- Associated Press - Saturday, April 5, 2014

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) - Sixty years into its existence, the Air Force Academy is changing again.

This time, the biggest change is money. Planned Pentagon budget cuts of $900 billion in the next decade will take their toll, with 99 job cuts and the elimination of 10 academic majors. But other moves are afoot.

This year, the public will get its first glimpses of the academy’s Center for Character and Leadership Development, the biggest architectural addition to the school since Sijan Hall was built in the 1960s.

The academy is also re-examining its programs and procedures as it prepares to send cadets into an Air Force more focused on flexibility and electronics.

But leaders say there’s something steady amid all that change. Something that’s been building since President Dwight Eisenhower signed a bill to found the academy on April 1, 1954.

“We’re doing something very consistent, and that’s knowing what we’re about - what we call our essence,” said Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson, who took over as the academy’s first female superintendent in August.

The academy plans to mark the anniversary with a parade of cadets and a concert on the campus. It’s a subdued celebration for a time of austerity - one of a half-dozen downturns the school has faced.

But that doesn’t reflect a negative view of the academy’s future. Leaders say the school and its 4,000 cadets will do big things well into the future.

“We’ll stay great,” Johnson pledged.

The optimism for the future comes from a strong grasp of how the academy has weathered an often-turbulent past.

“It’s neat to have this history and heritage,” said senior cadet Reuben Luoma-Overstreet, who is the school’s cadet wing commander and top-ranking upperclassman.

The Air Force was split from the Army in 1947 and began lobbying for its school that would give cadets character and leadership lessons, academic rigor and a love for the sky.

It took seven years of wrangling to coax Congress into approving the idea.

The school was set in Colorado Springs after a nationwide competition. Losing finalists were Alton, Ill., and Lake Geneva, Wis.

Just over a year later the academy, then temporarily at Lowry Air Force Base in Denver, welcomed its first cadets - the 306-member class of 1959.

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