Center for Character and Leadership Development

“To educate a person in mind and not in morals is to educate a menace to society.”

                                                                                                                    -T.  Roosevelt


The Air Force Academy defines character as: “One’s moral compass, the sum of those qualities of moral excellence which compel a person to do the right thing despite pressure or temptations to the contrary.”


The Center for Character & Leadership Development’s (CCLD) mission is to facilitate programs and activities throughout all aspects of cadet life, which help cadets develop this internal moral compass.  The Center’s activities and initiatives are firmly grounded in its conceptual framework for character and leadership development, creating an environment where cadets and faculty alike “Own, Engage, and Practice” the habits of honorable thoughts and actions in line with an identity of a leader of character.  CCLD’s objective is to graduate officers who:

Live honorably; consistently practicing the virtues embodied in the Air Force Core Values

• (Integrity First) Honesty, Fairness

• (Service Before Self) Self-sacrifice, Humility

• (Excellence in All We Do) Duty, Respect, Courage

Lift people to be their best possible selves

Elevate performance toward a common and noble purpose


The Center for Character Development is organized into four directorates:

• Honor

• Cadet Development

• Scholarship

• Integration and Outreach 

The Honor Directorate works to foster in every Academy graduate the habits of honorable living and a relentless pursuit of an identity of a leader of character.  This directorate oversees the cadet-owned honor education program, as well as the administration of the process by which the cadets implement their cherished honor code and oath: “I will not lie, steal or cheat, nor tolerate among us anyone who does.  Furthermore, I resolve to do my duty in all things and live honorably, so help me God.” The bedrock of moral and character education begins with a solid understanding and internalization of the Cadet Honor Code.  Instruction on the code, system processing and the honor probation program begin during BCT and continue throughout a cadet’s four years at the Academy.  In the first two years, instruction focuses on understanding and living under the code, and in the final two years, emphasis is placed on cadets living an honorable life, while helping others to do the same.

The Cadet Development Directorate designs and delivers character and leadership development events and programs.  These purposefully engaging experiences challenge and support cadet development through all four years of their Academy program.  Specifically, the Cadet Development Directorate offers five character seminars and core values training for the cadets that helps them take ownership over their development with an internal focus on values, courage, respect for others, servant leadership and ethical dilemma resolution.  In addition, this directorate conducts the National Character and Leadership Symposium (NCLS) and Falcon Heritage Forum (FHF) events.  NCLS brings together distinguished scholars, military and corporate leaders, athletes, and others to share knowledge and insight which enhance the understanding and challenges of sound moral character in leadership positions.  FHF links cadets with the wealth of knowledge and experience embodied in our distinguished veterans.  This interaction gives practical and honest answers to operational Air Force issues.  The multiple opportunities offered by the Cadet Development Directorate provide a deliberate, developmental approach to each cadet’s personal character and leadership growth.

Each year, cadets experience a different aspect of character-based transformational leadership education.  This education plan is built to fully compliment the Center’s framework for Character & Leadership development.  It presents character enrichment in a developmental fashion, beginning with personal understanding, moving to interpersonal skills development, followed by understanding of the importance of servant leadership, and culminating in organizational improvement through analyzing ethical dilemmas.

Fourth-class cadets begin this character development journey by encountering a program called VECTOR (Vital Effective Character Through Observation and Reflection).  This 12-hour, two-part (Part I in the Fall and Part II in the Spring) is an interactive seminar that focuses on personal reflection, where cadets examine their own values, purpose, vision and influence.  VECTOR illustrates to fourth-class cadets the importance of developing a strong personal foundation while further enhancing their own leadership styles.  Attendees are exposed to various leadership styles and qualities in the form of movie clips and discussions with active duty or retired officers and senior NCOs.  They are then challenged to form their own opinions on how they will apply appropriate character and leadership traits, both here at the Academy and with the greater Air Force.

Third-class cadets complete the Respect and Responsibility (R&R) seminar.  This eight-hour seminar/outdoor adventure program is designed to take the cadets out of their normal environment while helping them discover valuable information about themselves, others and the interpersonal interactions that foster a healthy command environment.  Students attempt a graduated series of activities, involving both emotional and physical risk, designed around human relations and diversity issues.  The goals and benefits of the R&R program are for participants to acknowledge differences and similarities in their own and others’ leadership behaviors; appreciate the impact of respect, cooperation and trust on problem solving, decision making and leadership effectiveness; develop skills that foster and encourage open and honest communications; and to challenge views and biases that undermine a positive and productive work environment.

