August 20, 2009
Lt. Gen. Michael Gould wants the Air Force Academy to be tough, sure. He wants to build men and women who will excel in combat and in life.
But the new superintendent seeks something warm and fuzzy, too. He wants graduates to look back fondly on the academy.
“If they drive away saying ‘I never want to go back to that place,’ I think we missed something,” said Gould, who took the reins of the academy in July.
Gould loves the place, and wants graduates, including two children who followed him into Air Force blue, to feel the same way.
The 1976 academy graduate had five years rather than the traditional four to contemplate the academy. The extra year came at the academy’s preparatory school, which allows students who don’t meet a tough set of academic criteria to work their way to admission.
Now, Gould is in charge of the 18,500-acre campus and its 4,000 cadets, with orders to build the next generation of Air Force officers.
A pilot who flew transports and refueling planes, Gould and his staff will prepare cadets for a largely pilotless world. The Air Force is increasingly reliant on craft like the Predator drone, an unmanned plane that can launch missiles on command from its controllers half a world away.
The service is also digging into the new battlefield of the Internet, where nations are preparing to defend their computer networks while destroying those of the enemy.
“We’re all about adapting over time,” Gould said.
Much of what Gould has seen in two months on the job, he’s pleased with. Cadets, he said, are learning how to be leaders by leading underclassmen.
He’s concerned though, about aging buildings and crumbling infrastructure at the academy. He’s pushing, with some success, for the Air Force to continue to pour renovation money into the school.
“It’s a simple matter of we repair it now or pay a lot more later,” he said.
He’s also backing an ambitious plan he inherited to make the school gain energy independence. Work will begin soon on a solar plant that will supply some of the academy’s power. Other projects, including hydroelectric and wind power, remain under study.
But the biggest change at the academy under Gould may come from the attention he’s going to pay to cadets who struggle their way through the academic rigor.
Gould admits he had to fight his way through the preparatory school to meet the academy’s standards and hammer away for four years at academic tasks that came easily to others. He thinks that puts him in a good position to help struggling cadets.
“I’ve always felt that the best teachers, instructors and coaches are the people who had to work a lot to get through.”