United States Air Force Academy

Go to home page
National Character & Leadership Symposium

2018 Speakers

Dr. Marvin W. Berkowitz, Ph.D.

Sanford N. McDonnell Professor of Character Education, University of Missouri-St. Louis

Berkowitz is the inaugural Sanford N. McDonnell Endowed Professor of Character Education, Co-Director of the Center for Character and Citizenship at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, and founding co-editor of the Journal for Research in Character Education. He will examine in his presentation the virtues of effective character education and achieving the ultimate goal of building a moral world by nurturing the moral growth of individuals.

Mr. Steve Birdine

President, Affirmations In ACTION!

Birdine will discuss “Taking Responsibility for Our Own Success,” a powerful, humorous, motivational, and thought-provoking discussion addressing issues such as leadership development, motivation, personal excellence, diversity, unity, male-female relationships, discipline, goal setting, and respect.

Lieutenant General Gregory Biscone, US Air Force (ret), USAFA ‘81

President, Strat Leadership Solutions

Biscone served 35 years in the US Air Force, including as US Central Command Deputy Director of Operations, Air Force Quadrennial Defense Review Director, and Air Force Inspector General. He also commanded strike forces and flew combat sorties in Operations Desert Storm, Enduring Freedom, and Iraqi Freedom. He will share from his experience, lessons central to leadership and the power derived from an ethical foundation in decision-making.

Ms. Leanne Caret

President and CEO, Boeing Defense, Space & Security

Caret oversees the $30 billion Boeing Defense, Space & Security business that provides integrated solutions to meet the needs of defense, government, space, intelligence and security customers around the world. She serves on the Association of the United States Army council of trustees; the Center for a New American Security board of directors; and the Business-Higher Education Forum board of directors. In 2017 she was added to Fortune’s Most Powerful Women list. Caret will speak on the ethical decisions affecting integrated solutions to meet the needs of defense, government, space, intelligence and security customers around the world.

Mrs. Jessa Dillow Crisp

Motivational Speaker, Co-founder and Executive Director at BridgeHope

Crisp is a human trafficking survivor and now travels both nationally and internationally to speak and provide training to Homeland Security and the FBI as an expert in domestic sex trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation of children.

Ms. Fiona Dawson

Director, TransMilitary

Dawson is an Emmy nominated director, producer and writer. She directed Transgender, at War and in Love, and created the media project TransMilitary, which follows the lives of American transgender service members. She will take part in a panel discussing the experiences of military transgender members.

Dr. Kimberly Dickman, Ed.D.

Acting USAF Academy Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Manager

Dr. Kimberly Dickman currently serves as the HQs USAF Academy Sexual Assault Response and Prevention (SAPR) Analyst, and her experience spans nearly a decade in the SAPR program. First, as an Installation level Sexual Assault Response Coordinator (SARC), she was responsible for sexual assault training and programming, response support and awareness for victims to include lead advisor to Commanders and base leadership. She then excelled to HQs Air Force SAPR (Pentagon) as the AF’s Chief of Training were she trained and advised top Air Force leadership to include members of Congress, the Chief of Staff of the Air Force, and the Secretary of the Air Force. Dr. Dickman arrived here at the USAF Academy in 2015. Dr. Dickman will join Ms. Brenda Tracy (activist, lobbyist, survivor) and Ms. Anne Munch (subject matter expert, consultant, lawyer) in a discussion charting the next steps forward in sexual assault prevention and response in our communities.

Mr. Mark “Oz” Geist

Annex Security Team member in the Battle of Benghazi and bestselling co-author of 13 Hours

Geist was a member of the Annex Security Team that fought the Battle of Benghazi, Libya, in September 2012. During the ensuing clash, he and his team were credited with saving more than 25 Americans. Geist will share thoughts about making the right decisions at the right time and the importance of training and pre-planning.

