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‘Join me’: A commentary from the Air Force Academy superintendent

By Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria, U.S. Air Force Academy superintendent, June 3, 2020

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. — Team USAFA,

Years ago, racial tension hit our institution. I insisted then that we could not allow it to define us or question our values. I insisted that if you could not treat someone with dignity and respect, you did not belong here. Today I am asking you to join me once again to renew our commitment to those values.

As an institution of higher learning, dialogue on societal issues must be a priority at this Academy, and I can think of no other time in my nearly four decades in uniform where that dialogue is as important as it is right now. This is not a time for silence, but it can be a time for introspection, reflection and discussion. It is a time to listen, to learn, and to be inclusive of all voices. It is a time to acknowledge that disparities exist in our nation and within our Force, and that we must all be willing to talk about the realities of social injustice. Now is a time to work together towards change.

I have tasked our senior leadership team to ensure that we continue the crucial conversations we would normally have with cadets, faculty, and staff despite the current limitations of COVID. If there is an answer to the problems our society currently faces, it is in constructive conversation. The product of these conversations is understanding, empathy, progress – and strength. Just like our nation, our military is woven of an incredibly diverse fabric. When we understand one another that fabric becomes stronger. If you are like me, you are confused, angry and need to discuss what is going on in our nation. More importantly, if you are like me you are also eager to understand why. You will hear more soon about opportunities for us to have these conversations. These conversations are difficult which is precisely why they are important.

Our values as an Air Force and as an Academy do not change due to our current circumstances of geographic separation. Violence against our fellow Americans has no place in our work toward positive change. Instead, we must provide the example of leadership and character our nation expects of us. I acknowledge that all in our USAFA community have a right to peaceful protest, and we have sworn an oath to defend that right, but I ask that you avoid any situation at risk of becoming violent. If you don’t like what you see going on across our nation, and around the world, you can join me and affecting positive change here, by taking part in shaping our culture, and by ensuring that all among us are treated with dignity and respect.

Positive change and transformational ideas are borne of education. The leaders of character we are developing at this Academy will shape the future our Air and Space Forces, our military, and our nation for decades to come. We have a duty as an Academy community to ensure that these leaders are prepared to lead women and men regardless of race, gender, religion, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. If we model a culture of dignity and respect here, they will take that culture out into our Force and into our society.  Join me, it starts here.