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Low Expectations Plague the Air Force Academy

Low Expectations Plague the Air Force Academy


During their final year at the Air Force Academy (AFA), cadets choose the specific jobs they will be assigned while on active duty. This crucial decision, made in the nascence of one’s career, has far-reaching implications with regard to career advancement. The Air Force Specialty Code (AFSC) links available jobs with an alphanumeric designation, and not surprisingly, pilot training represents the most popular AFSC for graduating cadets at the AFA. But the second choice is astonishing for cadets who have received a four-year education worth $416,000 at an institution that is tasked to train career Air Force officers.

The minimum commitment for an AFA education is five years of active duty service, and the AFSCs that obligate cadets for the least amount of payback time represent the second most popular job selections in the aggregate. The act is known among cadets as “dive in five,” and it is borne of disillusionment and the realization that DEI-entrenched military leadership, quota-based promotions, and falling standards are not what they signed up for. 

DEI’s nonsensical, unsupported claims that phenotype and sexual identity are indispensable components of superior military performance and the intimidating effect of DEI political officers embedded within the cadet wing breed cynicism and psychological fatigue. Recent undercover investigative reporting that exposes blatant corruption within Air Force DEI programs and an admission of DEI’s lack of benefit affirms the negative view of DEI held by most cadets. If the real Air Force is at all similar to the academy experience, then why devote a career to an organization with priorities more in line with Cloward-Piven than the Constitution?

The AFA recruits candidates by falsely advertising that cadets will be challenged to the full extent of their abilities. The performative expectations of academy administrators and their political allies have fallen precipitously—much to the disappointment of young men and women who crave an elite four-year military education, only to find it more in common with an Ivy League school than a military academy. Those times are gone, but to revisit them, one must return to the academy’s early years.

If standards and expectations remain high, qualified cadets will rise to meet them, and the public will realize the benefits of its investment. Cadets and recent graduates of the AFA have been denied the opportunity to test themselves to the utmost. Standards have fallen to accommodate sensibilities and the misguided perception that the admissions process is an infallible predictor of success. This goal is attained by setting attrition rates at 10-15% of the incoming class, commensurate with the undergraduate Ivy League experience.

The 4th class system at the AFA essentially no longer exists. During basic summer training, upper-class instructors cannot raise their voices, and safe spaces are available for those sensitive personalities bearing the brunt of criticism. Basic cadets are limited to performing three pushups if commanded by upperclassmen. Summer training concludes with Hell Day, which lasts only hours, after which time members of the fourth class are allowed to function at ease for the remainder of their time at the academy. This mode of indoctrination into military life is the culmination of an inexorable process to minimize psychological and physical hardship and a denial of the premise that mutual adversity builds character and cohesion. 

The class motto of the AFA Class of 1972 is “Strength Through Adversity,” and it serves as a comparative reminder of the devolution of expectations and the redefinition of military science. The 4th class system which our class endured lasted nearly one year. During basic summer, compliance was ensured through food deprivation, punishment runs, special inspections, verbal abuse at high decibel levels, sleep privation, unarmed combat, and for a recalcitrant like myself, enlistment in the “goon squad,” where attitudes were uncomfortably readjusted. 

The academic year afforded little free time between full academic loads, military training, and physical education that were all performed under the umbrella of the unremitting 4th class system. The year ended with the aptly named Hell Week, and to this day, my classmates can recall both the personal indignities they experienced and the sense of relief, camaraderie, and sense of accomplishment.

Dr. Frederick Malmstrom’s prediction that group loyalty would supplant honor as the primary driver of ethical behavior at the AFA has come to fruition. A recent anonymous survey of cadets confirmed that 80% agree that group loyalty is more important than the Honor Code. Expulsions due to honor code violations are rare, and remediation and multiple opportunities to atone for honor code infringements are accepted practice. In essence, the Honor Code, the distinguishing pillar of a military academy education, has assumed an aspirational quality and represents a capitulation to those who contend that contemporary young adults cannot live by the same levels of honor as previous generations. Upon commissioning, can one assume that these Air Force officers suddenly will act honorably in an era where influential military officers bend the truth?