Dr. Robert P. George, D.Phil

McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence and Director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University

George is McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence and Director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University. He is also a Visiting Professor at Harvard Law School. He has served as Chairman of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom and as a presidential appointee to the US Commission on Civil Rights. He has also served on the President’s Council on Bioethics and as the US member of UNESCO’s World Commission on the Ethics of Science and Technology. George was a Judicial Fellow at the Supreme Court of the United States, where he received the Justice Tom C. Clark Award. A Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Swarthmore College, he holds the degrees of J.D. and M.T.S. from Harvard University and the degrees of D.Phil., B.C.L. and D.C.L. from Oxford University, in addition to nineteen honorary degrees. He is a recipient of the US Presidential Citizens Medal and the Honorific Medal for the Defense of Human Rights of the Republic of Poland, and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. Baylor University has named its new Washington, D.C.-based program the “Robert P. George Initiative in Faith, Ethics, and Public Policy.” Professor George’s most recent book is Conscience and Its Enemies (ISI Books). Dr. George will share the stage with Dr. West as they discuss how we can exchange ideas in a respectful way, even if those ideas are from opposing perspectives.

(For more information on this Talent/Performer please visit www.GPSspeakers.com)

Mrs. Dyan Gibbens, USAFA ‘04

Chief Executive Officer, Trumbull Unmanned

Gibbens founded Trumbull Unmanned, a Forbes Top 25 Veteran-Founded company of UAV operators, pilots, and engineers, focusing on data processing and UAS integration for large enterprises. She is a 2004 graduate of the US Air Force Academy and served as an acquisitions officer and managed Air Force One and Global Hawk UAS engineering and logistics. Harvard Business Review 2017 published her article, “Grounded: How to Integrate Ethics Into Your Drone Strategy.” Gibbens will discuss how to use virtues and focused altruism as a guide through uncertain paths and how to lead in ever changing environments.

Brigadier General Bentzi Gruber, Israel Defense Force

Israel Defense Forces Deputy Commander Armored Division

Gruber is currently the Deputy Commander of an Israel Defense Force (IDF) armored division of 20,000 soldiers and the founder of “Chesed In The Field,” a non-profit organization that brings together Israeli Defense Forces and chronically ill and disabled children for special events. He will draw upon his more than 30 years of experience serving in the IDF to take attendees behind the scenes of the IDF’s daily battle to both sustain national security and uphold one of the most rigorous military codes of ethics in the world today. He will expand on the dilemmas that IDF commanders face when locating terrorists within a civilian population during their daily counter terrorism operations.

Mr. Wayne Hagin

Award Winning Play-by-Play Broadcaster

Mr. Hagin is an award-winning sports broadcaster with a range of experience unequaled in its scope and variety. As one of the original sportscasters for ESPN, Hagin was in the studio the day SPORTSCENTER first aired on September 7, 1979. Fulfilling his lifelong dream, Hagin became the youngest broadcaster in Major League Baseball, where his career spanned 28 years, beginning with the Oakland A’s in 1981. His experience also includes play-by-play broadcasting for the Golden State Warriors, Colorado State Football, ESPN college basketball, hosting pre and postgame shows for the San Francisco 49ers, as well as being featured as the voice-over for multiple national commercial campaigns, including Ford and Boeing.

Dr. Freeman A. Hrabowski III

President, University of Maryland, Baltimore County, Chairman of President Obama’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for African Americans

Hrabowski is a prominent American educator, advocate, mathematician, and President of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. He was named one of world’s most influential people in 2012 by Time magazine, and was appointed in 2012 to chair President Obama’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for African Americans. He will share the events and experiences that played a central role in his development as an educator and leader, including the five days he spent in jail at the age of 12 after marching with Dr. King in his hometown of Birmingham, Alabama.

Corporal Laila Ireland, US Army, Retired

Membership Director of SPART*A

Ireland is a retired Healthcare Management Administration Specialist and served for 12 years in the United States Army. She served two combat tours in Iraq and her final duty station was at Tripler Army Medical Center, Hawaii where she was honorably discharged and medically retired in November 2015. On June 4, 2015 Laila and her then fiancé, SSgt Logan Ireland, courageously came out as transgender service members by sharing their story in the Emmy®-nominated New York Times short film “Transgender, at War and in Love.” She will take part in a panel discussing the experiences of military transgender members.

Staff Sergeant Logan Ireland, US Air Force

Security Forces Base Defense Operations Center Controller

Ireland enlisted in the Air Force in 2010 and has served guarding the B-2 stealth bomber and in Oklahoma, providing base security and law enforcement duties. He deployed to Kandahar, Afghanistan in 2014 as a lead convoy driver for outside-the-wire counter intelligence missions in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Throughout his deployment, he was treated as male in all respects, meeting or exceeding Air Force standards. In 2014 he was the first service member in the US Armed Forces to have his gender marker legally changed. He is married to former Army Corporal Laila Ireland. He will take part in a panel discussing the experiences of military transgender members.

