United States Air Force Academy

United States Air Force Academy
US-AirForceAcademy-Shield.svg
MottoIntegrity First, Service before self, Excellence in all we do
TypeU.S. Service Academy
Direct Reporting Unit[1]
Established1 April 1954 (1 April 1954)
(65 years, 5 months)
Endowment$47 million[2]
SuperintendentLt. Gen. Jay B. Silveria
DeanBrigadier General Andrew P. Armacost
CommandantBrigadier General Michele Edmonson [3]
Academic staff
550 (70% military : 30% civilian)
Students4,237 cadets[4]
Location,
Colorado
,
U.S.
CampusSuburban – 18,455 acres (7,468.5 ha)[5]
ColorsBlue, Silver[6]
         
NicknameFalcons
Sporting affiliations
NCAA Division IMW
MPSF, Big 12, SoCon, PRC, WWPA
MascotGyrfalcon
DecorationsUS Air Force Outstanding Unit Award - Stremer.jpg
Air Force Outstanding Unit Award
AFOEA Streamer.jpg
Air Force Organizational Excellence Award[1]
Websitewww.usafa.af.mil
U.S. Air Force Academy is located in the United States
U.S. Air Force Academy
U.S. Air Force Academy
Location in the United States
U.S. Air Force Academy is located in Colorado
U.S. Air Force Academy
U.S. Air Force Academy
Location in Colorado

The United States Air Force Academy (also known as USAFA, the Air Force Academy, or the Academy), is a military academy for officer cadets of the United States Air Force. Its campus is located in the western United States in Colorado, immediately north of Colorado Springs in El Paso County.

The Academy's stated mission is "to educate, train, and inspire men and women to become leaders of character, motivated to lead the United States Air Force in service to our nation."[7] It is the youngest of the five U.S. service academies, having graduated its first class 60 years ago in 1959, however it is the third in seniority.[8] Graduates of the Academy's four-year program receive a Bachelor of Science degree, and are commissioned as second lieutenants in the U.S. Air Force.[9] The Academy is also one of the largest tourist attractions in Colorado, attracting approximately a million visitors each year.[7]

Admission is extremely competitive, with nominations divided equally among Congressional districts. Recent incoming classes have had about 1,200 cadets; historically, just under 1,000 of those will graduate.[10] Tuition along with room and board are all paid for by the Air Force. Cadets receive a monthly stipend, but incur a commitment to serve a number of years of military service after graduation.[11]

The program at the Academy is guided by the Air Force's core values of "Integrity First, Service Before Self, and Excellence in All We Do",[7] and based on four "pillars of excellence": military training, academics, athletics and character development.[7] In addition to a rigorous military training regimen, cadets also take a broad academic course load with an extensive core curriculum in engineering, humanities, social sciences, basic sciences, military studies and physical education. All cadets participate in either intercollegiate or intramural athletics, and a thorough character development and leadership curriculum provides cadets a basis for future officership. Each of the components of the program is intended to give cadets the skills and knowledge that they will need for success as officers.

History

Establishment

Prior to the Academy's establishment, air power advocates had been pushing for a separate Air Force Academy for decades. As early as 1918, Lieutenant Colonel A.J. Hanlon wrote, "As the Military and Naval Academies are the backbone of the Army and Navy, so must the Aeronautical Academy be the backbone of the Air Service. No service can flourish without some such institution to inculcate into its embryonic officers love of country, proper conception of duty, and highest regard for honor."[12] Other officials expressed similar sentiments. In 1919, Congressman Charles F. Curry introduced legislation providing for an Academy, but concerns about cost, curriculum and location led to its demise.[12] In 1925, air power pioneer General Billy Mitchell testified on Capitol Hill that it was necessary "to have an air academy to form a basis for the permanent backbone of your air service and to attend to the ... organizational part of it, very much the same way that West Point does for the Army, or that Annapolis does for the Navy."[12][13] Mitchell's arguments did not gain traction with legislators, and it was not until the late 1940s that the concept of the United States Air Force Academy began to take shape.[12]

Support for an air academy got a boost with the National Security Act of 1947, which provided for the establishment of a separate Air Force within the United States military. As an initial measure, Secretary of the Air Force W. Stuart Symington negotiated an agreement where up to 25% of West Point and Annapolis graduates could volunteer to receive their commissions in the newly established Air Force. This was only intended to be a short term fix, however, and disagreements between the services quickly led to the establishment of the Service Academy Board by Secretary of Defense James Forrestal. In January 1950, the Service Academy Board, headed by Dwight D. Eisenhower, then president of Columbia University, concluded that the needs of the Air Force could not be met by the two existing U.S. service academies and that an air force academy should be established.[12]

