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The United States Air Force Academy was established April 1, 1954, the culmination of an idea that had been years in the making. Airpower leaders, long before the Air Force was a separate service, had argued that they needed a school, dedicated to war in the air, at which to train the country’s future Airmen. After September 1947, when the Air Force was established as a separate service, this idea finally had the legitimacy of the new service behind it.
In 1948, the Air Force appointed a board, later named the Stearns-Eisenhower Board for its chairmen, to study the existing military academies and to study the options for an Air Force Academy. Their conclusions were strongly put: the Air Force needed its own school, and they recommended additionally that at least 40 percent of future officers be service academy graduates.
After Congress passed the bill establishing the Air Force Academy, the secretary of the Air Force appointed a commission to recommend a location. After traveling 21,000 miles and considering hundreds of sites all over the country, the commission recommended Colorado Springs as its first choice. The secretary agreed, and the purchasing of the thousands of acres began. The state of Colorado contributed $1 million to the purchase of the land.
On July 11, 1955, the same year construction began in Colorado Springs, the first class of 306 men was sworn in at a temporary site, Lowry Air Force Base, in Denver. Lt. Gen. Hubert R. Harmon, a key figure in the development of early plans for an Academy, was recalled from retirement by President Dwight D. Eisenhower to become the first superintendent.
Two years later, Maj. Gen. James Briggs took over as the Academy’s second superintendent. On Aug. 29, 1958, the wing of 1,145 cadets moved to its permanent site from Denver. Less than a year later, the Academy received academic accreditation and graduated its first class of 207 on June 3, 1959. In 1964, the authorized strength of the Cadet Wing was increased to 4,417. The present authorized strength is 4,000.
Perhaps the most controversial event in the Academy’s history was the admission of women. President Gerald R. Ford signed legislation Oct. 7, 1975, permitting women to enter the military academies. Women entered the Air Force Academy for the first time on June 28, 1976. The first class including women graduated in 1980.
As with any institution, the Air Force Academy has suffered growing pains and continues to evolve. Even in its relatively short existence, the school has excelled in its quest for excellence.
The Academy celebrated the 50th anniversary of its inception April 1, 2004. Three noteworthy events occurred in connection with the celebration. First, a 37-cent commemorative stamp was issued honoring the Academy, with the chapel strikingly portrayed. The Academy was also declared a national historic landmark, and a plaque was installed on the Honor Court marking the occasion. Finally, Harmon was officially named as the father of the Air Force Academy, honoring the pivotal role he played in its planning and establishment. Further anniversaries were marked during the next four years, culminating with the 50th anniversary of the first commencement at the Academy in 2009.
The Academy has provided the Air Force with a corps of officers dedicated to upholding the high standards of their profession. The Air Force, in turn has provided a proving ground for these officers and sent back to its Academy dedicated staff members to educate and train these future leaders. Fifty years after the first class entered, the Academy has now graduated over 37,000 young officers’ intent on serving their country.
DEAN OF FACULTY
The Dean of Faculty commands a 700-person mission element and oversees annual course design and instruction of more than 500 courses crossing 32 academic disciplines and directs the operation of five support staff agencies and faculty resources involving more than $250 million.