Born on the U.S. Air Force Base in Tachikawa, Japan, where his father was stationed, Lt. Gen. Anthony Cotton likes to say he came out of the womb a member of the military. For decades, his service has taken him all over the country, and in February, it landed him in Montgomery as Commander and President of Air University at Maxwell-Gunter AFB. MBJ asked him to talk about the “unrivaled hospitality” he and his wife have received, why that means so much, plus his hopes and goals for Air University.
What do you hope to accomplish during your time leading Air University?
Air University (AU) is filled with talented faculty and staff, and its portfolio and reach is really large. I didn’t realize just how large even when I took this job, and that’s really interesting to me that I, as a senior Air Force officer, didn’t know it and that a lot of my peers don’t know it either. So, one of my goals is to get the word out, to better brand AU so that airmen across the country really know and respect all that is done here. I want to ensure we have curriculum and teaching methodologies that rival the best universities in the nation. We also want to continue to add to AU’s world-renowned faculty and staff, and we want to bring more top-notch speakers here for our students. We also need to do some collaborative branding with Montgomery and the River Region to help get the word out about all the recent progress here, things like the revitalized downtown area and the moving Legacy Museum and National Memorial for Peace and Justice.
What is the current focus of Air University?
One of my marching orders from my boss is that we need airmen, whether they are active duty, guard reserve or folks from sister services, to be able to walk away from their time here with a sense of critical thinking and strategic thinking. At the same time, we will always cherish and teach leadership. The folks that come here are in the top 15 percent of their peers; they are the future leaders of the Air Force, so we will always emphasize leadership training. Our Secretary of Defense wants to ensure we have a ready force and a lethal force, and the education here anchors that.
What are your thoughts on Air University’s collaboration with the city, county and Chamber, particularly in terms of cyber and innovation?
Cyber is important, and it’s more than just a buzzword. When we talk about cyber here, it runs through all the veins of all the schools, plus the Curtis E. LeMay Center, our doctrine center for the entire Air Force, so what we do here in terms of cyber is key. We have the Cyber College here, and we’re now working closely with the Air Force Academy and its CyberWORX program. And MGMWERX is very, very exciting. What makes that so neat is the way it and all the “Werx” constructs go about solving problems. It gives us the opportunity to take the thought pieces, the papers and such, that AU’s students produce in their time here, share them with this incubation/innovation center outside of the base gates and see if they are workable and viable in real-world settings. And these ideas are not just shared with the River Region, but with the country and the world through the network that DEFENSEWERX has established.
How has Montgomery treated you so far?
This is my seventh command in a row and there is something different about Southern hospitality. When my wife and I arrived here, we were greeted with open arms, and we’ve quickly established friendships. But more importantly is the welcome I see this community extending to the base and everyone here. The patriotism here is overwhelming. I don’t think you’ll ever hear someone talk about their Maxwell assignment and not say they experienced the same thing.
Why are Montgomery’s public schools important?
Not having good public schools adds a burden for the airmen here who have school-age children. It can affect whether or not they accept the assignment here. Air University is a flagship institution. We have the best here now; I want to keep the best coming, both faculty and students, and that depends on good public schools. The good news is, we see city leadership and the community at large working hard on this. Hearing what is being done to improve the local schools and seeing folks caring so much is amazing. We are part of the community. Quality education should be foundational; with it, everyone rises; everyone wins!