Milestones: The Way Forward

A Q&A with retired Lt. Gen. Mike Gould ’76, the new president of the United States Air Force Academy Endowment.

You had a 38-year Air Force career, achieved the rank of lieutenant general and served as the 18th superintendent of the Air Force Academy (2009 – 2013). What drew you back to the Academy as a private citizen to serve as president and CEO of the USAFA Endowment?

I retired in August 2013. After 38 years, that transition into a different lifestyle is something you have to work at. Paula and I had settled into a routine that was really fun and productive. I formed a consulting company and had several clients. I had a seat on several different boards, both nonprofit and corporate, and we had control of our schedule for the first time in our married lives. The transition went well and after four years of that we were quite happy.

One day I got a call that there were some changes being made at the USAFA Endowment. The acting chairman and CEO asked if I’d be interested in coming back to the Academy for this job. Paula and I had to talk about it, of course, but it just made too much sense. Having served as superintendent, I got to know and appreciate the value of private donations to our Academy, but I was hamstrung in not being able to raise money. I relied heavily on the Endowment and saw firsthand how the organization provided an ability to raise the margin of excellence at the Academy.

So now, to be able to come over to this side and help continue the Endowment’s mission is something that excites both Paula and me. I enthusiastically put my hand up and said we’d be glad to do it, and we’re having a ball.

The Endowment just celebrated its first 10 years as an Academy-affiliated foundation, raising $128 million to support Academy projects and programs. What is your vision for the Endowment as it launches into its second decade?

As we move into our second decade, I have some clear ideas on where I want this organization to go. Three important goals immediately come to mind.

The first revolves around reigniting the mutual love affair between the Academy and the state of Colorado. If we could flash back to 1954 when Colorado won the Air Force Academy, there was a celebration that lasted for years. Business leaders, prominent citizens, the general population — everybody in the state — took great pride in the fact that the Air Force Academy was here in Colorado Springs.

I’m told from some of the long-standing residents here that it was rare to let a month or two go by when they weren’t out here for one event or another. Over time, that’s just kind of fallen off. Unfortunately, security concerns after 9/11 had a big impact. The chapel had been the number one manmade tourist attraction in the state for many years. We enjoyed somewhere in the neighborhood of 900,000 visitors a year to the chapel, gift shop and visitor center. Post-9/11, that number dropped off by two-thirds. Security is still a challenge, but we have the ability to get people back out here, let them appreciate the Academy and let them take pride in what these cadets are doing for their country and the commitment they are making in a time of war. I know that love affair can and will be reignited.

The second thing we want to do is capitalize on long-standing relationships that we have personally had over the years with friends and others around the country to bring in some new donors. The Endowment has a board of some of the most generous people I’ve ever known, and they have provided the lion’s share of the $128 million that the Endowment has raised, but now we owe it to them to reach beyond to find new supporters and educate them on USAFA’s needs.

That education also extends to corporate America, executives, foundations and philanthropists across the board. We want them to understand the value of investing in the future of America by investing in the Air Force Academy and its mission to develop leaders of character who are not only going to serve our Air Force well, but are going to serve America well in corporate, government and all types of important leadership roles. When you can put that kind of value on a philanthropic contribution to help take the Academy up to that next level of excellence, there will be huge returns for our country.

And then the final area we want to focus on is to appeal to our graduates’ sense of fanatical pride in this institution. When I talk about that pride, I don’t mean a boastful or selfish pride, but the pride that’s rooted in excellence and was formed from shared, challenging, common experiences. When grads start coming back for their 10- or 20-year reunions, we want to help that pride grow as they feel that unique sense of belonging and pride at having made it through this tremendous institution. Out of that, we want to stimulate the desire to give back.

Between the people of Colorado, longstanding friends across the country, corporate America and our graduate community, we have tremendous potential to increase the level of philanthropic support for this great institution.

