Gould leaves AFA, but not Colorado Springs

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We’re down to the final few days before Lt. Gen. Michael Gould steps aside as the 18th superintendent of the Air Force Academy and retires from military service.

For many Colorado Springs residents and business folks, that change of command might not seem like a huge deal. For them, it’s just another supe leaving, and someone else coming to take his place — although this time more attention than usual will go to the newcomer, Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson, who will make history from Day One as the first female AFA superintendent.

Johnson certainly deserves the accolades, after spending her adult life breaking through barriers. She was among the first Air Force women cadets (1978-81), the first standout female AFA athlete with career basketball records that haven’t been eclipsed three decades later, the first female to be a squadron commander at the academy, the first to serve as cadet wing commander, and not to be forgotten, first AFA woman to become a Rhodes Scholar.

We could fill this page with her military accomplishments, such as serving as the Air Force aide to Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, and heading public affairs for the Secretary of the Air Force. Along the way, she became a command pilot with more than 3,600 flying hours.

It goes without saying that Johnson could make a major impact on the Air Force Academy — as well as Colorado Springs. But that’s also because she has a very good act to follow.

Gould, for those who don’t know, was much different from many of his 17 predecessors. From the moment he took over as superintendent in June 2009, Gould began reaching out to the community. Not just to those who had been Air Force supporters, but to business and political leaders.

He said he wanted to make Colorado Springs feel more welcome at “your” academy. And whenever he and his wife, Paula, have hosted events such as the annual holiday gathering at the superintendent’s residence, he has included many local leaders and difference-makers.

It hasn’t been just about socializing, either. Gould has done his best to encourage other AFA leaders to become more familiar and associated with Colorado Springs. He’s been supportive of any partnerships that have connected cadets and faculty with the city.

Toward the end, Gould took on different challenges that have more to do with a legacy. After all, he’s not leaving town. Mike and Paula will move to Flying Horse, in a new house on a lot they picked out as their retirement destination. He wants to serve on community boards, and he wants to do what he can to make the area a better place.

For Gould, that includes a particular focus on the far north side of Colorado Springs, east of the academy’s north entrance. He has given his advice to the fledgling, 200-acre Copper Ridge development, whose appearance will be influenced by the adjacent AFA presence. With the Bass Pro Shops anchor store along with many other retail stores, restaurants and the like, Copper Ridge should become an instant magnet for the academy.

Beyond that, Gould has promoted the concept of a new AFA visitors center, not just a pit stop but a major tourist attraction, just west of the Interstate 25 exit for the academy’s north entrance. The plans haven’t all come together yet, but with the chance of help from state tourism development funds, it could happen.

Gould won’t be superintendent long enough to see it become reality, but if Johnson can continue pushing that project as a priority, it will happen. And its impact would help the area’s tourism industry, not to mention bringing more business to Copper Ridge and other commercial endeavors in northern El Paso County.

All this should start to give you an idea of how much Mike Gould cares about Colorado Springs — and not just the Air Force Academy. He was, by the way, an AFA graduate himself, playing football for legendary head coach Ben Martin, then later coaching in the AFA program during the time of Ken Hatfield and Fisher DeBerry.

Later, though, Gould made a deeper impression as commander of the Cheyenne Mountain Operations Center, aka NORAD, from 2000-2002 including the time around 9/11. You can go inside the mountain today and find a wooden sign labeled “Gould’s Gym” at the entrance of the underground workout facility for everyone stationed there.

The best news of all is that, despite Gould’s impending retirement, we don’t have to say goodbye. He’s not 60 yet (someone who’s older can say that), so he has only begun to leave his mark on Colorado Springs.