Pulling together for the Air Force Academy

Originally published in the December 2017 Checkpoints magazine

Private philanthropy has played a significant role in the growth and development of the United States Air Force Academy.

In 1954 — the year the Academy was established — the Air Force Academy in Colorado Foundation, Inc. was formed to “assist and contribute to the establishment, maintenance, growth and development of the United States Air Force Academy.”

As the Academy grew, the desire of private citizens to raise support for an increasing number of unique projects and programs also expanded.

Today, seven foundations function within the realm of Academy-focused philanthropy: Air Force Academy Athletic Corporation, Air Force Academy Foundation, Inc., Association of Graduates, Academy Research and Development Institute (ARDI), Falcon Foundation, Friends of the Air Force Academy Library, and the United States Air Force Academy Endowment.

Earlier in 2017, the presidents and chairs of the seven foundations began meeting together to forge a closer alliance as they work together on behalf of the Academy. The leaders summarized their united mission in a joint statement: “Our goal is simple: to solidify a team dedicated and positioned to best serve USAFA.”

Following is a brief overview of each foundation highlighting its unique contribution to the Academy.

Air Force Academy Athletic Corporation

When government sequestration threatened to cancel the 2013 Air Force vs. Navy football game in Annapolis, the newly-formed Air Force Academy Athletic Corporation (AFAAC) began raising funds to keep the 41-year competition for the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy alive. More than $230,000 was quickly raised, paying travel expenses for the Air Force Falcons and extending the historic rivalry among the Army, Navy and Air Force service academies.

AFAAC helped save the 2013 football season for the Air Force Falcons, but the foundation’s mission was much broader than football.

“We’re proud of the business model we’ve developed in four short years,” says AFAAC CEO Nancy Hixson. “AFAAC supports the Academy’s 27 intercollegiate programs, as well as boxing and spirit teams, by generating more than $25 million in annual revenue.”

Air Force Academy Foundation

Founded in 1954, the Air Force Academy Foundation, Inc. is the oldest Academy-affiliated foundation.

From the beginning, the foundation has been raising private support for a variety of iconic projects.

“In the early days of the Academy, before the alumni base grew in size and influence, the foundation provided capital funding in support of a variety of projects to enhance the Academy campus, including Falcon Stadium, the Academy golf course, Farish Recreation Area, and the Goldwater Visitor Center,” says foundation President David Palenchar ’70. “In more recent years, as the other Academysupporting foundations have grown, the foundation has focused more on support for cadet programs.”

The foundation recently provided opportunities for cadets to travel domestically and internationally to receive leadership training through experiences that include internships in Washington, D.C., and studying politics and economics in places like the American Institute on Political and Economic Systems in Prague, Czech Republic.

Association of Graduates

The Association of Graduates (AOG) has established an international network of Academy graduates, tracing the Long Blue Line back to the first graduating class of 1959. Through the AOG, graduates and friends remain engaged with the Checkpoints · December 2017 · 37 Academy, connected with each other, and informed about current USAFA events and future plans.

The AOG also helps strengthen the graduate community by promoting class reunions and projects, publicizing graduate achievements and awards, relaying timely news and insightful stories through Checkpoints magazine, honoring exceptional airmanship and service through the Jabara Award and Distinguished Graduate award programs, and remembering those who are gone, but not forgotten.

Academy graduate Marty Marcolongo ’88 became the president and CEO of the AOG in 2017, following the retirement of William “T” Thompson ’73. “Thankfully, most cadets enter the Academy with a predisposition toward — or even an outright commitment to — servant leadership,” Marcolongo says. “During their four years at the Academy, cadets hone this commitment through education and practical experience. And once the ‘service-before-self’ switch is flipped on, it can never be turned off. For most, there is a lifetime drive to serve and give back to the Academy, the Air Force and the nation.”

Academy Research and Development Institute

The Academy Research and Development Institute (ARDI) was established in 1984 to enhance academic excellence at the Air Force Academy by establishing and managing endowed chairs. ARDI fully endows eight chairs and partially endows two others, covering academic disciplines ranging from Arabic Studies and Economics to Professional Ethics and Space Systems Engineering.

The endowed chair is a special symbol of excellence in education. For decades, endowed chairs have enhanced the faculty at many of America’s outstanding academic institutions. The Air Force Academy joins them by means of the ARDI endowment program, helping the Academy remain in the top tier of educational excellence.

Falcon Foundation

The Falcon Foundation is preparing to celebrate 60 years of providing life-changing second chances to Air Force Academy candidates who are willing to go the extra mile to gain entrance to the institution.

Each year, as many as 12,000 young men and women apply for admission to the Academy, vying for just over 1,000 open positions. The Falcon Foundation provides an opportunity for up to 100 applicants who barely missed the cut for admission to attend one of six select prep schools where the students can strengthen their academic foundations, improve SAT and ACT scores, and then reapply for admission to the Academy. The foundation is more than pleased with the result, with more than 95 percent of it scholars gaining admission to the Academy.

“Our primary mission is to help young people inspired to serve their country gain entry to the United States Air Force Academy by designing a preparatory program that complements each individual young man or woman and makes them well prepared to enter and succeed,” says Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Jay Kelley ’64, the president of the Falcon Foundation.

Academy graduates who have followed the prep school route have had great success as Air Force officers and future leaders in the private sector.

“We have had five Academy graduates become chief of staff of the Air Force,” says Kelley, who is in his second five-year term as president of the foundation. “The last two have been Falcon Scholars, Gen. Mark Welsh and the current chief, Gen. [David] Goldfein.”

Friends of the Air Force Academy Library

The white marble steps of a spiral staircase rise to the sixth floor of McDermott Library, where a collection of antique firearms points the way to the very heart of the library where more than 1,500 special collections are stored, some including artifacts that date back more than 5,000 years.

The principal aim of the Friends of the Air Force Academy Library is to enhance the quality of the McDermott Library as an educational, research, scientific and cultural institution. Ultimately, The Friends help the Library grow in stature, strengthening the Academy’s performance of its mission.

Keeping pace with modern cataloging techniques, The Friends funded the digitization of more than 6,000 items in the Special Collections Branch of the library. The Friends staff also is working with the Academy to collect and catalog the Academy’s involvement in the history of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV).

USAFA Endowment

Building upon a foundation of more than 60 years of Academy-focused philanthropy, the United States Air Force Academy Endowment was established in 2007 to raise financial support and increase the level of excellence of key Academy projects and programs.

During its first decade (2007-2017), the Endowment raised over $128 million to enhance the Academy’s mission to build leaders of character for the Air Force and the nation.

Former Academy superintendent, Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Mike Gould ’76, became president and CEO of the Endowment in 2017. Drawing from his unique Academy experience, Gould is leading the Endowment into its second decade of focused philanthropy on behalf of USAFA.

“After serving as the superintendent from 2009-13, I am thrilled to return to the Academy as a private citizen for my second tour of duty as the president and CEO of the Endowment,” he says. “The Endowment is dedicated to elevating the excellence of the Academy as it continues to grow, adding new programs to enhance the military and academic training of cadets. I see great opportunities for the Endowment and our unique family of foundations to enhance the impact we have on the Academy as we explore new levels of cooperation.”


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