Fifty years ago the Honor Code was not without its problems, particularly with respect to the toleration clause, but the Cadet Wing uniformly attested to its benefits and accepted it as an immutable standard of ethics. Those guilty of cheating, lying, stealing, or tolerating such behavior were summarily expelled. Living under the code allowed one to safely live in a dormitory with open, unlocked doors. Throughout the day when the facility was vacant, a $20 bill left in plain sight in one’s room would remain unmolested until the owner claimed it. A cadet living under a vigorously enforced honor code for four years usually applied these qualities while serving as a commissioned officer. 

Throughout the year up to 15% of the cadet wing cannot pass the physical fitness test (PFT), but outliers can retreat to a safe space if the pressure to improve performance is too overwhelming. The PFT consists of 5 three-minute periods, and each segment is devoted to a specific skill—pull-ups, standing long jump, push-ups, crunches (not sit-ups), and the 600-yard run. A maximum score for each event earns 100 points, while the minimum performance level is worth 25 points. The minimum scores for males in the prime of health are modest: 3 pull-ups, 7’2” standing long jump, 24 push-ups, 47 crunches, and 2 minutes and 11 seconds for the 600-yard run. 

The overweight and obese constitute 68% of armed forces personnel, and it is incumbent on the officer corps to set an example of physical prowess. General MacArthur spoke to the importance of physical fitness and intense athletic competition, but as standards wane, his wisdom has been discarded. Rather than retreating to safe spaces, members of my class were placed on restriction until they passed the PFT. 

DEI receives unabated, effusive praise in the Association of Graduates (AOG) magazine Checkpoints, the primary information source by which graduates receive news about their alma mater. Other than an occasional, truncated letter to the editor, the settled science of DEI is treated like a godsend. The editors promote an embellished, one-sided narrative of DEI’s dubious benefits, but fail to sound the alarm that cadets are subjected to attend mandatory indoctrination sessions on gender identity. Delving deeply into the murky world of pseudoscience, civilian professors, who constitute 42% of the faculty, proclaim the proven existence of fifty-odd gender types—the validity of which cadets cannot contest in the classroom.

The meals served at Mitchell Hall, the cadet dining facility, are barely edible. Cadets often leave the academy premises to eat at fast food restaurants, and judging by the Mitchell Hall cuisine served at our class’s 50th reunion, one cannot blame them. Sijan Hall, one of the two cadet dormitories, was built in 1968. Renovations have been delayed despite a centralized heating failure this past year, and a lack of hot water for the last three months that affected multiple squadrons. The outgoing superintendent considers these issues to be low priority and fails to address the problems. Cadets view these acts of omission as proof of DEI’s preeminence and the forgotten wisdom of Sun Tzu’s admonition regarding a commander’s responsibility for the welfare of one’s subordinates.

The ideological direction of the academy provokes escalating concerns from the graduate community, and as a result, their financial contributions to the AFA Foundation have plummeted. Corporate donations compensate for the shortfall, but as in the case of the United Services Automobile Association’s sponsorship of a DEI Reading Room at the academy’s McDermott Library, there is a risk of further polarization to the institution. Dependence on large contributions from entities committed to corporatism and stakeholder capitalism disenfranchises individual donors whose commitments are based on loyalty and commitment rather than politics.

Too often the AOG leadership acquiesces to political pressure, supports programs fraught with Marxist ideology, and fails to resist declining cadet expectations. Most graduates and cadets understand that DEI and falling standards lead to detrimental repercussions and understand the need for these problems to be discussed frankly in an open, non-censored forum. On multiple occasions, these sincere entreaties have been met with condescending, threatening rebukes from the Chairman of the AOG’s Board of Directors (BOD)—a display of heavy-handedness at complete odds with General Colin Powell’s views on leadership. Under no circumstances is a retired military officer, who serves as a volunteer on the AOG BOD, entitled to intimidate fellow graduates who offer informed perspectives to the graduate community. Too little free speech once again embroils a noble institution in a quagmire of its own making, and as a consequence, cadets are diving in five. 

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  • Scott Sturman

    Scott Sturman, MD, a former Air Force helicopter pilot, is a graduate of the United States Air Force Academy Class of 1972, where he majored in aeronautical engineering. A member of Alpha Omega Alpha, he graduated from the University of Arizona School of Health Sciences Center and practiced medicine for 35 years until retirement. He now lives in Reno, Nevada.

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