Mr. Charlie Kim

Co-Chief Executive Officer and Founder of Next Jump

Kim founded Next Jump in 1994 in his college dorm room. He grew the business to 150 employees in the first dot-com boom, soon to be followed by the dot-com bust, bringing the Company down to four employees before building back up. Next Jump proves the combination of caring for your employees and helping them grow as human beings is possible while making money and helping the world become a better place. Next Jump believes this is a pre-requisite in today’s human capital economy and calls it Better Me + Better You = Better Us. In addition to building a $2 billion technology company over 24 years, Next Jump was recognized by Harvard as one of the best run companies in the world. Simon Sinek featured Next Jump in his TedTalk for their no-fire policy. Thousands of leaders have gone through Next Jump’s Leadership Academy and experienced their developmental culture. Kim will share the stage with Meghan Messenger and share lessons learned from training the leadership across every industry including business (Fortune 500), sports (Olympic teams), medicine, education, military, CIA, etc.

Dr. Tom Kolditz, Brigadier General, US Army (ret)

Director, Ann & John Doerr Institute for New Leaders

Kolditz is an internationally recognized expert on crisis leadership and leadership in extreme contexts, and in the development of programs to inculcate leadership and leader development. He is the founding Director of the Ann and John Doerr Institute for New Leaders at Rice University. Kolditz will discuss the unique demands of leading in conditions where followers believe that leader behavior will increase their physical well-being or survival.

Major Colin Merrin, US Air Force, USAFA ‘06

Member of USAF Seven Summit Everest Team

After graduating from US Air Force Academy in 2006, Merrin traveled the world climbing some of the tallest peaks. In 2013, he joined the USAF 7 Summits Challenge during their climb of Mount Everest. Merrin will share his captivating story of bonding with the Sherpa of Nepal during his 57 days of climbing into the Death Zone to include photos and near-death experiences.

Ms. Meghan Messenger

Co-Chief Executive Officer of Next Jump

Messenger started as a door to door sales intern for Next Jump in 1998 and now serves as the Co-CEO. She credits her success to the consistent practice of leading with authenticity. We are what we practice, however the #1 thing we practice is LHF (“lying/hiding/faking”), managing other people’s impressions of us, trying to look good. Messenger will share the stage with Charlie Kim to discuss the root cause of how we fail in the 21st century. In addition to building a $2 billion technology company over 24 years, Next Jump was recognized by Harvard as one of the best run companies in the world. Simon Sinek featured Next Jump in his TedTalk for their no-fire policy.

Ms. Anne Munch, Esq.

Attorney and Consultant

Munch spent thirteen years as a prosecutor in Colorado specializing in crimes of interpersonal violence. In addition to her work as a prosecutor, she worked in the advocacy field as the director of the San Miguel Resource Center, a domestic violence and sexual assault response program in Telluride, CO and also directed the Colorado and the Ending Violence Against Women Project, a statewide multi-disciplinary training and technical assistance project in Colorado. Currently Anne Munch owns her own consulting business where she works full time providing speaking, training and consulting in the areas of sexual assault, domestic violence and stalking. Munch will join Ms. Brenda Tracy (activist, lobbyist, survivor) and Dr. Kimberly Dickman (US Air Force Academy Sexual Assault and Response program expert) in a discussion charting the next steps forward in sexual assault prevention and response in our communities.

Mr. David Nelson

I’m ME Chief Executive Officer and former NFL Player

Former New York Jets wide receiver Nelson discusses his life-changing experience going to Haiti and how it inspired him to start the foundation, “i’m ME.” Nelson will share his transformative story of caring for the lives of orphaned children in Haiti.

Ms. Virginia Prodan, Esq.

International Human Rights Attorney and Author

Prodan is an International Human Rights attorney, speaker, and author. Denouncing one of the most powerful and brutal communist dictators of the time, Virginia dared to defend Human Rights cases in communist Romania while fearlessly declaring freedom. For this, she was kidnapped, beaten, tortured, placed under house arrest, and came within seconds of being executed under the orders of Ceausescu himself. Prodan will share her extraordinary story of courage, faith, compassion for human rights, and determination to fight for freedom in the face of intimidation and even death, on behalf of others.