Second-class cadets will take part in the Leaders In Flight Today (LIFT) seminar.  The LIFT program is an intensive eight hour seminar for second-class cadets conducted at the Association of Graduates (AOG) building.  LIFT attendees focus on high performance, dynamic team building with an emphasis on becoming “Servants of the Nation.” Team building topics emphasize servant leadership, trust, loyalty, moral courage, NCO perspectives, being a part of something larger than oneself and interpersonal skills development.  The seminar stresses character and leadership development using a variety of teaching tools and techniques, including experiential learning activities, case study analysis and small group facilitation with active duty and retired officers and NCOs.  The day culminates with an exercise that provides cadets with an opportunity to field test LIFT’s major insights within their squadron.  This commitment to follow-up and follow-through encourages cadets to build their own high performance teams.

The cadets’ mandatory character and leadership development journey culminates in our first-class program—the Academy Character Enrichment Seminar (ACES).  The ACES capstone program is a dynamic eight-hour offsite seminar designed to focus attendees on the character and ethical demands placed on Air Force officers.  It is tied to the organization level of the ODS PITO model (personal, interpersonal, team and organizational).  There is also an added focus on ensuring that cadets have a sound, fundamental process for evaluating and making moral and ethical decisions.  Attendees are exposed to a myriad of discussions, issues, concepts and experiences designed to convey the importance of character and leadership development in self and others and the difference between being an “effective” and being a “truly good” leader.  Participants engage in dialogue throughout the day with active duty and retired officer and NCO facilitators, guest lecturers and their fellow cadets that highlight examples of significant, challenging ethical dilemmas they might encounter in their first-class year and in their military careers.  Finally, there is an emphasis on the critical role that first-class cadets play in teaching and developing character traits in others; particularly their subordinate three classes (i.e.  fourth-class, third-class, and second-class cadets).

The end-goal is to inspire and excite cadets about their future roles as officers and leaders in the world’s best Air Force, and ensure that Academy character programs not only make a positive difference in cadet development, but contribute directly to the Air Force and Department of Defense goal of having officers of character leading our nation’s military. 

Our final character development program involves optional cadet participation at the Adventure Based Learning Facility (ABL).  The ABL involves a series of high and low ropes course elements, which help students develop trust, solve problems, build team unity and enhance effective communication.  Participants receive a bold, discovery-oriented growth opportunity that illustrates the staggering potential of collaborative effort, team-learning and organizational synergy.

The Scholarship Directorate was recently created to generate diversity of thought and innovation that takes theory into practice and helps CCLD and the Academy assess, challenge and support the character and leadership development process.  This division proactively and accurately assesses, analyzes, and refines the effectiveness of developmental programs and examines “the big Character & Leadership questions that matter” through research, scholarship and outreach.  This directorate facilitates practical evaluation of character and leadership education to ensure CCLD’s programs reach the Academy’s stated objectives and help us understand the impact of events on development and learning.  The Scholarship directorate also publishes, the Journal of Character & Leadership Integration (JCLI).  This peer-reviewed publication is released in print and electronic copy biannually and serves to advance the integrative study and development of character and leadership for academic and practitioner audiences alike.  This publication provides the opportunity for leading edge scholarship, and facilitates a connection of diverging worldviews.  The JCLI is a transformative forum for conversations that foster new ways of thinking about and relating to character and leadership.  Finally, this directorate supports the character and leadership-related interests of the Academy and the Air Force through exploratory research, theoretically-grounded frameworks, targeted scholarship, pilot testing and partnerships with internal and external agencies.

Finally, the Integration and Outreach Directorate was formed to provide an intentional focus on alignment of CCLD efforts both within the Center and across the Academy and beyond.  This focus on strategic partnerships and efficiencies will enhance the reach and impact of CCLD initiatives, and will bring external perspectives and best practices to our efforts.  One particular area of outreach is to our cadet population to ensure they have the opportunity to engage in character and leadership activities that support their development and connect with their commitments.  In sum, character development will be a crucial, all-encompassing part of your Academy experience.  From the time you enter the Academy until graduation, you can expect to see various character development programs in every aspect of your life with the ultimate goal of imbuing you with the inner desire to put integrity first, place service before self, and strive for excellence in all you do.