The centennial airmen--a new generation of air and space leaders.
Commencement address to the graduating class, U.S. Air Force Academy, USAF Academy, Colo., May 28, 2003
Thank you General Weida (commandant of cadets).
Distinguished guests, Congressman Sessions, faculty and staff, underclassmen, proud parents and family members, and especially graduates; it is my great pleasure to join with my colleague, General John Jumper, in these commencement exercises to congratulate those of you graduates today on your great achievements: earning a diploma from the United States Air Force Academy, and earning a Presidential commission in our nation's Air Force. With this commission, you take your place as an officer in the armed forces of the United States of America, garnering a unique position of special trust that demands the highest commitment to our Air Force core values, total devotion to duty, and utmost loyalty to our mission and your fellow airmen.
Today you enter a league of airmen--a long line of brave and selfless warriors who have devoted their lives to the pursuit of service, innovation, and exploration.
Now, before I say much more, there is one item of business I must complete to remain in good standing with at least 3,000 members of the audience today. In keeping with the long-standing tradition of commencement speakers--and the moment for which all in the class of 2004, 2005, and 2006 have been waiting: By the authority vested in me by the people of the United States as the Secretary of the Air Force, I hereby forgive all tours, confinements, and restrictions for all Class A and B minor offenses documented prior to today, and I grant amnesty to the appropriate cadets for these minor offenses. And, I urge General Weida to be generous in his application of this amnesty decree.
What a special privilege our graduates have as the class of 2003--you are the "centennial airmen"--the class which will forever have the honor of marking your entry into the officer corps during the year in which we celebrate the centennial of powered flight. You are the first airmen of the next 100 years.
In the first 100 years since the Wright Brothers' achievement at Kitty Hawk, airmen have redefined the way we fight, revolutionized travel and commerce, pioneered the development of ground-breaking technologies, and helped shape a world in which our nation's safety and prosperity would be accompanied by breathtaking scientific and technical prowess.
Powered flight is and will continue to be one of humankind's most significant accomplishments. If properly guided with the same imagination and vision that characterized its creators and those who nurtured its development--explorers in the tradition of Lindbergh and Earhart, innovators such as Curtiss and Northrop, warriors like Rickenbacker and Quesada, and leaders such as Arnold and Lemay--the second century of flight, now to include space operations, will most assuredly advance the peaceful and productive interactions of nations, continue to deter or destroy the threatening and tyrannical, and provide for the benefit of all humankind. This is your wonderful heritage and it is your exciting future.
When you walk across this stage in a few minutes, you will join the lineage of achievement and sacrifice that Academy graduates have embraced since the first class of graduates in 1959. You enter this special warrior class, along with Lieutenant Valmore Bourque, Class of 1959--the first cadet to take the oath of allegiance in the first cadet class--and the first Academy graduate to give his life in combat. More than 35,000 others have preceded you in graduation--Bobko, Ritchie, McMillan, Sijan, Andrews, and Helms--just a few notable examples of graduates who have demonstrated the highest standards of esprit, honor, bravery, service, and, yes, sacrifice. Of these thousands of graduates,
* Two were combat Aces
* Two served as Chief of Staff
* 33 have gone into space
* 335 attained the rank of general officer;
* But, let us not forget, 36 have been POWs
* One earned the Medal of Honor, posthumously; and
* 163 have been killed in action, including Capt Eric Das, Class of 1995, just last month.
Yet, the lineage of warriors you are joining is wider than and precedes the establishment of this Academy. You join a much larger community, those who measure themselves against high standards of duty, honor, country--and courage; and those who have committed themselves to the service of a calling higher than self.
Our mission for the past four years has been to prepare you for this day. More than simply educating, we've sought to develop outstanding men and women who, upon graduation, are prepared to employ weapons of war and to lead other Americans in the profession of arms. More than merely training, we've aspired to grow a class of officers who have thoroughly internalized the warfighter's ethos--new officers who are widely regarded as the premier air and space officers in the world. We've sought to inspire officership, teach leadership, and instill character and discipline with the ultimate objective of developing officers who will lead the world's greatest air and space force in service to our nation, and, if necessary, in war.
As you join this lineage of graduates and distinguished airmen, you may be asking yourself if you are up to the challenge. You are not alone, however. Other leaders throughout history have faced similar questions.
Shortly before the American entry into the North African theater in 1942, the task force commander wrote in his diary:
"I hope that whatever comes up, I shall be able to do my full duty. If I can..I have nothing more to ask."
The commander, General George Patton did his duty in Africa, and later in Europe. And, he did it magnificently.
Ever since Herodotus and Thucydidies chronicled the heroism of Greek warriors in the 5th century BC, duty has been celebrated as a principal virtue of the professional soldier. Philosophers, historians, and military officers throughout the ages have long pondered the obligations of this core element of military service--as Patton did, and as you surely do today.