Dr. Erroll G. Southers

Professor of Homeland Security and Public Policy, University of Southern California

Southers is an internationally recognized expert on counterterrorism, public safety, infrastructure protection, and homeland security. The author of Homegrown Violent Extremism, Southers will share his thoughts on how today’s community safety and national security challenges will require unprecedented and ongoing education and awareness to keep America safe. We are the solution we are looking for.

Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum

President Emerita, Spelman College; Author of Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria: And Other Conversations About Race

Tatum is a best-selling author and a clinical psychologist, widely known for her expertise on race relations and as a thought leader in higher education. Her visionary leadership as president of Spelman College (2002-2015) was recognized in 2013 with the Carnegie Academic Leadership Award.

Mr. LaDainian “L.T.” Tomlinson

Former NFL Player and Founder Tomlinson’s Touching Lives Foundation and Tomlinson’s Center for Leadership

Former San Diego Chargers and New York Jets running back and College Football Hall of Fame inductee, LaDainian Tomlinson, affectionately known by fans worldwide as “L. T.,” has been as influential off the field as he has been on the field. During his collegiate and professional career, Tomlinson was the Doak Walker recipient as the best collegiate running back in the nation, is in the top five NFL running backs of all time, a finalist for the Heisman Trophy, Texas Christian University Hall of Fame inductee, 2014 College Football Hall of Fame inductee, and an NFL Most Valuable Player. His off the field contributions to his communities earned him NFL Man of the Year in 2006. In 2004, Tomlinson and his wife LaTorsha established the Tomlinson’s Touching Lives Foundation, which enhances the lives of deserving families by engaging in programs to promote education, social and cultural awareness, and positive self-esteem. In 2011, Tomlinson expanded his community and philanthropic commitments with the founding of the the Tomlinson Center for Leadership, which focuses its efforts on comprehensive character development and leadership, academic performance services including tutoring, test prep, social media and media training, recruiting process, and elite athletic performance.

Ms. Brenda Tracy

Survivor and Activist

In 1998, Tracy was the woman at the center of an explosive gang rape investigation involving four Oregon State football players. After 16 years of silence, she revealed her alleged attackers in a bombshell interview. In 2016, Tracy received the Special Courage Award at the National Crime Victims’ Service Awards Ceremony in Washington, DC. Tracy will share her gripping story and why she believes men are the solution to ending sexual violence.

Lieutenant Colonel Matthew J. Vedder, US Air Force, USAFA ‘01

Commander, 63rd Fighter Squadron

Vedder was commissioned in 2001 after graduating from the U.S. Air Force Academy. He has deployed and flown combat missions over both Iraq and Afghanistan in support of Operations IRAQI FREEDOM and ENDURING FREEDOM. He has over 2,000 flight hours in the F-35A, A-10A/C, T-38, and T-37. He will join a panel exploring moral decision making and leadership while flying combat missions over Iraq and Afghanistan.

Mr. Alejandro Villanueva, USMA ‘10

NFL Player and Former Army Ranger

Villanueva is an offensive tackle for the NFL’s Pittsburgh Steelers. He graduated from West Point as a member of the Class of 2010 and served as a Captain in the Army Rangers, where he was decorated with a Bronze Star for valor. Villanueva will share his personal story of serving his nation and pursuing a career in the NFL.

Dr. Cornel West, PhD

Professor of the Practice of Public Philosophy at Harvard University and Professor Emeritus at Princeton University

West is Professor of the Practice of Public Philosophy at Harvard University and Professor Emeritus at Princeton University. Cornel West graduated Magna Cum Laude from Harvard in three years and obtained his M.A. and Ph.D. in Philosophy at Princeton. He has written 20 books and has edited 13. He is best known for his classics, Race Matters and Democracy Matters, and for his memoir, Brother West: Living and Loving Out Loud. His most recent book, Black Prophetic Fire, offers an unflinching look at nineteenth and twentieth-century African American leaders and their visionary legacies. Dr. West is a frequent guest on the Bill Maher Show, CNN, C-Span and Democracy Now. He has a passion to communicate to a vast variety of publics in order to keep alive the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. – a legacy of telling the truth and bearing witness to love and justice. Dr. West will share the stage with Dr. George as they discuss how we can exchange ideas in a respectful way, even if those ideas are from opposing perspectives.

