Some thoughts on today’s Denver Post article, “A Culture of Hostility”

Headlines in the Denver Post: “A Culture of Hostility: For 27 years the Air Force Academy has allowed female cadets in its ranks. The roots of the current sexual-assault problem are deeper still, a tangle of abused power and misplaced loyalties.”

I am a male, USAFA graduate. How should I respond to this?

Should I begin by recounting how shocked I am? Because in the 4 years I attended the Academy, while I certainly was aware of problems and harassment issues, I never was aware of any situations even close to any of those described by the article’s writers.

Should I respond by being defensive? Because if this article or any other could make me ashamed of the Air Force Academy and the classmates I know, this one would– but it doesn’t and won’t. Because the picture this article paints is not of me, or the classmates I know, or of the Academy I know and love.

Has the Academy changed? Sure. Has society changed? Of course. Has the Air Force ever condoned sexual harassment or the perverted, illegal behaviors described in this article? Of course not. But to read this article, the uninformed might conclude that every Academy graduate is a bigot, a pervert, and a complicit accessory in every act of sexual harassment and misconduct ever to take place at USAFA or in the US Air Force.

How do you respond to an article like this?

I have no doubt in my mind that the Air Force Academy, like every other institution in our country, military or not, has problems. It comes as no surprise to me that at the Academy and elsewhere in the military, people report difficulties in reconciling dedication to the value of loyalty versus dedication to other values. I suspect this is an issue in every police force in every city and town in our nation. It is likely an issue in every military unit in every country in the world. It is likely an issue in any organization where loyalty is an important value.

Does this mean the cadet honor code is a farce, and every cadet and graduate a hypocrite for living under the code and pledging loyalty to it? Certainly not.

One of the big problems that journalists and anyone else can get into when they form an opinion about a subject they do not have personal experience with is they can easily portray facts out of perspective. This problem seems clearly evident in this recent article in the Denver Post.

What a joy it must be as a liberal journalist, to have the license and permission to write from a single point of view and portray a generally revered institution (USAFA) as a worthless bastion of women hating rapists and perverts. How sad it truly is that such writing, which passes for journalism and is likely accepted at face value by many readers, falls far short in an attempt to assess the worth and value not only of the institution itself, but of the graduates who name it their alma mater.

I have no forgiveness or warm feelings for any of the felons who have served as cadets at the Air Force Academy. No forgiveness for the drug dealers who were indicted and convicted last year for selling ecstasy and other illegal drugs, no forgiveness for the rapists who have violated the essential rights of female cadets at USAFA, no forgiveness for the perverts who claimed they were “just following orders” in doing something they thought would amuse upperclassmen in their squadron. Give these lawbreakers what they deserve: Article 15s, civil prosecution, tremendous monetary fines, prison time in Leavenworth. Bring on the lawyers and let the scales of justice be balanced. We don’t have any place for felons, perverts, liars or thieves in our Air Force, our Air Force Academy, or in our civil society as far as I see it. We never have, and we never will.

But let’s not try and depict the Air Force Academy, and its graduates, as a bunch of sexist, perverted pigs who at worst rape women and at best, condone such behavior as acceptable. Give me a break.

The Academy classmates I know and cherish, both male and female, exemplify the highest values and ideals which I hold dear. Do I know a classmate or two who might not? Maybe. There were over 1000 graduates in my class, and I didn’t know each one personally. But even bearing those exceptions in mind (of which there are very few), I have to take issue with the general premise and tone of this article.

Is the Air Force Academy a worthwhile institution, filled with committed individuals who seek to serve values that extend beyond their own self-interest? Absolutely.

Are the vast majority of Air Force Academy graduates honorable, respected individuals accurately regarded by many as exemplary pillars of integrity and dedication to the values of truth and justice? Absolutely.

Am I still willing today, 11 years after graduating from the Air Force Academy, to put my life on the line for my brothers and sisters in arms with whom I served at USAFA and on active duty? Absolutely.

Can the authors of this article say the same about many or any of their college roommates and classmates? Probably not.

Does an article such as this one, which serves to paint an incredibly lopsided and unrealistic view of Academy life, cadets, and graduates, serve any constructive purpose besides one embraced by those who seek to dismantle the fourthclass system at the Academy and bring shame / dishonor upon the institution in any way possible? Probably not.

I have no doubt that the Academy still has problems, just as it did in my day when I attended it. Several years ago when I visited my old squadron, I was very surprised to see that cadet dormitory rooms all had new deadbolt locks on them, and as a procedure now are locked during the day. We did not have deadbolt locks on our doors, and our rooms stayed open all morning during the weekday for spot inspections. Things have clearly changed in some ways.

It is sad to read an article like this one, however, which seeks to sensationalize and portray isolated incidents as a general pattern of perversion and illegal behavior. Where are the journalists writing about USAFA who seek to promote change from a vantage point of understanding, rather than destruction and vilification? Arguably it takes a great deal to change a culture, particularly a military culture, but the dissemination of false generalizations and hyperbole like the basic contentions of this article are not constructive parts of this process.

My prayers are with the cadets and officers attending and leading our Air Force Academy at this extremely difficult era of history. Different battles must be fought by different generations, some on the battlefields of violent conflict and others on the battlefields of ideas and ideologies.

The Air Force Academy is a worthwhile institution. The graduates I know are honorable, noble citizens. I have no doubt that the majority of cadets today share this same ilk. We are drawn to the Academy for different reasons, but for most the values, yes: the traditions, and the calling to serve something higher than oneself form an important element. Do Academy leaders bear a vital burden, to weed out cadets who have no respect for women, who use or even deal illegal drugs, who cover up or try to hide the reporting of these behaviors by others? Without a doubt.

Let’s not make the mistake of passing judgment on an entire institution and its graduates based on an article like this one, however. The cause of truth would certainly not be advanced in that case.

But neither would it be derailed, either, by the opinions of the journalists writing this article or any other about the Academy. I know the truth of my 4 years of Academy experiences, and the people I shared them with. And I am certainly willing to share that with others– with you. I do have faith in the truth, the real story. And let me assure you, when it comes to USAFA and its graduates– after reading this article– citizens of the United States need to be reminded there is a lot to “the rest of the story” in this case.

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