From the moment last June when he took over the dream job of his military career, Mike Gould knew what his priorities would be as superintendent of the U.S. Air Force Academy.
That's because Gould isn't just one more three-star brought in for a typical three to four years, though the USAFA rates as one of the nicest plums for any Air Force general. Gould didn't come here simply to serve as a caretaker. From his first day, he has been determined to make changes. Not cosmetic, not just for the sake of change, but because he knows what needs to improve.
"When you're a former cadet," Gould says, "you want to come back and make the place better."
Gould isn't the first former cadet to return as superintendent — he's the sixth — but he's arguably the best-suited graduate yet to meet the challenge. He came through the hard way as a cadet, taking the five-year route beginning at the AFA Prep School. Later, he played football for the Falcons as a defensive back, making enough of an impression to stay as an assistant for one season after graduating in 1976.
From that point onward, Gould's career track has moved him steadily up the military ladder, including a four-year AFA stint (1981-85) in athletics and as a training pilot instructor that coincided with the football program's renaissance — four straight bowl victories, four straight wins against Notre Dame. Those years also marked the best of times as far as Colorado Springs embracing the Academy, and vice versa.
Gould moved on, advancing steadily through such roles as senior Air Force aide at the White House (1990-92, for President George H.W. Bush), commander of the 3rd Air Force on England, commander of Cheyenne Mountain Operations Center (NORAD) and commander of the 2nd Air Force at Biloxi, Miss., after Hurricane Katrina (2005-08).
But from knowing him during those early years, something always told me, and others, that Gould someday would land here as superintendent.
He's taken a deliberate approach through most of his first year, assessing the situation and not just relying on memories. Now he's tackling priorities, such as making the case for more Pentagon help to upgrade facilities and infrastructure. He marvels at how the Academy's own skyline, from a distance, "looks exactly the same now as when I first saw it in 1969." And he cringes as he describes how many buildings have deteriorated on the inside.
So he's pushing hard for new facilities and technology. Already, the human-performance lab is getting a new 4,500-square-foot location to provide enhanced, much-needed data and strategies for high-altitude training and fighting in the Middle East.
Another major part of Gould's vision involves the Academy's relationship with Colorado Springs, which has grown more distant in recent years. In his words: "It's largely our fault."
"We need to reach out much more to the community," Gould says firmly, and he explains how: in academics, teaming up with the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, Colorado College and Pikes Peak Community College; in technology, working with local businesses and even the U.S. Olympic Committee; in personal ways, sending faculty and cadets around the city much more to share their knowledge and expertise.
He talks about how the response to Sept. 11, 2001, with all the added security measures, helped create separation. He doesn't ignore the other negative headlines that tarnished the Academy during the past decade, saying, "We could've handled some things better."
Gould clearly wants to inspire a new outlook on life inside the AFA ranks, to create closer ties with the surrounding area that will live on after he's gone. If that means sharing in some programs and research with UCCS, great. If it means working closely with the Olympic movement, its athletes and its sports science, why not? Not to mention being on a first-name basis with others across the community.
We spent 45 nonstop minutes a few days ago talking about all the possibilities. And in case you're wondering, once you know him, it's not Lt. Gen. Gould, just as it never was Col. Gould, Capt. Gould or Lt. Gould along the way.
It's Mike, and if his tenure as superintendent lives up to his own expectations, we should be looking forward to the outcomes.