The Air Force Thunderbirds practiced in preparation for Air Force Academy Graduation in this undated photo. The planes are pictured passing by the academy's chapel in the distance. (Mark Reis, Special to The Colorado Sun)

COLORADO SPRINGS — The U.S. Air Force Academy installed a new superintendent who will be the first Black officer to lead the military institution.

Lt. Gen. Richard Clark also became the first former commandant of cadets to return to the top position at the academy near Colorado Springs, The Gazette reports.

Clark accepted the post Wednesday during a ceremony inside Falcon Stadium that allowed social-distancing among a small audience wearing masks due to the pandemic.

Clark becomes the first Black superintendent in the school’s 66-year history following a position at the Pentagon, where he oversaw the Air Force’s nuclear weapons program.

Lt. Gen. Richard M. Clark, the new superintendent of the U.S. Air Force Academy, speaks during the change of command ceremony in Falcon Stadium, where he became the school’s top officer, Sept. 23, 2020. (U.S. Air Force photo by Trevor Cokley)

“I am honored and privileged for the opportunity to give something back,” said Clark, who called the superintendent post his “dream job.”

Clark attended the academy beginning in 1982, when he was a linebacker on the school’s football team. Since then his academic accomplishments include four master’s degrees and a fellowship at Harvard University.

Clark’s service experience includes 400 hours in combat zones in B-1 bomber and EC-135 aircraft.

Clark oversaw military training at the academy as the cadet commandant from 2010 to 2012.

Air Force Chief of Staff C.Q. Brown and Air Force Secretary Barbara Barret praised Clark during Wednesday’s ceremony.

“You are the perfect leader,” Brown said. “In fact, I cannot think of a leader more custom-made for this job.”

Clark replaced Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria, who retired after 35 years in the military.

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