United States Air Force Academy

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Leadership, Public Affairs

USAFA’s Skyline: A History of Support

By Lt. Gen. Michelle D. Johnson, U.S. Air Force Academy Superintendent / Published June 23, 2016


As I reflect upon the last three years here at the Air Force Academy, I am proud of all we have accomplished and look forward to the opportunities in front of us. Roughly 2,500 new lieutenants have graduated to join our Air Force, and hundreds of faculty and staff have departed as better Air Force leaders after their career-broadening tour at the Academy. We have strengthened our ties with the local community, colleges and universities, and we have reinvigorated our role in the Air Force process to assure continued funding and support for our mission. We have implemented new approaches to increase the commitment, responsibility and maturity of our cadets. Polaris Hall, the new home of our Center for Character and Leadership Development is complete, serving as a symbol of the emphasis we place on character and leadership throughout the USAFA experience.

The Center will incorporate all aspects of leadership and character development training at the Academy to include honor, scholarship, and curriculum. With office space and a conference center, the CCLD will also have an outreach function for external engagements. We will now have the capability to host prominent speakers, conferences, and discussions on character and leadership, as well as the modern profession of arms.

I am often asked how the Academy is able to build this spectacular, architectural wonder in an age of fiscal austerity. Construction of CCLD was funded through a combination of public and private funds, a shining example of public private partnership at its best as dozens of generous donors gave to something they believe in — character and leadership development. The project broke ground in October 2012.  $27.5M in public funds constructed the heart of the building, while $21.5M in private funds constructed several “margin of excellence” additions like the iconic skylight, interior finishes, and enhanced IT capabilities — a cooperative approach that has long been a part of the Academy’s heritage.

The Air Force Academy has a long history of leveraging private funds to provide this margin of excellence that enhances the Academy experience for our cadets. For example, with the help of the Air Force Academy Foundation, some of our early major additions to the Academy were privately funded. In the Fall of 1962 the Academy hosted its first “real” home football game in the new $3.5M AFAF funded Falcon Stadium in front of a sell-out crowd of 41,350 spectators. More recently, the Academy has received gifts of $10 million through the USAFA Endowment toward a major stadium renovation project. The upgrades will dramatically improve the entire fan experience, including the Mountain West’s newest and largest HD video display scoreboard.

Privately donated funds, again through the AFAF, were also instrumental in the construction of the Robert Trent Jones-designed Academy Eisenhower Golf Course, which opened in July 1963. Its namesake, former President Dwight Eisenhower, who himself was an avid golfer, inaugurated the course with the benefit of a “mulligan” off the first tee. To this day, many believe it is the best golf course in the Defense Department.

Even our iconic Cadet Chapel benefited from a public-private partnership. While the chapel structure was built using public funds, many of the interior furnishings, liturgical adornments, and special accoutrements were funded via private donations through a designated offering at Air Force chapels worldwide.

These are only a few examples.  Farish Recreational Area, The Barry J. Goldwater Visitors Center, The Memorial Pavilion at the Academy Cemetery, and the Holaday Athletic Center are all privately funded projects that have benefited the Academy, cadets, staff, veterans, family members and our community.

From our burgeoning Cyber Innovation Center, to renovations to the planetarium and the Air Gardens, to the forthcoming Gateway Visitors Center, public/private partnerships are becoming the new model across the Academy. To endure as an exemplary institution, we will remain grounded in the rich and proud legacy of our heritage with an eye on innovation, excellence in cadet and faculty development, and a renewed partnership with alumni, industry and the community.