AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. — A month into his tenure as Air Force Academy superintendent and before Black Lives Matter sparked a nationwide discussion on the treatment of minorities, Lt. Gen Jay Silveria pulled his 4,000 cadets and hundreds of officers, civilian professors and airmen into cavernous Mitchell Hall.
A racial slur had been written on a white board at the academy’s Preparatory School.
“At the time I was so hurt by a racial incident at the Air Force Academy,” Silveria, who will retire this month after 35 years in uniform, told The Gazette in an interview.
A story above them on a podium, there was a flush of angry red skin beneath the general’s closely shorn, salt-and-pepper hair. With cadets at stiff attention, Silveria barked at them in a manner that would have made his Air Force sergeant father proud.
“We have an opportunity here, 5,500 of us in this room, to think about what we are as an institution,” he told them.
Then he did something that may have had a bigger impact than any bomb the former F-15E Strike Eagle pilot ever dropped.
“Reach for your phones,” he ordered the cadets. “I’m serious; reach for your phones.”
The cadets pulled out their phones and, in unison, pressed “record.”
Silveria spoke in the crisp tone military leaders use to deliver orders.
“If you can’t treat someone with dignity and respect, then get out,” the general told the thousands of cameras and, unintentionally, every social media site his young audience frequented.
It was a no-compromise message on racism and other societal ills that reached far beyond the academy’s gates. Just one of the videos was viewed 1.4 million times on YouTube.