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Air Force Academy leaders provide plan to improve character

September 25, 2014 Updated: January 9, 2015 at 6:20 pm
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photo - Air Force Academy superintendent Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson talks to the academy's Board of Visitors on Thursday. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Air Force Academy.
Air Force Academy superintendent Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson talks to the academy's Board of Visitors on Thursday. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Air Force Academy. 

Ahead of the release of an inspector general's report on the Air Force Academy's athletic department, leaders at the school outlined a string of problems and actions to correct them for the academy's Board of Visitors.

Athletic Director Hans Mueh told the panel that he's working with coaches to better identify problem recruits and is pushing programs to clean up character issues in the academy's 27 sports teams. The academy's athletic programs came under fire after an August investigation in The Gazette revealed athlete misconduct, including drug use, drinking, sexual assault and cheating on tests.

A BROKEN CODE: AFA superintendent calls for investigation of athletic transgressions

"We're good at stamina and courage and teamwork and self-confidence and self-discipline and the indomitable will to win," Mueh told the board, which advises the Defense Department on academy issues. "The area we didn't focus on enough is this culture of commitment and climate of respect."

Inspector general Col. David Kuenzli's report on the athletic programs is due to superintendent Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson on Oct. 7. Kuenzli told the board that a team of 15 inspectors spent a month reviewing regulations, interviewing some of the athletic department's 300 workers and preparing a report that examines leadership, mission, finances and whether the program meets academy conduct standards.

Kuenzli didn't reveal findings, but said the report would include observations of key areas, including discipline and whether athletics is accomplishing an Air Force mission. The colonel said after the athletic review is complete his office will turn its eyes to the academy's Preparatory School, subject of a September Gazette investigation.

Military academies, including AFA, face criticism for using prep schools to fill athletic teams

The school accepts 200 cadet candidates annually for a 10-month program to bring them up to the Academy's academic standard. The Gazette investigation of the school found it is a pipeline for athletes with hazy admission standards. The IG review of the Prep School is expected to examine whether its mission meets Air Force needs and academy standards.

No timeline has been given for when that review will be finished.

On athletics, Mueh told the board that the vast majority of academy athletes have spotless records. The school has earned NCAA sportsmanship awards in four or the past six years,

"The cadet athletes at the Air Force Academy are embarrassed to be identified by what they are on the margins," Mueh said. "The American public has a right to hold us to a much higher standard, so the margins do define us."

While the formal report is nearly two weeks away, Mueh told the board that he's identified problems with coaches recruiting athletes who don't meet the Academy's values.

"We do have a huge wide diversity of coaching staffs," Mueh said. "We have some coaches who get it. They didn't get it right away."

Board member Marcelite Harris quizzed Mueh on how the academy holds coaches to the school's values.

"Are the coaches evaluated, and ... is their ability to instill cadet values (evaluated)?," she asked.

"We need to define that a little better," Mueh said. "We have seen examples where coaches have abrogated that responsibility and pushed it off on cadets rather than being the adults in the room."

Questions about conduct in the athletic department stem, in part, from allegations that surfaced after a Dec. 2, 2011 party in Manitou Springs. A cadet confidential informant told agents of the Air Force Office of Special Investigations that cadets, including a core group of football players used drugged rum to incapacitate women for sex.

Those claims led to a wide-ranging probe of athlete conduct called "Operation Gridiron," which led to the court-martial convictions of three athletes. Five more cadets received administrative punishment that resulted in their dismissal, another half-dozen cadets resigned and three were kicked out for unrelated misconduct.

HONOR AND DECEPTION: A secretive Air Force program recruits academy students to inform on fellow cadets and disavows them afterward

Mueh said training programs for coaches and players, cadet groups and other steps are curbing misconduct.

"Just think about this," Mueh said. "At that party on the 3rd of December, 2011 if somebody, if one of them had stood up and said 'What in the world are we doing,' I think it could have stopped it."

Mueh earlier announced plans to retire as athletic director next spring, and may be moving out more quickly.

"I think this may be my last Board of Visitors meeting," he said as he wrapped up his remarks.

The athletic director is the last academy leader who was at the school during the party and its aftermath. Johnson took command last year, replacing Lt. Gen. Mike Gould.

The academy has conducted a national search to find Mueh's replacement and Johnson, the superintendent, said she's placing a big priority in finding a leader who can instill character in athletes. The pay - about $170,000 - is sub-par for the industry, but the superintendent that will help her find someone who is motivated to meet the school's values.

"I had said if we lose some games it's a disappointment, but if we lose our character it's a disaster," Johnson said.

"That's why we're not paying very much for an athletic director, it's because it is not about going to the BCS (college football's Bowl Championship Series)," Johnson said. "We're not going to the BCS anyway."

While the academy is shoring up character and leadership programs for cadets and athletes, the bigger emphasis may be on the school's faculty and staff. Johnson said she wants all academy workers to play a role in showing the cadets how to behave.

"Blaming the followers doesn't seem to be an effective approach," she said. "Don't blame the water if there's a leak in the pipe. We have had some leaks in the pipe."

The academy is setting up training programs and refining a document called the commander's intent to drive home that message.

Board chairman Alfredo Sandoval said he's confident that the academy is turning around its conduct issues and focused on making cadets who will be effective officers. He added that fewer than 2 percent of cadets have been involved in misconduct incidents during Johnson's tenure.

"General Johnson is out front and very proactive," he said after the board meeting.

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Contact Tom Roeder: 636-0240

Twitter @xroederx

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