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Air Force Academy's commandant on tough training: 'the enemy is not forgiving'

Brig. Gen. Kristin Goodwin, Commandant of Cadets, prepares to administer the Oath of Office during the U.S. Air Force Academy Class of 2017 Graduation Ceremony at the Academy's Falcon Stadium in Colorado Springs, Colo., May 24, 2017.

MIKE KAPLAN/U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO

By TOM ROEDER | The Gazette (Tribune News Service) | Published: October 19, 2017

The new commandant of the Air Force Academy said she puts people first.

But don't mistake Brig. Gen. Kristin Goodwin's compassion for hand-holding. The former B-2 bomber pilot told a Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce crowd on Wednesday that she expects those people under her command to be warriors.

"I'm not going to change how we train people," Goodwin said. "Here's the thing - the enemy is not forgiving."

Five months into the job, Goodwin has brought increased military rigor to the school's 4,000 cadets. As the commandant, she's in charge of turning those cadets into lieutenants in four short years. Many of those lieutenants could see battle just months after they get their academy diploma, she said.

"I'm here to develop warrior airmen," she said.

Goodwin is a 1993 academy graduate with a wife and two kids. She's the first female airman to lead a bomber wing and the academy's first openly-gay general.

Goodwin got the academy job because of her proven experience leading airmen. It's something she dedicated herself to as a captain, she said.

"We need to ensure the next generation is better than us," she said.

Goodwin's first months at the academy haven't all been easy. As commandant, she's the school's head disciplinarian and is now dealing with allegations that 13 freshmen cheated on a test of basic military knowledge and unspecified misconduct allegations against members of the lacrosse team.

She said the school won't go easy on those who step out of line.

"I expect a lot of them and I have high standards," she said.

The general has also bolstered rules that keep cadets on campus during the week, reversing an earlier system that let most junior and senior cadets venture out for night life as they saw fit.

"The pass system, I made it more strict so you don't live downtown all week," she said.

While she's effusive with praise of the school's cadets, she won't be handing out prizes for a job well done. Past commandants have handed out weekend passes, extra deserts and other bonuses. Not Goodwin.

"I don't coddle," she said. "If they want mom, I will listen and that's about it."

Goodwin is part of a new leadership team atop the academy that's looking to tighten standards on campus. Her boss is Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria who took over as superintendent in August.

Silveria made headlines last moth for his strong reaction to racist graffiti on the campus. He gathered his 4,000 cadets and more than 1,000 staff members for a blunt speech.

"If you can't treat someone with dignity and respect, then get out," he said.

Goodwin has made a quieter contribution that also sends a strong message.

"We're changing a culture," she said. "It's super amazing right now."

When a cadet and two others went missing on Eagle Peak on the west side of the 18,500-acre campus last month, Goodwin put on her boots and went searching.

"I can't sit home and wait," she said. "I'm the leader who is going to get out there."

Goodwin's main concern is making sure that 1,000 new lieutenants are ready for combat next spring.

"We need to make sure that each one of those officers were given the tools, experience, training and education they need," she said.

She won't waver on her mission of turning cadets into warriors ready for an increasingly dangerous world, she said. The stakes are too high for compromise.

"I'm not going to change, so they're just going to have to get used to it," she said.

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©2017 The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.)
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