-- Ishmael Beah, New York Times bestselling author

-- Jocelyne and Monique Lamoureux, seven-time world champions and Olympic silver medal winners

-- Doctor Anne Rizzo-Fantini, governor for the American College of Surgeons

-- Kristen Christy, 2018 Air Force Spouse of the Year and 2019 Women of Influence Legacy Winner

-- Mike Evans, founder and executive director of Full Court Peacet

-- Mastora Arezo, equality promoter in Afghanistan

-- Retired Brig. Gen Zvika Haimovich, Israeli Defense Force

-- Doctor Cynthia Willis-Esqueda, minority affairs committee for the American Psychology Law Society

-- Marlene Bjornsrud, Advocate for equality in sports

-- Joel Neeb, CEO of Afterburner and former Air Force F-15 mission commander

-- Josiah Middaugh, 2015 XTERRA champion

The event also features an athletic panel and a human condition panel.

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