By Brigadier General Richard M. Clark

Commandant of Cadets
US Air Force Academy

The term diversity often refers to one’s race, religion, or gender. The Air Force Academy has made great strides over the past decade to ensure that the cadet wing and its permanent faculty members are diverse among these categories. But it is equally important to recognize the strength which the Air Force Academy gains from another kind of diversity. This great and often underappreciated asset derives from the variety of our experiences, our diverse backgrounds, our various life experiences and our assorted areas of expertise. The challenge is how to align our diverse backgrounds and experiences towards the common goal of educating, training and inspiring men and women to become officers of character, motivated to lead the United States Air Force in service to our nation.

“The Air Force Academy has made great strides over the past decade to ensure that the Cadet Wing and its permanent faculty members are diverse among these categories.”

The Air Force Academy, not unlike many comparable civilian organizations, falls victim to organizational or mission partner “stovepiping.” The faculty focuses on teaching and the challenges of the academic day. The coaches and athletic instructors worry about physical conditioning and the next big game. We, on the military training side, concentrate on adherence to standards, military training and developing a warrior ethos in our cadets. This drive or pursuit for individual organizational excellence can lead to institutional inefficiencies.

In order to better interlock and overlap our organizational expertise, improve awareness and expand engagement, we have instituted the Mission Partner Initiative which voluntarily matches a cadet squadron with a faculty department, and an athletic team. The goals of the program are to amplify respect and understanding between cadet squadrons, faculty, and intercollegiate teams; increase Mission Partner awareness of “cadet life/challenges” in the squadrons, the athletic fields, and the classroom; grow institutional pride by highlighting success in military, academic and athletic arenas; and appreciate how each Mission Partner element contributes to the institutional goal of developing future officers of character. The Mission Partner Initiative provides the opportunity for each organization to engage in low-risk, high-reward team building events such as athletic event tailgates, individual cadet academic presentations, cadet squadron military training events, and team building obstacle courses.

The initial results have been very positive! The partner match-ups have participated in ice-breaking events that will cascade into activities where organizations support one another. For example, cadets are attending sporting events to support their partnered team, and coaches and faculty are participating in weekend squadron inspections and formal dining events. The creativity of events is inspiring and helps us better bridge our organizational diversity gaps. The program not only opens doors for cadets, coaches, and faculty to meet and interact in new ways, but also increases opportunities for our mission partners to collectively learn and apply diverse experiences towards developing the future leaders of America.

Brigadier General Richard M. Clark is the Commandant of Cadets, U.S. Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs, Colo. He commands the 4,400-member cadet wing and more than 300 Air Force and civilian support personnel. His responsibilities include cadet military training and airmanship education, supervising cadet life activities, and providing support to facilities and logistics.