An open letter to Air Force Academy alumni and parents from the Cadet Wing Commander, Cadet First Class Haeley Deeney, takes critics to task for “negative or otherwise harmful posts and comments” in the wake of two suspected suicides at the Colorado Springs campus and the decision last week to move up graduation to April 18, more than a month early.
The letter, emailed to alumni and parents with a foreword by Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria, begins by thanking parents and alumni for their support over the past three and half years, lays out concerns about rumors and criticism posted in social media, then makes a direct request for support and an implicit request to stop the negative posts.
“In the next two weeks leading up to graduation, we would like to ask for your trust in our leadership team and trust that all decisions are made with the safety and well-being of the cadets as a driving factor,” Deeney said. “Now, more than ever, we need support and thoughtful comments from all parties.”
Comments posted on news sites and on websites for the parent and USAFA graduate communities have made life harder at a time that is already highly challenging. Concern about the COVID-19 pandemic drove academy leaders to send all but the senior class home to complete the academic year via online distance learning. The “firsties,” as the seniors are known, were kept on site and separated to ensure their health.
The two deaths, both of which remain under investigation, turned up the heat and stress for everyone, and the comments and rumors posted have been viewed as hurtful and distracting.
“Not only is this spread of false information in direct conflict with the dissemination of real-time, accurate updates, but [it’s] detrimental to the mental and emotional health of the Cadet Wing,” Deeney wrote. “As the cadet and permanent party leadership team exhausts all efforts to take care of the wing, our jobs have been made more difficult combating rumors and dealing with the after effects of hasty social media posts.”
In his emailed introduction to the letter sent to alumni and parents, Silveria made a similar point. Among concerns cadets had shared with him, were comments about “inaccurate and sometimes hurtful information appearing on social media,” he said. “While I discussed that much of social media is out of our control and is a fact of life in public service … I also assured the cadets that much of what we see online from our USAFA family comes from a place of concern for our cadets and our Academy.”
Plans for the graduation are still underway, but it will not include friends or families and whatever plan is eventually developed by the cadets, who have been charged with the responsibility of planning the event, will conform to social distancing and COVID-19-related restrictions. Those factors demand a graduation without the usual crowds and fanfare.
Retired Lt. Gen. Bruce “Orville” Wright, president of the Air Force Association and a member of the USAFA class of 1973, said it’s easy to criticize from afar something few can see or even fully understand. “Most people do not fully comprehend the amazing accomplishments and leadership these cadets have experienced already over the past four years at our U.S. Air Force Academy,” Wright said. “They have grown up in a crucible of leadership preparation and are already responsible for the freshmen, sophomores, and juniors in the day-to-day operations of the nation’s Air Force Academy. Accelerating the graduation under these unusual circumstances is the right call. These cadets are fully ready to be the outstanding leaders our Air Force needs.”
All they need, he and Deeney both said, is support.
“We ask you to stand behind us as the Class of 2020,” Deeney wrote. “Our target is finally in sight, and we will be home soon.”
Editor’s Note: This story was updated on April 5 at 7:40 p.m. EST to correct the spelling of Cadet First Class Haeley Deeney’s first name and at 9:49 p.m. EST to add the quote from retired Lt. Gen. Bruce “Orville” Wright .