By Scott Sturman, MD, USAFA ’72
STARRS Board of Advisors
Like a B-17 Flying Fortress lumbering back to England with its fuselage shot full of holes from German “88” anti-aircraft batteries and Messerschmitt machine guns, the Air Force Academy’s (USAFA) once sterling record is in shambles. Its mission to train career Air Force officers has been tarnished by the politicization of the institution, the handling of the Covid vaccination program, and the recent Honor Code scandal that involved nearly 10% of the Cadet Wing. Just as discontented citizens living in faltering states vote with their feet, qualified high school students are choosing not to apply to the Academy.
In 2022 USAFA experienced a precipitous 28% decline in total applications and 46% drop in qualified applications compared to the previous year. The US Military Academy and the US Naval Academy draw from the same applicant pool but saw applications diminish by 10% and 20% respectively. When asked about the discouraging number of applicants at USAFA, Colonel Arthur Primas, an Academy graduate who has served as USAFA Director of Admissions since 2017, laid the blame on Covid-19. When asked about Academy’s Diversity and Inclusion Program’s influence on recruiting, he responded, “This focus has proven a tremendous strength of U.S. Air Force Academy recruiting.”
Lt.Gen.(ret) Rod Bishop, past President of STARRS, worked for four years in the USAFA Admissions Department. He notes that the quantity and quality of applicants are related, “We worked hard to increase the pool of qualified candidates to the point of extending our recruiting efforts to plant the seed in junior high schools. We knew that a smaller candidate pool almost always correlated with a lower quality base of applicants, and thus a lower quality of cadets entering USAFA.”
Dismissing the recruiting crisis solely as the result of Covid ignores a number of factors that the Academy administration is loathe to admit. Contributory factors include the Honor Code, the Diversity and Inclusion Program, Critical Race Theory (CRT), and the handling of the mandatory Covid-19 vaccination program.
The daring exploits of combat aviators of the past inspire those who wish to follow in their footsteps in the Air Force. Doolittle, Bong, Olds, and Ritchie—to be a part of this distinguished fellowship is a passion for young men and women considering an Air Force career. It is difficult to describe the excitement and sense of accomplishment for an applicant who receives notice of acceptance to USAFA.
Imagine the consternation of a young man or woman, for whom military life is foreign, to receive the Academy’s mandatory, summer reading list that includes political activist George Takei’s anti-American screed, They Called Us Enemy. What impression does this give to cadet’s parents or the cadet, who graduated from the top of the high school class, when the Academy mandates a book published in cartoon format that a 12 year old can read?
Diversity and Inclusion narratives pervade cadet life. In 2013 Lt. General Mike Gould, Superintendent at USAFA, implemented Executive Order 13583, which laid the foundation for the Diversity and Inclusion Program at the Academy. In his introductory comments he extolled the plan and noted that diversity is a “military necessity” but failed to mention the word “merit” at any point in his discourse. He went on to add, “…we conclude that recruiting, retaining, developing, and graduating a diverse cadet corps is as important for Air Force leadership training as it is for the quality of academic education.”
A number of graduates and parents of cadets also are concerned about the inculcation of critical theory and its corollary, CRT, into the fabric of cadet life. Lynn Chandler-Garcia, a professor of political science, acknowledged in an article in The Washington Post that she taught CRT at USAFA. Despite denials by the Academy Administration, the actions of the Falcon football team coaching staff corroborated a level of heightened political activism at USAFA.
In 2020 head coach Troy Calhoun and his staff produced a video on social media supporting the Marxist organization Black Lives Matter. This unprecedented display of support for the Marxist, CRT-oriented organization brought discredit upon the institution.
The Academy administration’s handling of the Department of Defense’s mandatory Covid-19 vaccine policy has been a source of unfavorable publicity, particularly for families who hold strong religious convictions about receiving vaccines that either have been tested or produced using embryonic stem cell lines.
From a health perspective, it is now clear that the virus’s Omicron variants present a minuscule threat to the health and well being of the Cadet Wing. The CDC acknowledges that the vaccine neither protects against acquisition or transmission of the disease.
More countries are restricting the administration of the vaccine for young patients, and health officials in Denmark now forbid anyone younger than 18 from receiving the mRNA vaccine due to an unacceptable risk-to-benefit profile. Due to the abbreviated vaccine trial period, women of the age that consider applying to the Academy are concerned about the accumulating evidence implicating the vaccine’s adverse effect on fertility.
Cadets, who hold sincere religious objections to receiving the vaccine, have been categorically denied exemptions, despite military chaplains vouching that their concerns are fundamental and legitimate. Categorical, carte blanche denial of these objections portrays Academy administrators as intransigent bureaucrats, who have lost perspective and commonsense. All forms of protective patient rights have been discarded, including informed consent and the regulations governing the administered of vaccines under Emergency Use Authorization.
In 1968 during fourth class year at USAFA, my classmates and I were taught that the answer to any “why” question, must be answered with “No excuse, sir!” This led to some preposterous answers to a myriad of questions such as: “Why is the sky blue?” or “Why is your IQ lower than an amoeba?” However, the reason for the exercise was to teach a cadet and future officer not to make an excuse, but to solve the problem.
Nearly all members of the Academy’s senior administration are graduates who know better than to make excuses for problems for which they know the answers. They have taken the institution intentionally on an uncharted, but dangerous flight path that bodes ill for USAFA and the country.