INTERVIEW WITH COL TOM KOLDITZ IN 2008 (Timeless)
Tom is now (2014) a retired Brigadier General, teaching at Yale University)
This is a summary of the interview which took place at Spaceland, site of U.S. National Collegiate Championships, 2008 in Rosharon, TX. COL Kolditz performed as aerial videographer for the Judging Staff; present at event as representative of the U.S. Military Academy Skydiving Team at West Point. His history and comments are highly pertinent to the concept of military leadership, and Academy subsidy, concomitant with skydiving activity.
COL Tom Kolditz, U.S. Army Airborne; first military jump June, 1976; first sport jump later in the summer. He became an Army officer through college ROTC at Vanderbilt, ‘78. Began active duty in '82. Rec’d Ph.D. in Social Psychology from U. of Missouri, 1985. Started in military with mostly technical assignments, commanding an artillery battalion in Korea in ’96 when a friend suggested he apply for duty at USMA; took over Leadership Department of USMA in 2001, supervising a 67 teacher faculty, teaching 2700 cadets in over 40 courses every year; social scientists measuring leadership ability.
He proclaims the most important element of leadership is ‘conscientiousness’, wrapped in honesty, subordinating self to group; … “our brand of leadership is essentially selfless”.
Tom began skydiving immediately upon arrival at USMA. … The USMA Parachute Team had disciplinary issues. (there was rumor of a naked 8-way skydive, including some enlisted active duty personnel at the Academy) He began establishing his skydiving and rigging recurrency. Dave DeWolf examined him for back and chest ratings.
"The leader who gets up ½ hour early, or goes to bed ½ hour late, checking on things is an important indicator of conscientiousness. As for the relationship between leadership and skydiving, motivation is important, but most leadership elements are not motivating. Skydiving is inherently motivating, requiring constant attention to detail, checking on parameters which are constantly changing, presenting new and uncontrolled challenges which can’t be put off."
Tom did research with 20 athletic team captains. Asked to rank 10 top leadership competencies, most ranked ‘motivation’ of team members in top 2. Asked same of 10 Skydiving Team members; ‘motivation’ was listed in bottom 2. Skydiving creates a motivational dynamic, accelerating maturity of participants. The leadership competency ranked highest among skydivers was ‘learning’; specifically, always being aware of new elements in the process, never becoming complacent about current status of proficiency.
About USMAPT: “We have 120 cadets trying out for the available 12 slots each year. We have 3 class cohorts, with plebes being selected in second semester, providing ordinary team strength of 36. We have to structure our skydiving program so as to be teachable to anyone because we can’t afford to lose any of the 12 slots allotted per class year.”
In dangerous places such as combat (research done in Iraq in 2003, with 60 U.S. soldiers and 36 Iraqi prisoners) we find that you can never let down, you cannot become complacent. The participant is focused outward. Skydiving requires this mental attitude, developing a rigorous discipline toward activity in the present.”
GEN Kolditz’ book, ‘Leadership in Extremis’, is used in many instructional venues, especially in the military, including the USMA and Yale U. SEE THE BOOK
Gen. Kolditz' email address
About the USMA budget: USMA funding sources vs. prime sources for military orgs. A) Mission Funds B) NAF Funds (non-appropriated funds) – DCA Director of Cadet Activities (NCAA sports different) DCA budgets money every year (low of $12K and high of $60K; and average of $45K) over last 7 years. USMA has no Mission Funds. The USAFA does receive mission funds.
Mission: USMAPT does a major demo before every football game, on the parade ground (6 – 8 with smoke), plus nominally 4 skydivers into the stadium. Formal parade review with the Army band, closed out by the demo. Translates into football ticket sales. (estimate 6,000 – 8,000 football tickets sold each game due to popularity of the demos – figures derived from evaluation of decrease in sales, plus complaints lodged, when this demo did not take place). People traveled great distances to see this demo. This Parachutists and their gear attract more attention than any other signage (more than Coke or Toyota). Presentation techniques derived from association with the USAPT Golden Knights. “We’re singing for our supper!”
