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Chick-fil-Aism at the Academy? A message to future Air Force leaders.

Part of the challenge of growing into leadership is understanding and embracing those who hold ideologies, views, and even morality different than your own

Dear Academy Cadets and future Air Force Leaders,

Well, it seems McCarthyism has reared its ugly head at the United States Air Force Academy. In fact, it happened in my alma mater department, Behavioral Sciences, and Leadership (DFBL). Perhaps we should update this term to a more fitting and modern moniker, Chick-fil-Aism. Dr. Craig Foster argues Chick-fil-A Vice President of Corporate Responsibility Rodney Bullard should be banned from speaking to the National Character and Leadership Symposium (NCLS) because of a 2012 controversy over statements by Chick-fil-A President Dan Cathy supporting traditional marriage. Admitting that “Bullard might not share in his boss’s personal values,” Dr. Foster would have USAFA vote him off NCLS-island, just to be sure. So, let’s follow that logic trail just a bit.

Next up? Church groups. Any NCLS speakers who are part of a faith tradition that doesn’t sanction same-sex marriage? Sorry, you’ll have to go too.

But wait! We love veterans’ talks and war stories at NCLS. So no problem, except for the uncomfortable fact that they too served the DOD when it not only supported traditional marriage, but removed members purely for their sexual orientation (an official position Chick-fil-A hasn’t adopted). So, any DOD member that served before the end of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the final change in discharge policy on September 11, 2011, you’ll have to leave. Oh-oh, Dr. Foster claims to be a “long-time” USAFA professor. How long sir? Prior to September 11, 2011? Then enjoy your free time during NCLS. Shame on you for collecting paychecks from an organization with such a discriminatory legacy.

Well, having cleaned the “proverbial NCLS house,” cadets should find the USAFA lectinar rooms nice and quiet, a perfect chance to do what cadets often do best with unexpected free time, catch up on sleep studying.

Despite Foster’s shockingly shallow argument, I’d like to focus on the one good thing he did cover. Thrown out like a “check six” lifeline in a hope to not drown in his own biased and illogical diatribe, Dr. Foster said: “Lt. General Silveria sent a clear message when he told cadets, “If you can’t treat someone with dignity and respect, then you need to get out.”

Let’s focus on the general’s quote, and not Foster’s implied add-on, “unless they work for Chick-fil-A, then discriminate away.” You cadets have already embarked on the most fantastic adventure you could ever imagine, serving the USAF as a leader. I did that for 25 years after USAFA, and it was a life of learning and service that I’d never trade for anything. Leadership, the main reason the nation invests in you, is an incredible challenge. Of course, the key to getting along with others is human dignity and mutual respect. Add to that humility, and you can’t go wrong as a leader.

Part of the challenge of growing into leadership is understanding and embracing those who hold ideologies, views, and yes even morality different than your own. Don’t do what your DFBL professor suggests and close yourself off from beliefs different than yours (which again, nobody even knows for sure Bullard holds)!

Instead, embrace, understand, and integrate them, because leadership is best practiced “hands on.” You’ll have different views and ideas than many you serve with and that’s okay. In fact, it’s better than okay, it’s how our democratic society operates and it’s a crucial component of combat effectiveness. Groupthink is ruinous to strategy and tactics.

When I flew fighters, sometimes during our downtime, other pilots wanted to go to certain places I wasn’t comfortable visiting. I was often a “designated driver,” so told them to go ahead and I’d pick them up later. Inevitably, when I did that, one or two others would come with me, and we’d have a grand time on our own.

And guess what, when we all got back together, nobody cared. It never came up except in the form of occasional good-natured ribbing. Some of these people had moral frameworks I didn’t agree with, but it didn’t matter. We were together to fight for freedom and defend the Constitution, so that’s what we did. That’s what you’ll do, and very soon. USAFA is helping you get ready.

I know it’s sometimes hard to believe, especially during the “dark ages” of the Front Range winter, but USAFA’s curriculum and programs like NCLS, are designed to challenge your ideology and grow your leadership character (p. 135).

Something at USAFA will challenge you, of that you can be sure. Many of my ideas changed while I was there. For example, I entered the Academy from a faith tradition that didn’t generally support women in military service. However, shortly after I left USAFA, I married the most talented female cadet and classmate I’ve ever met, who still serves the USAF. I’m now in a supporting role to her, and despite some challenges associated with being a military spouse, I couldn’t be more proud of anyone. The USAFA environment helped me make that ideological transition. As a cadet, you already serve with people of many different backgrounds, beliefs, and orientations. Build bridges to understand them, don’t shut doors. You’ll lead them all very soon.

You cadets who come from a faith tradition or family background that rejects same-sex marriage, it’s okay. Dr. Foster goes completely off-kilter when he says, “please don’t muddy the waters by claiming this is about freedom of speech.”

You can recognize the losing argument when Foster says “please don’t muddy the waters by…” and follows with a restriction on your free-speech response. In spite of Dr. Foster’s dialectical chicanery, it is indeed about freedom of speech and freedom of thought. Cadets still have both, even though you’ve put on the uniform.

It is true, that your freedom to say what you believe while in your official capacity is tempered, but the service will teach you how to do that while not sacrificing your own sacred beliefs, nor offending those you lead. Dr. Foster condescendingly points out that he “has taught exceptional cadets who happen to be gay or lesbian. These cadets are preparing to serve and possibly die for their country, just like the heterosexual cadets do.”

Well, isn’t that a profound revelation? Of course they are, and of course, they do, nobody (except evidently Dr. Foster) is thinking otherwise. I served with and led so many people whose moral, ethical, or sexual framework was different than mine, and you know what? I’d gladly do it all over again. Because serving others is what leadership is all about, not rejecting them based on their nonconforming ideas. Indeed, we fight for the freedom of people to hold beliefs different than our own, and freely express them, even at NCLS.


Colonel David Murphy retired in November 2014 after 25 years of U.S. Air Force service and is currently working on a PhD from Dallas Baptist University. Colonel Murphy served in a variety of operational, support, and training assignments culminating as the 782nd Training Group Commander at Sheppard Air Force Base. A graduate of the U.S. Army War College Class of 2012, Colonel Murphy has 12 years of experience in the Pacific Air Forces including four years in Korea.

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