Air Force Academy leader gives pow­er­ful speech on race

Racial slurs left out­side the dorm rooms of black stu­dents prompted re­marks.

The Citizens' Voice - - Local / Nation -

AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. — The leader of the Air Force Academy de­liv­ered a poignant and stern mes­sage on race re­la­tions in a speech to thou­sands of cadets af­ter some­one wrote racial slurs on mes­sage boards out­side the dorm rooms of five black stu­dents.

Lt. Gen. Jay Sil­ve­ria warned stu­dents that he would not tol­er­ate racism at the academy and in­voked some of the racial ten­sions that have been grip­ping the coun­try. At one point, he in­sisted that everyone in the au­di­ence take out their phones and record him so his mes­sage was clearly heard.

“If you can’t treat some­one with dig­nity and re­spect, get out,” he said Thurs­day as au­di­ence mem­bers looked on with rapt at­ten­tion.

Air Force se­cu­rity per­son­nel are in­ves­ti­gat­ing the in­ci­dent af­ter the slurs were dis­cov­ered Tues­day. Racial slurs are il­le­gal in the mil­i­tary and can bring charges of vi­o­lat­ing or­ders and con­duct un­be­com­ing an of­fi­cer.

Of­fi­cials have said they can­not pro­vide any more in­for­ma­tion about what hap­pened be­cause of the on­go­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion. No ad­di­tional de­tails were re­leased Fri­day.

Sil­ve­ria said he called the fam­i­lies of the five prep school stu­dents who were the ob­jects of the slurs.

His speech quickly be­came a widely viewed video on­line, com­ing in the af­ter­math of racial vi­o­lence in Char­lottesville, Virginia, and the debate about NFL play­ers kneel­ing for the na­tional an­them.

“We would also be tone deaf not to think about the back­drop of what is go­ing on in our coun­try. Things like Char­lottesville, Fer­gu­son, the protests in the NFL,” he said.

Sil­ve­ria, a vet­eran fighter pi­lot who di­rected the air war in the Mid­dle East, took com­mand at the school in Au­gust. The academy has strug­gled with sex­ual mis­con­duct prob­lems sev­eral times in re­cent years, and the 1985 academy grad­u­ate and son of an Air Force master sergeant has re­peat­edly told cadets and staff that his high­est pri­or­ity is en­sur­ing a cli­mate of dig­nity and re­spect.

When Sil­ve­ria took over as the school’s leader, he told The Gazette: “My red line is cadets who can’t treat each other with re­spect and dig­nity.”

Sil­ve­ria en­rolled in the academy a year af­ter it grad­u­ated its first fe­male cadets. His class was 7 per­cent black com­pared with 8 per­cent in 2015. About 29 per­cent of the academy’s cadets were mi­nori­ties in 2015, ac­cord­ing to the school’s web­site. Ten per­cent were His­panic, 10 per­cent Asian and Pa­cific is­lander and 1 per­cent Na­tive Amer­i­can.

The prepara­tory school has a 10-month pro­gram for po­ten­tial cadets who ap­plied for the four-year aca­demic and mil­i­tary pro­gram at the academy but were not ac­cepted. The goal is to help them meet academy re­quire­ments.

The prep school usu­ally ac­cepts about 240 stu­dents. The academy it­self has about 4,000 stu­dents.

Sil­ve­ria has flown com­bat mis­sions in Iraq and the Balkans and for­merly served as the vice com­man­der at Ba­gram Air Base in Afghanistan.

JERILEE BEN­NETT / THE GAZETTE VIA AP

Lt. Gen. Jay Sil­ve­ria de­liv­ers a speech about race re­la­tions to U.S. Air Force cadets dur­ing lunch Fri­day at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo.

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