Following the recommendation of the Board, Congress passed legislation in 1954 to begin the construction of the Air Force Academy, and President Eisenhower signed it into law on 1 April of that year.[14] The legislation established an advisory commission to determine the site of the new school. Among the panel members were Charles Lindbergh, General Carl Spaatz, and Lieutenant General Hubert R. Harmon, who later became the Academy's first superintendent. The original 582 sites considered were winnowed to three: Alton, Illinois; Lake Geneva, Wisconsin; and the ultimate site at Colorado Springs, Colorado. The Secretary of the Air Force, Harold E. Talbott, announced the winning site on 24 June 1954.[15][16] Meanwhile, Air Training Command (ATC) began developing a detailed curriculum for the Academy program.[12]

From 1954 to 1956, the newly-created Colorado Land Acquisition Commission purchased parcels of land that would host the new academy. The first parcel purchased was the also the largest; it was the 4,630-acre Cathedral Rock Ranch, owned by Lawrence B. Lehman of the famous Lehman investment family.

Early years

Cadets lined up for physical training
Cadets from the first USAFA class lined up for physical training at Lowry AFB in 1955

The early Air Force Academy leadership had the model of West Point and Annapolis in designing an appropriate curriculum, faculty, and campus. The Academy's permanent site had not yet been completed when the first class entered, so the 306 cadets from the Class of 1959 were sworn in at a temporary site at Lowry Air Force Base in Denver on 11 July 1955.[17] While at Lowry, they were housed in renovated World War II barracks.[18] There were no upper class cadets to train the new cadets, so the Air Force appointed a cadre of "Air Training Officers" (ATOs) to conduct training. The ATOs were junior officers, many of whom were graduates of West Point, Annapolis, VMI, and The Citadel. They acted as surrogate upper class cadets until the upper classes could be populated over the next several years.[12] The Academy's dedication ceremony took place on that first day and was broadcast live on national television, with Walter Cronkite covering the event.[12] Arnold W. Braswell, a native of Minden, Louisiana, was commander of the original four cadet squadrons at the academy 1955 to 1958.[19]

In developing a distinctive uniform for cadets, the Air Force turned to Hollywood. Famed director Cecil B. DeMille designed the cadet parade uniform; it is still worn by cadets today.[20]

The Class of 1959 established many other important traditions that continue until the present. The first class adopted the Cadet Honor Code, and chose the falcon as the Academy's mascot. On 29 August 1958, the wing of 1,145 cadets moved to the present site near Colorado Springs,[21] and less than a year later the Academy received accreditation. The first USAFA class graduated and was commissioned on 3 June 1959.[8][22]

Vietnam

The Vietnam War was the first war in which Academy graduates fought and died. As such, it had a profound effect on the development of the character of the Academy. Due to the need for more pilots, Academy enrollment grew significantly during this time. The size of the graduating classes went from 217 cadets in 1961 to 745 cadets in 1970.[23] Academy facilities were likewise expanded, and training was modified to better meet the needs of the wartime Air Force. The Jacks Valley field training area was added, the Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) program was expanded, and light aircraft training started in 1968.[23]

Many Academy graduates of this era served with distinction in the Vietnam War. F-4 Phantom II pilot Steve Ritchie '64 and weapon systems officer Jeffrey Feinstein '68 each became aces by downing five enemy aircraft in combat.[24][25] One hundred forty-one graduates died in the conflict; thirty-two graduates became prisoners of war. Lance Sijan, '65, fell into both categories and became the first Academy graduate to be awarded the Medal of Honor due to his heroism while evading capture and in captivity.[26] Sijan Hall, one of the cadet dormitories, is named in his memory.

The effects of the anti-war movement were felt at the Academy as well. Because the Academy grounds are generally open to the public, the Academy often became a site for protests by anti-war demonstrators.[23] Regular demonstrations were held at the Cadet Chapel, and cadets often became the targets of protesters' insults. Other aggravating factors were the presence in the Cadet Wing of cadets motivated to attend the Academy for reasons of draft avoidance, and a number of highly publicized cheating scandals. Morale sometimes suffered as a consequence.[citation needed]

Women at the Academy

One of the most significant events in the history of the Academy was the admission of women.[27][28] On 7 October 1975, President Gerald R. Ford signed legislation permitting women to enter the United States service academies. On 26 June 1976, 157 women entered the Air Force Academy with the Class of 1980. Because there were no female upper class cadets, the Air Training Officer model used in the early years of the Academy was revived, and fifteen young female officers were brought in to help with the integration process. The female cadets were initially segregated from the rest of the Cadet Wing but were fully integrated into their assigned squadrons after their first semester. On 28 May 1980, 97 of the original female cadets completed the program and graduated from the Academy—just over 10% of the graduating class. Women have made up just over 20% of the most recent classes, with the class of 2016 having the highest proportion of any class, 25%.[10]

Many of the women from those early classes went on to achieve success within the Cadet Wing and after graduation (see list of Academy graduates below). Despite these successes, integration issues were long apparent. Female cadets have had consistently higher dropout rates than men and have left the Air Force in higher numbers than men.[29]