In a forceful speech to the entire Air Force Academy Thursday, Superintendent Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria said there would be zero tolerance for the display of racist attitudes, and urged anyone who disagreed to “get out.”
Silveria’s appearance before an overflowing crowd that included all cadets, faculty, athletic coaches and academy leaders came after racial slurs, including “go home n*****r,” were discovered Monday on the dormitory message boards of five black cadet candidates at the Air Force Academy Preparatory School.
“If you’re outraged by those words, then you’re in the right place,” Silveria said. “That kind of behavior has no place at the prep school, it has no place at USAFA and it has no place in the United States Air Force.”
Although the incident took place at the Air Force Academy Preparatory School, academy cadets should not dismiss the racist ideology as something limited to that location and that set of students, Silveria said.
“We would all be naive to think that everything is perfect here; we would be naive to think we shouldn’t discuss this topic,” Silveria said. “We would also be tone death not to think about the backdrop of what’s going on in our country.”
Silveria cited racially charged protests in Ferguson, Charlottesville and the NFL as part of a series of national incidents that are impacting the discourse at the Air Force Academy.
Following protests in Charlottesville, Brig. Gen. Andrew Armacost , dean of faculty at Air Force Academy, brought people together to discuss the protest in civil discourse, Silveria noted, saying that it was a “better idea” than that scrawled on the message boards.
“We received outstanding feedback from that session about Charlottesville,” Silveria said.
“But I have a better idea ... the power of that diversity comes together and makes us that much more powerful, that‘s a much better idea than small thinking and horrible ideas.”
Silveria told those in attendance to reach for their phones and record him, so they could have a record of his words and “talk about them and share them.”
“Just in case you‘re unclear about where I stand on this topic ... if you can’t treat someone from another race or with different color skin with dignity and respect, then you need to get out,” Silveria said.
The father of one of the cadets who was targeted with racial slurs spoke with Air Force Times before and after the speech. He said he appreciated Silveria’s words and thought the superintendent handled everything in the right way.
“What I thought he did was appropriate. His tone and delivery was what was needed. I hate that he had to do it,” the father said. “I hate to sensationalize, [the incident was] stupid, but he took the necessary steps, and I think it was well-said, well-delivered and well-articulated.”
Air Force Times is not identifying the cadet candidate or his parents to preserve their privacy. Silveria spoke to the cadet’s father in the afternoon, following the speech, the father said.
“We had a good conversation. He basically just reiterated what he said. It’s definitely something that’s very serious and unfortunate,” the father said. “It was greatly appreciated to hear from a general. I thought that was pretty profound, so I appreciate that. But it was a good conversation.”
Kyle Rempfer is an editor and reporter whose investigations have covered combat operations, criminal cases, foreign military assistance and training accidents. Before entering journalism, Kyle served in U.S. Air Force Special Tactics and deployed in 2014 to Paktika Province, Afghanistan, and Baghdad, Iraq.