Former CIA Director Awarded Air Force Academy's Highest Honor

Retired Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden. (U.S. Air Force photo)
Retired Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden. (U.S. Air Force photo)

When Michael Hayden was director of the Central Intelligence Agency, he liked finding an empty seat in the cafeteria, where he would sit down with his lunch and say, "Hi, I'm the director. What do you do around here?"

"I had hundreds of people who could brief the president -- and I liked briefing the president -- but you realize, I didn't have to be the guy briefing the president," Hayden said to a crowd in the Air Force Academy's Arnold Hall theatre. "Let me tell you something only I could do: Only I could be the director eating lunch in the cafeteria. I couldn't outsource that task."

After receiving the academy's annual Character and Leadership Award, Hayden began his speech on the importance of humility.

"(My wife) reminds me that graveyards are full of formerly-indispensable people," he said. "I never expected to end up where I ended up."

The 71-year-old retired Air Force general has served in positions including director of the CIA and director of the National Security Agency.

As director of the NSA during the Sept. 11 attack, Hayden said he remembers addressing the entire staff Sept. 13.

"I ended my talk to the workforce by saying, 'Look, let me explain to you what we're doing here: In addition to keeping America physically safe, we are going to keep America free, because we're going to make Americans feel safe again.'"

Along with the award, the Anschutz Foundation donated $100,000 in Hayden's name to academy character and leadership programs -- $50,000 to the Academy Assembly, $12,000 to the Cadet Exemplar Program and $38,000 to the Peak Performance Center.

The Gazette is owned by the Anschutz Corporation's Clarity Media Company.

Senior cadet Robert Briggs said his biggest takeaway was that an important part of being a leader is "the character of the leader themselves -- what their intent is, how they treat their people, basically, how they see the world and how they see their role in the world.

"Seeing that example like that, it gives us a point to work toward. You know, be that kind of leader that as director of the CIA, you still have lunch with the smallest people."

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