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Crisis communications specialist hired to advise Air Force Academy general on image


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Johnson: tending to image. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Johnson: tending to image.

Air Force Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson hired an outside consultant last year to help with "crisis" communications, but a private entity is paying Larry Holdren of Holdren Strategic Communications, LLC.

"He is compensated by the U.S. Air Force Academy Endowment, which is a private organization, not a governmental one," said Academy spokesman Meade Warthen via email. That means the Academy Endowment doesn't have to disclose how much Holdren is being paid.

The endowment has raised $100 million, some of which supports the Academy with construction projects, including the Center for Character and Leadership Development building.

Warthen says Holdren, hired in early 2015, helps put a good face on the Academy for recruitment purposes. "As a leading public university," he writes, "it is critical that we work to enhance our reputation nationally in order to continue to attract and retain the most talented prospective cadets, faculty and staff, and Mr. Holdren is providing a critical role in helping us do that."

Holdren accompanied Johnson on three trips in 2015 as part of her "ongoing national outreach activities." These included stops at the National Press Club, Fox News,, Huffington Post and The New York Times, among others. Johnson spent $3,159 on these trips — to New York (twice) and Washington, D.C.

The trips were funded by discretionary gift funds in support of the superintendent's outreach efforts, Warthen says.

Holdren's website says, "If you find yourself stuck and need experienced strategic thinkers to help you get unstuck, we're your firm. If you're in an industry that faces opposition, we're your firm."

Included in his website bio is a claim he worked in "senior roles" several places, including Centura Health, which reports he was employed from July 17, 1997, to Feb. 12, 1999, as a "public relations specialist." Via email, Holdren says he was responsible "for the entirety of the pubic relations efforts at Centura's facilities in Pueblo and Canon City" and also provided counsel "directly to the CEOs and leaders of Centura's hospitals in those markets."

Under Holdren's guidance, the Academy invited CNN reporter Richard Quest last May to interview Johnson and take a ride with the Air Force Thunderbirds.

In April 2008, reported, "CNN personality Richard Quest was busted in Central Park early yesterday with some drugs in his pocket, a rope around his neck that was tied to his genitals, and a sex toy in his boot, law-enforcement sources said."

Given that, we asked the Academy, "Why Quest?" and Warthen said in an email that Quest "is a distinguished journalist with CNN, who is internationally renowned for his coverage of people and places throughout the world." He also cited Quest's "stellar professional credentials and ringing endorsement by CNN."

The Academy has long fought publicity over sex crimes, and during the 2014-15 Academy year received 49 sexual assault reports, more than the other two military academies combined.

Johnson is rumored to not want to retire when her Academy gig (typically three years) is up this summer. Her predecessor, Mike Gould, retired after four years as superintendent, which usually is considered a final assignment in the Air Force.

Mark Volcheff, head of the Academy endowment group, wouldn't disclose terms of Holdren's deal, saying the endowment funds requested priorities for the Academy by finding donors "who are willing to specifically donate or collectively donate to those needs."


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