The U.S. Air Force is changing its song to be gender-neutral as the service grows more diverse and adds more women across its ranks.
Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein made the announcement Thursday during the Air Warfare Symposium in Florida, alongside Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright.
Goldfein said the change applies to the third verse of the U.S. Air Force Song, sometimes known as "Wild Blue Yonder," which is traditionally sung at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs and often performed independently of the other verses.
He said the song, which dates back to the Army Air Corps before the Air Force was established as a separate service in 1947, reflected a different time period and a different team, one that was too "exclusive" to reflect today's reality. For example, women currently make up about 20 percent of the Air Force.
After many conversations with young men and women, a group of academy cadets fashioned "a better third verse," Goldfein said.
"Combat doesn't discriminate, and neither should we," he said at the symposium, reflecting on those the Air Force has lost in war.
Goldfein authorized Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria, the academy's superintendent, to implement the change effective immediately.
Verse III is now:
Here's a toast to the host
Of those who love the vastness of the sky,
To a friend we send a message of the brave who serve on high.
We drink to those who gave their all of old,
Then down we roar to score the rainbow's pot of gold.
A toast to the host of those we boast, the U.S. Air Force!
The old version went, "A toast to the host of the men we boast."
In a statement published on the academy's website, Goldfein said he anticipates pushback from those who see the change as a break from tradition.
"I respect the views of others who will not agree," he said. "But I also know with absolute certainty and clarity that these changes are about adding to, not subtracting from, who we are. Changing the lyrics in no way diminishes the history and accomplishments of men or dilutes our eternal gratitude for their sacrifice and bravery."
Goldfein said the Air Force must follow in its sister service academies' footsteps: The Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, changed its school song in 2004. The United States Military Academy in West Point, New York, did so in 2008.
"It is time for us to change," Goldfein said.
It was not immediately clear if or when other verses, with wording such as, "At 'em boys," "flying men" and "minds of men" will be updated in the future, but Goldfein said it is an important discussion that is ongoing. Officials did not have additional details by press time.
The news comes as the female applicant pool at the academy continues to grow.
The proportion of female applicants to the Air Force Academy's class of 2023 will be the highest in the last five years -- 31.2%, according to statistics recently provided to Military.com. By comparison, 913 men, or 73.5%, and 329 women, or 26.5%, made up the 2019 graduating class.
Other classes have also seen a slight bump: Women make up 28.6% of the 2020 applicant class; 29.3% in 2021; and 30.5% in the 2022 class, according to statistics.
Since becoming chief in 2016, Goldfein has stressed inclusivity and looked for improvements not just in culture or policy, but day-to-day job performance.
For example, he initiated the creation of task force teams to oversee redesigns of female uniforms, including gear and flight suits, after many years of ill-fitting equipment.
The service has been working for months to provide improved, better-fitting uniforms not only for comfort, but also for safety.
"The world is changing, the Air Force is changing," Wright added Thursday.