Activist Generals Are Transforming the Air Force Academy

In September, the United States Air Force Academy class of 1972 met for its 50th year reunion. Compared to our experience, the Academy of today is virtually unrecognizable.

America’s foundational institutions are under assault.  For decades the siege progressed incrementally, imperceptible to most observers.  But recently the pace has accelerated, avoiding all pretense of subtlety.  In the case of USAFA, activist generals serve as a vivid example of how a few influential individuals are able to implement President Obama’s call to fundamentally change American society.

Nowadays, when visiting USAFA, one is impressed by the comfortable, relaxed atmosphere.  Gone are the days when cadets lived under unremitting pressure, stood at rigid attention, and bore the brunt of verbal abuse from upper class cadets.  Uniforms are still worn, but in reality, cadet life is drifting away from that of a traditional military academy and towards a liberal arts environment.

According to U.S. News’ Best College Rankings, the Academy’s national ranking in the National Liberal Arts Colleges category increased from #39 to #18 from 2020 to 2022. USAFA ranks #1 in aeronautical and astronautical engineering, but this distinction only applies to schools that do not offer doctorate degrees. Currently, the civilian faculty, including visiting members, comprises 42% of the academic department.

Since 2013, when Superintendent Lt. Gen. Michael Gould introduced a comprehensive Diversity and Inclusion Program (D&I) in accordance with President Obama’s Executive Order 13583, USAFA drifted away from its historic policy of avoiding political engagement.  The enactment of the program served as a harbinger of the Academy’s descent into divisive issues, when the plan declared D&I a “military necessity” and “as important as academics.”

Superintendent Gould’s successor, Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria, achieved national notoriety with his handling of a racial graffiti incident directed at Black cadets at the USAFA Prep School in 2017.  Silveria presumed the identity of the perpetrators, condemned racism to a national audience, and vowed to expel the culprits.  To the general’s dismay, an inquiry found that the guilty party was one of the Black cadets who was the supposed victim of the hate crime, but the damage had been done.  The Superintendent had formed hasty conclusions, falsely accused innocent cadets based on predetermined assumptions, and tarnished the Academy’s reputation.

Silveria’s activism continued throughout his tenure.  In July 2020, the USAFA football coaching staff produced a social media video supporting the Marxist organization Black Lives Matter.  This was a remarkable departure from the Academy’s ethos to publicly avoid politics, but Silveria did not intervene to remove the video.  In the same month, in a letter to the Academy Family, he insinuated that systemic racism existed at USAFA.  He directed that an investigation be completed within two months — the results of which are still confidential.  STARRS, an organization pledged to resist racism and radical agendas in the military, submitted a Freedom of Information Act request in an effort to force transparency regarding the report’s contents — a request which remains unanswered after more than 700 days.  Judicial Watch sued the U.S. Department of Defense to release the document to the public.

Silveria retired in 2020 but left his replacement, Lt. Gen. Richard Clark to contend with 250 cadets involved in the largest cheating scandal in USAFA history that occurred during the final months of his tenure.  The Honor Code forbids lying, cheating, stealing, or tolerating dishonorable conduct.  Twenty years ago, the Commandant of Cadets briefed my graduating class that the current generation of cadets could not be expected to adhere to these standards.  This March in an article in Checkpoints Magazine, Superintendent Clark reiterated a similar assessment, confirming a continued theme of low expectations.

As Superintendent Clark dealt with his predecessor’s problems, he continued his own activist agenda.  He supported a required reading program for incoming cadets that included George Takei’s anti-American screed, They Called Us Enemy.  Lynn Chandler-Garcia, a professor in the political science department, publicly acknowledged teaching Critical Race Theory at USAFA. General Clark disputed Professor Chandler’s claim and maintained that the subject is taught, but not promoted. Calls from the graduate community to clarify the issue by releasing the course syllabuses continue to be ignored.

General Clark has been a steadfast proponent of mandatory Covid-19 vaccinations for all members of the Cadet Wing.  He has denied all requests for religious and medical exemptions, citing obsolete data derived from the early stages of the pandemic, and failing to recognize the low probability of serious disease, and the negligible benefit and attendant risks of the vaccine in the healthy cadet population.

Last month all USAFA cadets were required to attend a D&I briefing that instructed them on preferred pronouns, the problems with using the words “mom” and “dad,” and the impropriety of Dr. Martin Luther King’s sage comments regarding the relative importance of one’s color and character.  When the course’s slide presentation was leaked to the public, the Superintendent claimed that the subject matter was taken out of context. This interpretation conflicted with the version told by cadets who attended the lecture.

Further controversy arose, when it was discovered that eligibility for a nine-week paid internship at a major aerospace company was based on sex and minority status.  The Brooke Owens Fellowship stipulated that only gender minorities need apply, and cis-gender men specifically were instructed not to respond.  Similarly, the Patti Grace Smith Fellowship offered a nine-week paid internship for only Black cadets interested in aerospace careers.

Applications to all military academies fell this year, but USAFA’s shortfall was far worse than at West Point and Annapolis.  USAFA’s Director of Admissions blames the precipitous 46% drop in qualified candidates on Covid.  With USAFA mired in controversy and the recently disclosed football team’s recruiting violations and placement on NCAA probation, one suspects that USAFA’s problems are endemic and self-inflicted.

Reverend Charles F. Aked, a prohibitionist, stated, “It has been said that for evil men to accomplish their purpose it is only necessary that good men should do nothing.” In Aked’s view, evil equated with the consumption of wine, beer, and whiskey.

Policies that politicize the Academy, that refute Dr. Martin Luther King’s comments about color and character, that contend today’s generation is unable to live by the Honor Code, and that create division rather than unity as the better military option, have far greater moral implications than the Reverend Aked’s crusade against alcohol.

One expression defined the focus of my class’s training: E pluribus unum, “Out of many, one,” which was inscribed on the Great Seal of the United States in 1782 and served as the de facto motto of the United States for 174 years. It must remain the mainstay of military experience.

Image: Free image, Pixabay license, no attribution required.

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