“Team absorbs at least two women every year, plus adheres to social diversity in representation on the Team. The Team is the face of the Academy when landing upon the parade ground and in the stadium.
“Recruiting is greatly enhanced by this activity. Every cadet is capable of being trained as a good skydiver, and the image of the adventurer is an important attraction. They have to represent the excellence and the discipline of the sport.”
“USMA owns two helicopters, dedicating from 200 – 300 hours to the Team per year. Budget allows 12 years for main parachute life cycle and 8 years for harness/reserve wearout cycle: student rigs, competition rigs, accuracy canopies. Students buy own jumpsuits, helmets, altimeters, etc.; ,,, all personal gear.”
“PR methods of fund raising included promoting a graduating class to buy a particular one-year wearout cycle of a particular piece of equipment. Example: Class of 1977 buys 10 canopies, donations made at reunions. Each canopy is enscribed with the class title. When these canopies are jumped into the parade ground or the stadium, the PA narrator pointed out the meaning of the lettering. After six months, the Team had been donated 8 complete skydiving systems. He estimates that USMA pays approximately $7,000 for a complete system and because of the progress of this system of donations will probably never again be required to pay for gear from their NAF.”
“USAFA has appropriated funds. USMA has a 501c(3) non-profit organization called ‘Association of Graduates’. They go after projects specifically approved by the Superintendent. The DCA writes a ‘needs statement’, establishing the goals of the Parachute Team as a ‘valid need’, pursuing an endowment. USMA’s goal is $2M producing a yearly funding of around $70K. With a greater sum, travel for demos is possible. This enhances recruiting. West of the Mississippi the USMA and USNA are lesser known.”
“10% of money spent on club sports has some connection to the Department of the Navy, the rest comes from private fundraisisng. Until the private donation system is established, the USNAPT will be underfunded and non-competitive, essentially unsuccessful.”
Suggested paths of funding USNAPT: “Companies, organizations, corporations are the necessary targets for funding an endowment; beginning with individuals, spreading to entire graduating classes, and beyond.”
“The line is drawn at soliciting funds. Active duty personnel are forbidden to directly participate in fund-raising. However, it is valid to indicate to an interested party just what is needed by the Team. Contributions may follow.”
“Start with USNA grads. Go to staff Judge Advocate (Admin Law section), who provides advice to the Supt." ConsiderCaptain Stephen Trainor, Permanent Military Professor of Leadership and Director of Leadership Education and Development at the U.S. Naval Academy, Head of LEL (Leadership Ethics and Law), for guidance."
"USAFA puts half of every class through 5 freefalls every year (Airmanship 490 course), approximately 650 cadets. Not done as Military Science, but done as part of a character development program.”
“Display on USNA.org website (50,000 living graduates) that an endowment is being established.”
“One pass by the Navy Blue Angels would subsidize the USNAPT for a year.”
“Our job is to develop moral courage in our future officers! It’s not to avoid risk” (quote by GEN Kolditz in response to persons who are doubtful of the utility of skydiving as part of the Academy mission). In 50 years, there’s never been a fatality in the USMA skydiving program. Other programs, like rugby and football have high injury rates.
“To establish funding will involve many mistakes, many doors shut in faces, many keyholes that must be navigated; but, like investing in the stock market, some capital must be expended immediately, so that a beginning is established. Warren Buffet says, ‘the most wonderful invention of mankind is compound interest.’ Better to invest a small amount now than a large amount later.”
GEN Kolditz, as a COL at USMA had been involved in this process for 8 years. He has not only been successful in his career, but also in his avocation of skydiving. He was serving the Collegiate Nationals as a freefall videographer on the judging staff of the competition.
Many thanks to Tom, for his guidance, as well as his leadership qualities.