(For more information on this Talent/Performer please visit www.GPSspeakers.com)

Dr. Ruth Westheimer, Ed.D

Psychosexual Therapist, Orphan of the Holocaust, and Former Freedom Fighter Sniper

Dr. Ruth Westheimer is a psychosexual therapist best known for having pioneered talking explicitly about sex on radio and television. Born in Germany in 1928, Dr. Westheimer was sent to Switzerland at the age of ten to escape the Holocaust, which wiped out her entire immediate family. At the age of seventeen she went to then Palestine, joined the Haganah, the Israeli Freedom Fighters, was trained as a sniper and was seriously wounded in a bomb blast. She studied in Paris at the Sorbonne, after which she went to the United States in 1956 to obtain her Masters Degree (M.A.) in Sociology from the New School of Social Research and Doctorate of Education (Ed.D.) in the Interdisciplinary Study of the Family from Columbia University Teacher’s College, where she currently teaches. She is the author of 44 books, the latest of which are Stay or Go and Roller Coaster Grandma.

Major General Timothy Zadalis, US Air Force (ret)

Former Vice Commander of US Air Forces Europe and Air Forces Africa

Zadalis served Command in support of Operations Enduring and Iraqi Freedom, US Southern Command in support of Haiti earthquake relief, and culminating as the Vice Commander of US Air Forces Europe and Air Forces Africa. He will share his experiences of traveling throughout Iraq and Afghanistan in order to investigate bombings where there were accusations of civilian deaths, and then meeting with village leaders and families of the deceased.


Ethics and Respect for Human Dignity Through The Eyes of Combat Fighter Pilots

How do ethics shape the decision making process for Fighter Pilots? Does the respect for human dignity affect aggressiveness, lethality, and rules of engagement in a hostile combat environment? Explore these questions and hear real stories from Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. This panel showcases elite combat tested fighter pilots from experience in A-10, F-15E, F-16 and F-35A aircraft.

Arts in the Armed Forces: Fences

Arts in the Armed Forces will perform the sensational drama Fences, originally starring James Earl Jones as Troy Maxson, a former star of the Negro baseball leagues who now works as a garbage man in 1957 Pittsburgh. Excluded as a black man from the major leagues during his prime, Troy’s bitterness takes its toll on his relationships with his wife and his son, who now wants his own chance to play ball. Fences was revived in 2010 starring Denzel Washington in the lead role. Fences was the 1987 winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, and in 2010 won Best Revival of a Play Tony® Award, Outer Critics Circle Award for Outstanding Revival of a Play, and 2010 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Revival of a Play. This performance is presented by actors and actresses from Arts in the Armed Forces, and is certain to be both entertaining and thought provoking.

Mykelti Williamson: known for Forest Gump and Fences

Tracie Thomas: known for The Devil Wears Prada and Rent

Leon Addison Brown: known for The Knick, Person of Interest and The Breaks

Charlie Barnett: known for Valor and Chicago Fire

Ray Anthony Thomas: known for Shutter Island and Half Nelson

Mamoudou Athie: known for The Get Down and Patti Cakes

Lileana Blain Cruz: Obie Award Winner for Last Black Man in the Whole Entire World AKA The Negro Book of the Dead

Enhancing Respect for Others by Understanding Transgender Military Members

Being transgender means that someone has a gender identity that differs from their sex assigned at birth. This panel will explore the daily lives of transgender service members, issues they face and current military policies on transgender service. What military standards do they follow? How is that decided? Does being transgender affect one’s ability to deploy? Participants will gain valuable information to better prepare them to lead or work beside transgender individuals.

Raising Our Voices: Surviving Sexual Assault

Sexual violence prevention and response can be made more effective by listening to the voices of survivors. Join Ms. Brenda Tracy (activist, lobbyist, survivor), Ms. Anne Munch (subject matter expert, consultant, lawyer), and Dr. Kimberly Dickman (US Air Force Academy Sexual Assault and Response program expert) in this discussion charting the next steps forward in sexual assault prevention and response in our communities. In our search for second order change in this field, we have heard the voices of survivors throughout our nation and here at the Academy and are in the midst of increased urgency. If you want to raise your voice in your community, come learn with us in our first of a series of sessions, as we build a guiding team at the Air Force Academy to stop sexual violence.