U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- The newly installed Air Force Academy superintendent said his top priorities are continuing the school’s longstanding mission of developing leaders of character, and ensuring the safety of all who live and work at the base as the world continues to grapple with the effects of the coronavirus.
Lt. Gen. Richard Clark said this and more during his first official all-call with cadets, faculty and staff, Sept. 28. Due to strict health guidelines set in place to decrease the effects of the coronavirus, the all-call was an online event streamed live across the base.
“Developing leaders of character is always, always going to be our top priority,” he said. “We want every cadet to leave here as a great leader of character so they can go out into our world and make their dreams come true.”
Another priority for the Academy’s top officer is defeating COVID-19. Clark said the Academy would continue its partnership with the city of Colorado Springs, the state of Colorado, and the Defense Department in working to curtail the coronavirus and making decisions based on scientific research.
“Our goal is to graduate the class of 2021 and set ourselves up to graduate the classes of ‘22, ‘23 and ‘24,” he said. “We have to move forward smartly.”
Some of the restriction and guidelines at the Academy include mandatory use of facemasks, a ban on official and unofficial tours, large gatherings and sightseeing, to name a few. The base remains closed to the public.
Clark said his posture on protecting all who live or work on the Academy mirrors the stance set in place by previous superintendent, Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria.
“Our country needs you too badly for us to stumble now,” he said to cadets.
Clark also shared his views on professional and personal relationships and serving in the Air Force: know your purpose; trust your wingmen; be humble; choose your attitude; build strong habits; own your mistakes; use team language and have fun.
“Just because things might be tough doesn’t mean your life isn’t actually fun,” he said. “I promise you, the things you’re going to get to do in the Air Force are going to be so incredible. Even in the toughest of times you can laugh and have fun and teach others to have fun.”
Clark encouraged his staff and cadets to aspire to find their purpose, think of others before themselves and develop trusting professional and personal relationships.
“Trust your wingmen,” he said. “By trusting people you empower them to be their best. Trust is something that is certainly earned but it’s something we have to be able to give as well.”
When it comes to mistakes, Clark carries a notebook with him, and in it keeps a list of leadership lessons learned from mistakes he has made over the years.
“I write it down,” he said. “There’s nothing worse than a leader passing the buck. We need to own our mistakes and make sure we don’t repeat them.”
Clark said the Academy’s faculty and staff needs to prepare cadets for future conflicts.
“We are in a strategic environment that requires special types of leaders,” he said. “It is important cadets are ready to lead in this challenging and dynamic environment. We need to prepare to solve problems that we don’t even know about yet.”
Clark said diversity and respect are “strategic imperatives.”
“Diversity of thought and diversity of activities is going to be really important to us,” he said. “Our country is changing every day -- every decade -- and it’s important that we are able to lead in a diverse environment.”
The Academy’s diversity will be encouraged and enhanced under Clark’s watch, he said.
“As we build a diverse institution at the Academy, you’ll have the opportunity to lead and know people vastly different from you,” he said. “As we move forward, we’ll capitalize on our diversity.
“It’s a strategic imperative that we’re able to welcome people who have different ways of looking at problems and solving problems,” Clark said. “Everything we do is going to rest on our ability to connect with the people we’re leading.”
Clark is a 1986 graduate of the Air Force Academy.
“The reason I joined the Air Force was to be a pilot,” he said. “I love flying. That’s why I came into the Air Force. Why did I stay in the Air Force? The people.”