Including the Endowment, there are currently seven foundations supporting the Air Force Academy. How are these foundations working together to serve the Academy?

The Academy is blessed to have a family of seven supporting foundations that exist for one purpose, and that is to make the Academy better. Each foundation has a unique focus, but we all recognize each other’s value. We realize that, as we work more closely together as opposed to competing against each other, the benefits to the Academy increase.

Our family of foundations includes the Air Force Academy Foundation that represents those early donors who contributed money for Falcon Stadium, the Eisenhower Golf Course and Farish Memorial. Having an organization of civic leaders to do things like that for us is phenomenal.

Likewise, having a robust fundraising arm of professionals like you see in the USAFA Endowment is a huge benefit for a service academy. And to look across that table to our very active and supporting alumni foundation — our Association of Graduates — can only benefit the Academy as we take care of our graduates.

The old Air Force Academy Athletic Association is now replaced by a private nonprofit — the Air Force Academy Athletic Corporation — that is doing an amazing job of monetizing the big business we call college athletics these days.

And then you look at the Falcon Foundation, a marvelous organization that provides life-changing prep school scholarships to prepare qualified candidates for entrance to the Academy.

Then you have ARDI, the Academy Research and Development Institute, that funds and manages academic chairs so we can bring in world-renowned, published, famous visiting professors to the Academy, which creates a huge advantage for our academic departments and builds the reputation of the Academy.

And, of course, you have the Friends of the Library that supports the needs of the McDermott Library and enhances the preservation of Air Force Academy and Air Force history.

The presidents and board chairs of these foundations are meeting regularly to discover new ways of developing closer working relationships with each other, for the mutual benefit of our Academy.

The Air Force Academy is a government institution. Doesn’t the government pay for what the Academy needs? Why does the Academy need the Endowment?

A lot of people assume that, because the service academies are government institutions, the government has money to pay for everything. However, there are challenges throughout government to have adequate resources to get missions done, and the same is true here.

The Academy receives money for conducting its primary mission of educating and training 4,000 cadets. The government takes care of the basics, but when you talk about the need to elevate the margin of excellence that makes the Air Force Academy exceptional, it’s just a fact of life that we must rely on private money to do that, as do our counterparts at West Point and Annapolis.

Take the Center for Character and Leadership Development, for example. The Academy received about $27 million in military construction dollars to build an adequate building, but it was the additional $22 million raised by the USAFA Endowment that has enabled the CCLD to become a truly iconic landmark here at the Air Force Academy.

As I mentioned, Falcon Stadium, the Eisenhower Golf Course, Farish Memorial and the Holaday Athletic Center all came from private donations, largely from people right here in Colorado. Private funding also extends to a variety of important academic projects and programs that contribute to the first-class educational experience our cadets receive.

How has cadet training changed since you were a cadet in early 1970s?

When graduates come back to the Academy for a visit or a class reunion, you’ll sometimes hear the comment, “Boy, it’s not like it was when I was a cadet.” I chuckle when I hear that.

There is no question that training has changed in many ways over the years. The Academy needs to change in order to meet the challenges of modern warfare, led by men and women of character.

One thing that’s really impressed me is how the cadet cadre train the underclassmen. These upperclassmen now lead by example. You watch physical training and it’s not someone standing there with a whistle telling the Doolies to do up-downs or squat-thrusts and the rest, they’re right down there doing the training with them.

Character and leadership training now isn’t done as an if-we-have-time, haphazard type of event, it’s a well thought out and dedicated four-year curriculum on how we’re going to develop leaders of character. In the academic arena, you’re seeing learning occur with experiential and discovery learning, like we are seeing with cadets involved in aeronautics research and in the Academy’s emerging CyberWorx program.

The whole goal of this? All these changes are aimed exactly in the right direction with the goal of educating and training cadets to be prepared to compete in a very complex and evolving modern battlefield. And I’m confident that the changes at the Academy are doing just that.

THE USAFA ENDOWMENT

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