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Global power, lethality and servant leadership: Air Force chief of staff addresses Airmen, cadets at Air Force Academy

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein. (U.S. Air Force Academy photo/Trevor Cokley)

Academy Public Affairs, Feb. 25, 2019

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. —  The Air Force’s top officer doesn’t parse words when it comes to describing his confidence in the capability of the Air Force.

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein said his faith in today’s Total Force Airmen allows him to send a simple message to any adversary spanning the globe, and via all domains: “We’re here … We know what’s going on and you can’t do anything about it. We know what you’re up to and there’s not a damn thing you can do.”

A self-described “unapologetic Airman,” Goldfein said he is especially proud of  the culture Airmen are  building at the Air Force Academy while addressing cadets, Total Force Airmen, and guests packing Arnold Hall to attend his National Character and Leadership Symposium presentation, Feb. 22.

The general said he’s more than simply confident in the Air Force’s ability to win the battle in air, space and cyberspace.

The lethality the Air Force can inflict with its airpower is well known, even in enemy circles, he said.

“We’re a global service and I would offer that we’re a global power because of that global reach,” the general said.

Modern war is fought in all domains including air, land, sea, space and cyberspace – with war-fighting advances looming large in the space arena, Goldfein said.

“We have to culturally embrace space superiority with the same passion we’ve embraced air superiority,” he told the cadets.

U.S. and coalition partners are currently busier than they’ve been since the Vietnam War, Goldfein said.

“The [Academy’s] class of 1969 graduated and went straight into combat with some cadets graduating early and immediately going to Vietnam,” he said. Today’s joint force faces a similar tempo, with increasing complexity, and Airmen are at the forefront.

 Leadership, Character, Values

Goldfein said he’s proud of the Academy’s mission to develop leaders of character.

“The traditions of the ‘Long Blue Line’ delves into what our nation expects of us as officers and leaders,” he said. “Leadership and character cannot exist as separate entities.”

The general encouraged cadets to consider the quality of their personal character.

“Character is about who we are and the decisions we make when no one is looking,” he said.

Goldfein urged the cadets to be humble servant leaders.

“America expects us to be leaders of humility,” he said. “We have a sacred charge to preserve this sacred institution, the Air Force, and hand it off to the next generation better than we found it.”

The general described his challenging first two years at the Academy.

Goldfein left the Academy after his sophomore year to travel the U.S. on his bicycle and worked as a roadie for U.S. singer-songwriter Harry Chapin. During his time on the road, the generosity and kindness he experienced from U.S. citizens inspired him to return to the Academy with a new mindset.

“While away from the Academy I embraced what this nation stands for and began thinking about what it means to be a servant leader – the value of servant leadership,” he said. The general graduated in 1983 and became fighter pilot.

Goldfein encouraged cadets to dive into their Academy training and recognize the challenges they encounter are designed to save lives and preserve freedom.

And Golfein should know, as he credits the training he received at the Academy to helping save his life in May 1999, when his F-16CJ fighter jet was shot down over Serbia.

“I brilliantly intercepted an enemy missile with my aircraft,” he said light-heartedly.

Then-Lt. Col. Goldfein was rescued by a combat search-and-rescue team after many long hours hiding from Serbian forces. He said the training he received at the Academy 20 years earlier gave him confidence he would survive.

“I will tell you that the training I had here at the academy came right to me, he said.

“Find a cadet who is fighting [their experience at the Academy] and say ‘why are you fighting it?’” he said. “Join us. Don’t fight it.”

Goldfein went on to say Airmen and cadets are morally obligated to be servant leaders.

“America expects you to take our values into battle,” he said.

Goldfein’s also proud of the diversity of the Air Force.

“Our nation expects us to embrace diversity as a war fighting imperative,” he said. “Our culture has to embrace ‘all of us.’”

Goldfein said the Air Force has to be inclusive and aware of what every Airman brings to the fight.

“Think of how you build your team as a leader and make sure you understand what’s going on in your organization,” he said.

 Embrace the Air Force

Two freshmen cadets, Taylor Marzolf and Nicholas Oesterling, said they were inspired by Goldfein’s presentation.

“I appreciated the chief sharing his stories and experiences ‘out in the field,’” Cadet 4th Class Osterling said, referring to the general’s experience while in combat in Serbia during the 90s. “It’s a really good example to cadets to trust their training.”

Oesterling said he also appreciates that Goldfein “went through the same thing we’re experiencing at the Academy as freshmen.”

Cadet 4th Class Marzolf said the general’s message encourages her to embrace the Air Force.

“My dad is a retired colonel and he told me, ‘the sooner you join the Air Force, the better it’s going to be,’” she said. “Training helps you grow. Your freshman year can be pretty difficult, but General Goldfein’s message is inspiring. I just have to embrace everything I’m going through.

The annual National Character and Leadership Symposium is the United States Air Force Academy’s flagship event on character and leadership. It brings together distinguished scholars, military leaders, corporate executives and world-class athletes to motivate and equip participants for honorable living and effective leadership.

To learn more, email ncls@usafa.edu.