Character education is central to the curriculum at the United States Air Force Academy. Each year, cadets experience a different aspect of character-based transformational leadership education. We begin by developing personal understanding, then interpersonal skills followed by servant leadership and finally, we explore organizational improvement through the analysis of ethical dilemmas.
The Academy’s character education plan is built to fully complement the Officer Development System. Beginning in Basic Cadet Training (BCT) and continuing through your last semester at the Academy, The Cadet Development Directorate of the Center for Character and Leadership Development provides a variety of classroom, seminar, workshop and experiential learning programs — including an Adventure-based learning (ABL) ropes course — to all cadets. These programs encourage character and leadership development throughout the cadet experience and across Academy mission elements, providing hundreds of opportunities for involvement.
The multiple opportunities offered by the Cadet Development Directorate provide a deliberate, developmental approach to each cadets personal character and leadership growth. The end-goal of our character education programs is to inspire and excite cadets about their future roles as officers and leaders in the world’s best air force. Through our focus on character education, we ensure that the Academy not only makes a positive difference in cadet development, but contributes directly to the Air Force and Department of Defense goal of having officers of character leading our nation’s military. Programs include:
Core Values Education
The Academy and Air Force core values are Integrity First, Service Before Self, and Excellence In All We Do. They are the foundation of a cadet’s ethical standards. Instruction is provided to all Basic Cadets during their initial training, in order to instruct and inspire them to embrace these core values and hold their classmates to the same high standards of character and morality. These special standards of good conduct are inexorably tied to the military profession’s unique demand for self-discipline, stamina, courage, and selfless service to the nation.
Fourth-class (freshmen) cadets attend a workshop called Vital Effective Character Through Observation and Reflection (VECTOR!). This program is an interactive seminar that focuses on values, personal leadership growth, and self-reflection. All fourth-class cadets attend a one-day VECTOR session in their fourth-class year. Topics addressed include establishing purpose, developing vision, assessing personal values, and acknowledging influence. VECTOR illustrates to fourth-class cadets the importance of developing a strong personal foundation. Popular movie clips and discussions with active duty and retired officers and senior NCOs become a springboard into the discussion of character, leadership, and assertive followership concepts impacting the cadets’ lives.
Respect and Responsibility (R&R) Seminar
This workshop is designed to take the cadets out of their normal environment while helping them discover valuable information about themselves, others, and the interpersonal interactions that foster a healthy command environment. R&R features a partnership between the Center for Character & Leadership Development and the Commandant of Cadets Human Relations Training & Education office. Cadets participate in a graduated series of activities involving emotional risk, designed around human relations and diversity issues. The program offers an indoor experiential learning opportunity in the morning session, followed by an outdoor experiential series of challenges on the Adventure Based Learning (ABL) Course, where students can practice the skills and vocabulary learned from the morning sessions.
Leaders In Flight Today Seminar
Second-class cadets take part in a one-day offsite seminar – Leaders In Flight Today (LIFT). Cadets focus on high performance, dynamic team building with emphasis on becoming “Servants of the Nation.” Team building topics emphasize servant leadership, trust, loyalty, and moral courage. LIFT emphasizes being part of something larger than oneself, and leader skills development. The seminar stresses character and leadership development using a variety of teaching tools and techniques, including experiential learning activities, case study analysis, and small group facilitation. The day culminates with opportunities for cadets to field test major insights within their squadrons and challenges cadets to commit to building their own high performance teams. LIFT seeks to target second-class cadets as they perform their leadership duties within their squadron, with particular emphasis given to cadet Element Leaders and their role in developing the competencies and character of those in their immediate scope of responsibility.
Academy Character Enrichment Seminar
The cadets’ character and leadership development journey culminates in our first-class seminar–the capstone Academy Character Enrichment Seminar (ACES). This one-day offsite seminar is designed to focus attendees on the ethical demands placed on Air Force officers as they develop their organizational leadership skills. ACES helps the first-class cadets examine their collective role in character development at the Academy and in the greater Air Force. Attendees are exposed to concepts and experiences that underscore the critical role that character and leadership have in the operational Air Force. Participants engage in dialogue throughout the day that focuses on both ethical development and mentorship skills within the AF core values framework. A closing ethical resolution discussion is led by an Academy senior leader.
The Directorate also offers optional high- and low-ropes course adventure-based learning (ABL) exercises for cadets and other military organizations throughout the year. These sessions include, but are not limited to, “Alpine Tower”, “zip line” experiences, and various mental and physical challenges. While these experiential learning opportunities are not mandatory, many USAFA and other DoD teams and organizations experience remarkable personal growth by participating in these courses.
National Character and Leadership Symposium (NCLS)
NCLS is attended by 4,000 cadets and 300+ guests, students, and faculty from military academies and universities across the nation and around the world. This nationally-recognized forum ties together distinguished scholars, military leaders, and corporate executives with a popular student consortium to explore character and leadership issues. Past keynote lectures have been given by the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Secretary of the Air Force, Medal of Honor recipients, Olympic athletes, sports role models, academic scholars and military personnel from all services. NCLS provides cadets and permanent party the opportunity to enhance their understanding of character-based leadership.
Falcon Heritage Forum (FHF)
FHF is a semi-annual symposium that allows highly distinguished military veterans to interact with all cadets through informal discussions and formal presentations. Typical guests include former Prisoners of War and combat veterans from WWII, Korea, Vietnam, and recent military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. Veterans are often assigned to each squadron for this 3 ½ day event. Recent FHF events include cadets traveling with veterans to visit historic sites, giving the cadets a unique perspective on military heritage.
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