Overcoming challenges to advance character and leadership development

  • Published
  • U.S. Air Force Academy Public Affairs

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- Despite COVID-19 restrictions and a snowstorm in late February, the Air Force Academy’s most popular conference, the National Character and Leadership Symposium (NCLS), successfully used virtual and online resources to allow distinguished speakers to talk to thousands across the world about national service, warrior ethos, leadership and honor.

The school’s Center for Character and Leadership Development (CCLD) hosted the annual two-day symposium that brought together scholars, military and academic leaders, corporate executives and athletes to speak with cadets, Academy faculty and staff, university students, and community members in engaging sessions.

“Each NCLS connects participants and powerful speakers from all walks of life in presentations and discussion sessions to encourage reflection and motivate personal action,” said Lt. Gen. Richard Clark, Air Force Academy superintendent.

The symposium featured 36 speakers with keynote addresses by Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown, Jr.; Chief of Space Operations Gen. John W. "Jay" Raymond; Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Joanne Bass; retired Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, former commander of U.S. and NATO Coalition Forces in Afghanistan among others.

Col. Kim Campbell, CCLD director, said the symposium plays a “major role” in fulfilling the Academy’s mission to “educate, train, and inspire men and women to become leaders of character.”

“We’re expected to present challenging and sometimes controversial topics that force our audience to get a little uncomfortable and open their minds to other viewpoints and different ways of thinking,” she said.

Many speakers discussed their personal and professional failures and how these experiences resulted in growth, Campbell said.

“I appreciated their vulnerability in sharing their stories and how important it was for them to learn from those failures,” she said.

Campbell said the warrior-centered theme was especially appropriate this year.

“We certainly faced challenges and difficulties as we planned and executed this event during a pandemic,” she said. “From being forced to think creatively with new systems, formats and ideas, to COVID protocols changing daily and reshaping our [NCLS] plan, and even a snowstorm that closed the base on the first day of the event, we had to be agile and flexible.”

 Warrior ethos is the embodiment of the warrior spirit: tough mindedness, tireless motivation, an unceasing vigilance, a willingness to sacrifice one’s life for the country, if necessary, and a commitment to be the world’s premier air, space and cyberspace force. 

“If you’re part of this community, warrior ethos is part of what you do,” Clark said when introducing the symposium with a discussion on the symposium’s theme,” Warrior Ethos and Airmen and Citizens,” Feb. 26. 

Ultimately, the symposium helps prepare cadets who will commission into the Air and Space Forces to think critically and be ready to face tough decisions.

“Our mission at the CCLD is to serve the Academy by advancing character and leadership development in preparation for service to the nation,” Campbell said.