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Innovating education: New commander of Air University challenges Airmen

Lt. Gen. Steven Kwast, the commander of Air University, addresses Airmen Nov. 12, 2014, at Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base, Ala. At his all-call sessions the general shared his expectations and vision on how the University will reinvent military education and leverage the intellectual potential of the university. (Air Force photo/Henry Hancock)

Lt. Gen. Steven Kwast, the commander of Air University, addresses Airmen Nov. 12, 2014, at Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base, Ala. At his all-call sessions the general shared his expectations and vision on how the University will reinvent military education and leverage the intellectual potential of the university. (Air Force photo/Henry Hancock)

MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. (AFNS) -- The new commander and president of Air University charged all assigned Airmen to think of ways to reinvent military education at AU as well as leverage the intellectual potential of the university.

He challenged University Airmen to offer innovative solutions to address problems facing the Air Force in a time of increasingly daunting global and fiscal challenges.

Having assumed command of the university Nov. 10, Lt. Gen. Steven Kwast shared his game plan for the future of the intellectual and leadership center of the Air Force Nov. 12, on Maxwell and Gunter Annex here.

"We are ... realizing that the world has changed under our feet in a way that we haven't fully recognized," Kwast said. "Here we are as a nation with industrial-age models of how to deal with the world. Yet the world is an information-age world. The speed of information and the rate of change is astounding, and we don't even fully recognize how profound that change is, often times, until it's too late."

The newly promoted general said the chief (of staff of the Air Force) and secretary (of the Air Force) are asking AU to help them answer three questions, and Kwast charged all Airmen, regardless of rank, status or professional affiliation, to think about the questions and give him their answers.

The questions are:

- How might we reinvent education to educate more people and educate those people more deeply so that they can think critically, act morally and innovate rapidly to overcome the operational challenges we face today as well as those we will encounter in the future?

- How might we leverage the tremendous intellectual potential of Air University to help senior leaders overcome the challenges our Air Force is facing today and will face in its future?

- How can we, as both the Air University and as the United States Air Force, connect more fully with our communities?

"This is an organization whose primary purpose is to think about the problems of the day and give our secretary and chief ideas that are rooted in fact and analysis with evidence so that the U.S. Air Force can keep America strong and keep the American dream alive for the next 100 years," he said. "We need to talk to our younger Airmen. They see the world without the lens of experience that sometimes can get you into an intellectual rut and kind of get trapped into a paradigm of doing things a certain way for a long time and not really consider how to do them differently."

Continuing to set the tone, Kwast said he was excited for the Maxwell-Gunter community and its opportunity to make a difference far beyond the local area.

"Our nation has just come out of two very difficult, painful conflicts, in Afghanistan and Iraq," he said. "Our economy is more interdependent in this world than ever before, and our debt is rising in an alarming way. We are shifting our strategy in a way that has not happened in decades. We are at an inflection point right now where we have got to think about how we do this, or we will fail."

He went on to say that Air Force leaders have asked AU specifically to be the place where Airmen come together and "think" so they can give them advice on where to spend the next dollar and take their next step.

"The brilliant people for this are here," said the former F-15E Strike Eagle fighter pilot. "From the 18-year-old to those that have been seasoned ... I want you to be bold enough to speak your ideas, now."

Charging the troops, Kwast asked his subordinates to remain humble, be noble, be courageous and be compassionate.

"It took courage for Billy Mitchell in the inner war years to say that airpower can be a force for good in the world when he was court-marshalled for such 'heretical' words," he said. "It took courage for him to say that maybe there is another way. Change is hard and requires people giving up things that make them comfortable."

Kwast emphatically stated that when it comes to change and evolving the way in how Airmen think, there are no rules. He wants "outside-of-the-box" ideas and intense aspiration for bettering our Air Force for tomorrow.

"You have the opportunity to reinvent our Air Force," he said. "Not just the educational enterprise of our Air Force, but the way our Air Force organizes, trains and equips the tools for national power that are relevant for a world that is very different than when all of these tools were dreamed up. Air University has been given an opportunity to shape the future that comes only once in a lifetime.

"We are strong and capable of all the things our Air Force needs us to do," Kwast said. "We start by thinking before acting. What luck to be in this moment in time where you have an opportunity to reinvent our Air Force. If we don't adapt, we will grow irrelevant. Our chief and secretary need our help and we are here to do it for them. Do not leave any idea off the table.

"Someday, I want you to be able to look back in time and say, 'The Air Force is now doing it this way because of an idea I thought was revolutionary at the time. As we moved forward, it became a game-changer in achieving our full potential in this world,'" he said. "America must be strong, but more than strong, we need to be smart."

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