Outdoor Leadership Complex (OLC)
The Center for Character and Leadership Development’s Experiential-Based Learning program manages all operations and program execution for the Outdoor Leadership Complex. The Outdoor Leadership Complex course provides an experience-based testing ground focused on character and leadership development for U.S. Air Force Academy cadets and staff, instructors, and military members who support the Academy mission.
Activities at the Outdoor Leadership Complex seek to build cohesion, community, and collaboration while stimulating insights into behaviors that support individual and team growth. Programs also present opportunities to understand mental and physical responses to adversity and its effects on the team. All events are tailored to the needs or requests of each participating team and their objectives, supporting behavioral and developmental growth as well as assisting with alignment toward objectives. We use a variety of activities incorporating factors such as group size, program length, and abilities to successfully reach objectives.
The Academy’s Outdoor Leadership Complex was initially built in 1995 as a unique outdoor wood-based ropes course area. It differs from the traditional military courses in that its defined purpose was leadership development. Events in the complex included a trained facilitator that focused on the behavior and processes used during activities as opposed to other courses that may only focus on success or failure. The facilitators emphasized the transferability of methods of collaboration, communicating and solving problems to similar but different experiences. As the facility grew, it was renamed the Outdoor Leadership Complex to account for the extended use beyond the ropes course structures themselves.
The Outdoor Leadership Complex consists of 12 forested acres with various activity structures. It contains eight structured low elements focused on problem-solving and four high-element activities providing challenges at heights of 20-60 feet off the ground. The complex also contains open space, classrooms, and storage for countless portable activities.
The most recent notable addition to the Outdoor Leadership Complex is the Leader Challenge Tower-an iconic, functional, and beautiful structure designed for our next-generation leader development. The Leader Challenge Tower contains multiple high elements accessible from the main structure and includes two levels of challenge–24 and 55 feet off the ground–each level with six physical challenges, plus simulated free-fall station, non-traditional zip line, climbing wall and anchors for rappelling.
During the design of the Leader Challenge Tower, the Center for Character and Leadership Development and the Experiential-Based Learning team elicited input from the cadet wing, academic department, and overall leadership development to ensure components of the tower were valuable and assist the Academy in meeting additional training objectives. With this insight, the large platforms were designed to allow use as an outdoor classroom (no harnesses needed) and various activities. For example, a non-tradition zip line can be utilized to teach skills related to parachute landing or practice preparation for a 10-meter jump. Final challenge activities were added to the tower in the fall of 2023. At full capacity, the structure can host over 100 participants engaged in various activities simultaneously.
Key efforts include:
- Customized team development sessions (averaging 5k participants over 125 programs annually).
- Cadet summer training programs (highlight: all rising sophomores experience this program annually as part of their summer training requirements).
- Unit development for Academy faculty and staff and, when scheduling permits, Department of Defense units.
- Integration of common instructional practices from experiential-based learning across the Academy into training and instruction in the classroom and the field.