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Ceremony marks passing of the torch to new Air Force Academy superintendent

August 11, 2017 Updated: August 15, 2017 at 10:08 am
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Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria greets his Air Force Academy Class of 1985 classmates after taking command of the Academy from Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson Friday, Aug. 11, 2017, in front of the Air Force Academy Cadet Chapel. Photo by James Wooldridge, The Gazette

After nearly four years at the helm of the Air Force Academy, the school's first-ever female superintendent relinquished her command Friday to a decorated fighter pilot, leaving him with a simple piece of advice:

"Keep em' flying. Keep em' climbing," Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson told Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria after she transferred command in a ceremony at the academy.

Silveria, who graduated from the school in 1985, is the academy's 20th superintendent. With a lengthy service record and more than 4,000 hours in the cockpit, he's one of the Air Force's most experienced pilots.

"When it came time to pick the next superintendent, Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria was the obvious choice," Gen. David Goldfein, the branch's chief of staff, said during the ceremony. "I don't believe we have an officer serving in the Air Force today with more combat time, more joint credibility, or more operational understanding of the art of modern war."

Silveria recently returned from the Middle East, where he led a campaign against ISIS and the Taliban involving more than a dozen nations. In recent years, he served as the vice commander of the space-focused 14th Air Force in California, commanded the U.S. Air Force Warfare Center at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, and became the first general to fly an F-35 jet.

Shortly before the ceremony, he was promoted from major general to lieutenant general to fit the requirements for the superintendent position.

"Changes of command are really about looking forward. Here at USAFA, it's easy to look forward. The future is right here in front of us on this field," Silveria said, looking to the roughly 4,000 cadets lining a field near a pavilion on the campus known as the Terrazo.

"You and I will work together to develop you into leaders and airman our Air Force needs for the future," he told the cadets.

Johnson, who announced plans to retire in April, was a member of the second class of women admitted to the academy after President Gerald Ford ended the nation's military schools excluding women.

"Anyone who has interacted with Michelle Johnson understands the barriers she has broken, from being the first female cadet wing commander to USAFA superintendent," Goldfein said. "It is a uniquely American success story."

She was known for her efforts to combat sexual assault and rein in the school's more unruly athletes. During her command, she also spearheaded a public relations campaign to improve the school's image and challenged some of the school's longstanding traditions by pushing for more liberal arts classes on the campus and greater freedoms for upperclassmen.

"This is hard to give up," she told the crowd, shortly before she officially retired. "I've loved this. This has been the capstone opportunity of my professional career."

Silveria takes over as the academy works with the Pentagon to rebuild the school's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office. In June, four of the office's six members were suspended. The school has released few details of an investigation into the office.

When asked about his plans for the school, Silveria responded in generalities.

"I'm going to do everything I can to continue the work that Gen. Johnson has done," he said in an interview. "She has the institution going in a fantastic direction, and I'm going to continue that momentum and look for ways we can keep going forward."

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Contact Rachel Riley: 636-0108

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