USAFA Supe Highlights Character, Religion in Recruitment Message
In a widely distributed op-ed style piece, US Air Force Academy Superintendent LtGen Michelle Johnson answered the question “Why you should consider attending a service academy,” though by “service academy” she meant USAFA. The Supe highlighted leadership, followership, sports — and also the culture of character:
At the Academy, character is paramount – while they’re evaluating our Academy we’re evaluating them to determine if they have the honor and fortitude it takes to succeed at the Academy and serve in our Air Force…
Our four-year curriculum and emphasis on character development is interwoven in all aspects of cadet life to create an atmosphere of trust and accountability amongst cadets and staff…
Our emphasis on impeccable character is why it becomes “news” when an extremely small minority of our cadets does not meet our high standards. We hold ourselves to a higher standard.
(Despite using similar language about character, LtGen Johnson’s column did not include a disclaimer as BGen McGregor’s did.)
Character is, of course, extremely important, but simply saying “impeccable character” is required — or even building a “Center for Character and Leadership Development” — doesn’t communicate the kind of character required, or how it will be imbued. This is an ongoing struggle in the military, as the current military leadership — much like military leaders over the past centuries — recognizes the importance of character, but it now struggles with how to engender it in others. This “new” struggle is largely occurring because of the challenge of teaching morality and ethics in an environment some feel must be wholly divorced from religion and God — the ultimate standard of morality and character.
Another interesting reference in LtGen Johnson’s column was naturally to the military’s standard claim of diversity. The two stories she chose to highlight were that of a female high school football kicker and another who built a Hindu temple:
The impeccable character and personal achievements of our applicants produces an exceptionally well qualified and diverse pool of candidates. Consider this: while still in high school, one young man from the class of 2018 spent over a year of his after-school time building a 78-foot tall Hindu Temple.
Implicit in LtGen Johnson’s statement is something increasingly rare from military leaders: There was virtue in a now-cadet spending months in high school working on a religious temple. Increasingly, military leaders have acknowledged the right of service members to participate in religious activity, but have most often declined to acknowledge the virtue in doing so.
LtGen Johnson’s statement about the Hindu temple will likely go unnoticed, but had she said the same thing about a Mormon mission trip or a cadet candidate working on a Southern Baptist church, critics would likely have piled on — first claiming religious activity should not be considered in cadet qualifications, and second that the Supe was “endorsing” the religious activity by speaking positively about it. Neither is true, of course, but this is an age in which any military leader who dares to speak about religious — that is, Christian — activity in a remotely positive light is slammed by Michael “Mikey” Weinstein as a Christian supremacist who wants to instigate a second Holocaust.
Though he is largely — and correctly — dismissed as lunatic fringe now, there are still some who would like to avoid the hassle of dealing with Weinstein at all, and they will sometimes self-censor or censor others not because it is required, but because it is convenient.
That said, as LtGen Johnson’s statement highlights, there is value in talking about diversity. She obviously thought there was good reason to mention a Hindu temple in a recruiting message — a recruiting message to a population which is 0.7% Hindu. There is similarly good reason to freely talk about churches, synagogues, and mosques — and those who attend them. If diversity is to be celebrated, then celebrate diverse diversity — not just the politically expedient elements of it. And don’t censor or quash diversity simply because Mikey Weinstein doesn’t like it.
USAFA can build character, and it does benefit from diversity. That much is true. The methods it can use to develop character and the diversity in its message of diversity may leave room for discussion.