A MORE DIVERSE FORSE IS A STRONGER FORCE
By Lieutenant General Jay Silveria.
When I first arrived at the United States Air Force Academy in 1981, I looked to my left and right and found an incoming class that was generally homogenous. We were mostly white, and about 90 percent male. Most of us came from middle class, nuclear families, had attended good public schools in the suburbs and brought to our education and training an intellectual foundation built on a similar worldview. My fellow cadets and I were a group of good scholars and determined athletes – eagle scouts, team captains and honor roll students – all destined to do great things as leaders for our country. But we weren’t an accurate reflection of America’s full potential.
Now well into my third decade of service in the Air Force, I returned to my alma mater just over a year ago to take command as Superintendent and lead the Academy. I returned to an institution much different from the one I attended, one that is continuing to evolve, and one that is on a positive trajectory toward looking and thinking more like the society it serves. This is a direction of greater capability and renewed relevance, accomplished through more fully utilizing one of our nation’s greatest strengths – its uncommon diversity.
This past summer we welcomed our newest class, the Class of 2022, to the same basic cadet training I attended more than 37 years ago, where some of our nation’s most promising young people begin the challenging experience that develops them into the future leaders of our Air Force. This class is already remarkable, arriving with our highest percentage of female applicants ever (more than 30 percent of applications), and having accepted our highest percentage of minority applicants ever (33.5 percent). But just as important, they’re off to an impressive start, getting through basic cadet training with the lowest attrition rate in our history.
As an institution bound by federal law, this progress was not made through the implementation of quotas. Instead I credit our admissions office for its outreach to potential applicants in every corner of the country, where they’re encouraging students to apply who have great potential for success at our Academy, but didn’t know it was an opportunity accessible to them. They’re looking at ways to reach students at a younger age, and spark an early interest in our programs while students still have time to chart their course toward a competitive application. Our team is improving information access and finding students of all backgrounds who are up to the challenge.
We’re not done in these efforts, and we’re going to continue to strive to improve our numbers and our work in communication and outreach. When I’m questioned about the worthiness of this endeavor and the resources we’re dedicating to it, I can respond confidently and without hesitation: it will make us a stronger and more effective Academy, and in turn build a stronger and more effective Air Force. I’ve come to this position directly from the 21st Century battlefield, and I’ve seen that it demands from its warrior leaders a new level of innovation, creative thinking, and mental agility. The achievement of these requirements is imperative to our success in combat, and can be aided in no small part by a force armed with a variety of thoughts and perspectives, capable of approaching a problem from many directions. This is where a more diverse force becomes a stronger force. When we can apply the qualities derived from diverse backgrounds, upbringings, cultures, and experiences, and look at our world and its challenges from different angles, we are immensely more capable.
It was a great honor to attend the 2018 National LATINA Symposium this fall and discuss some of the United States Air Force Academy’s efforts on this crucial front, but it was an even greater honor to accompany the USAFA cadets, staff and faculty, and other military members present as they accepted awards for their outstanding achievements. Thank you to LATINA Style for the opportunity to share our stories, and for showcasing the incredible qualities, capabilities, and diversity of our military force.
Lt. Gen. Jay B. Silveria is the Superintendent, U.S. Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs, Colorado. He directs a four-year regimen of military training, academics, athletic and character development programs leading to a Bachelor of Science degree and a commission as a second lieutenant. Prior to assuming his current position, he served as the Deputy Commander, U.S. Air Forces Central Command, and Deputy Commander, Combined Air Force Air Component, U.S. Central Command, Southwest Asia.
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