Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria had an important message for U.S. Air Force Academy cadets at a moment of crisis.
Five black cadet candidates at the academy's preparatory school in Colorado Springs had found racial slurs written on the message boards on their doors.
Silveria, who took over as the school's superintendent in August, urged cadets to reach for their phones.
"I want you to videotape this so you have it, so you can use it - so that we all have the moral courage together," he said, surrounded by 1,500 of the academy's faculty, administrators and athletic coaches.
"If you can't treat someone with dignity and respect, get out."
Silveria's forceful denunciation has been heard far beyond the walls of the academy in Colorado, introducing the veteran officer to a national audience.
"I wanted to have a direct conversation with them about the power of diversity," Silveria told CNN's Brooke Baldwin on Friday, referring to the cadets. "Ultimately, these men and women are going to be lieutenants in the United States Air Force."
Baldwin read Silveria messages of support on Twitter and asked him whether he believed Washington needed better leadership. He replied that his "message to the cadets was not about that."
He said his speech was intended to show the cadets that they were all united "as an institution protecting these values."
Security forces are looking into the matter, according to Lt. Col. Allen Herritage, a spokesman for the U.S. Air Force Academy.
Silveria, who graduated from the Air Force Academy in 1985 with a bachelor of science degree, succeeded the academy's first female superintendent, Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson.
In his 32-year career, Silveria has nearly 4,000 hours of flight time, including combat missions over Iraq and the Balkans, making him one of the Air Force's most experienced pilots, according to the Colorado Springs Gazette.
"When it came time to pick the next superintendent, Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria was the obvious choice," Gen. David Goldfein, the branch's chief of staff, said at Silveria's appointment ceremony, according to the Gazette. "I don't believe we have an officer serving in the Air Force today with more combat time, more joint credibility, or more operational understanding of the art of modern war."
Shortly before the ceremony, Silveria, the Air Force Academy's 20th superintendent, was promoted from major general to lieutenant general, the rank required for the position, the Gazette reported.
He was previously deputy commander of U.S. Air Forces Central Command and deputy commander of Central Command's Combined Forces Air Component in southwest Asia, according to Military.com.
On Twitter, Silveria has been widely praised for his leadership, with some suggesting he should run for office one day.
A video of the speech on the Air Force Academy's Facebook page has been viewed more than 1.7 million times, and a tweet of the same has been shared more than 22,000 times. Commenters praised the general for his leadership and unequivocal response: "This is how you respond to racism in America."