During his famous funeral oration, Pericles reminded the citizens of Athens that the state is preserved through the valor of the soldier, imploring them to never forget that "Happiness lies in freedom; freedom in bold spirits." Shakespeare's Henry V spoke of the virtue of service to a calling greater than self. Speaking before the battle of Agincourt, the Bard has Henry remind us that martial success is not the product of technology or purely the result of great leaders, but can be found in an army when its members are committed to a shared sense of service, a devotion to a higher calling, and the honor of having lived and sacrificed for one's values and the honor of one's nation.
Our nation's history is full of similar examples of this call to service and the obligations of officership. On this day in 1754, a young George Washington, 22-years old--about your age--led 160 soldiers in the first action of the Seven Years War. It wasn't one of his better days. One can only imagine what must have been going through his mind as he faced the enemy--the trepidation from having never before experienced combat, the accountability for the safety of his troops, the responsibility to protect his countrymen from the dangers of the vast wilderness.
You might also be feeling that you face an unknown wilderness as you head out into your new lives as officers. But you have benefits at your age of which Washington could not even have dreamt: years of scholarship and training in one of the finest military academies in the world; an opportunity to practice your leadership lessons prior to gaining your commission; and, the support of everyone in this stadium as you prepared for this day and your career in the Air Force.
Now that you've completed this crucible of learning, I urge each of you to remember your experiences here and the lessons you have learned. Use them--and a lifetime of learning that brought you to this day--to lead the men and women of our Air Force. As you enter the officer corps, remember that character and values are the lenses through which one's officership is judged. You will be charged with supervising men and women who will look to your example as their guide. You will be the standard that airmen, noncommissioned officers, and your peers use to determine if they measure up And, should you have the opportunity to command in the future--that exquisite and unique experience of authority and responsibility--you may have to face fellow airmen and ask them to follow you into battle.
As officers, you will have the responsibility to employ the lethal might of our Air Force against our enemies, and the authority to direct actions that may result in injury, or death, of your fellow airmen. That is why the warrior ethos demands such high standards of accountability, maturity, and the acceptance of personal danger and individual risk. Responsibility of this magnitude gives deep meaning to honor and trust, integrity and teamwork, and the solemn obligation to prevent departures from these character traits. Today, you formally join this warrior culture, and in doing so, you begin to accrue these distinct and important responsibilities. I know you are ready. I have the greatest confidence in you.
And what better time and place could there be, than this moment in history, to enter the service of your nation? Airmen have defined conflict in the 20th Century. From Mitchell's victory at the San Mihiel salient in World War I, to Doolittle's dramatic and fearless raid against Japan in 1942, to the thousands of airmen in 8th and 15th Air Forces who gave their lives to liberate Europe, airmen have been on the front lines of our nation's battles. In the last half of this century, air and space power has continued to provide security for our citizens, and spread the promise of peace and freedom around the globe.
While the war on terrorism offers unprecedented challenges, the future has never been more exciting for airmen. We are entering a new age of air and space power. There is now a growing consensus as a result of our successes in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Balkans that air and space capabilities can have a strategic, compelling effect on our enemies, and can dramatically assist our land combat and maritime forces in achieving victory swiftly and decisively regardless of distance, terrain, or adversary.
In Iraq, our operations featured the most dramatic illustration to date of what a coalition can accomplish with a just mission, advanced technology, a commitment to joint and combined military operations, and the bravery and creativity of magnificently trained soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines.
Our ground forces moved more swiftly and further than virtually at any time in our history, and our air-ground coordination and close air support were comparable to the historic cooperation demonstrated by Generals Arnold and Patton in their famous breakout of Normandy in 1944. These accomplishments demonstrated our success in returning to the close relationships and integrated capabilities of that era. And, in doing so, we astounded our enemies, as well as those nations which study our strategies and doctrine, with our precision and our seamless integration.
This triumph further demonstrated that the American way of war has undergone a remarkable evolution. Since the advent of industrial warfare, one would be hard pressed to cite an example of greater speed, maneuver, and precision on the battlefield, all while limiting collateral damage, delivering humanitarian aid, and saving the lives of combatants and civilians alike. This is a new age of waging American warfare and is the product of our Air Force core competences, the product of decades of sustained and relentless research and acquisition, strategy and doctrinal evolution, and the demanding training of 21st Century warriors who understand the complexities of warfighting in the information era. In this conflict, our years of evolution--quite literally since before World War II--came of age.
As you enter our Air Force, remember that our nation needs its Air Force as never before, and your Air Force needs each and every one of you, your talents, and your dedication to excellence, and your service as never before.
As you contemplate your future and the broader meaning of what you have achieved today, I remind you of the sentiments shared by a former Commander-in-Chief, President Woodrow Wilson, many, many years ago in his address to the 1916 commencement at the U. S. Naval Academy. Reflecting on the obligations and rewards of military service, he said:
"We are all bound together ... under a special obligation, the most solemn that the mind can conceive. The fortunes of a nation are confided to us.... And if you perform that [public duty], there is a reward awaiting you which is superior to any other reward in the world ... the remembrance of your fellow men--their honor and their affection."
His thoughts are as timely today are they were nearly a century ago, and reflect an even more timeless perspective on the special place of honor the warrior holds in society. For today you will forever be part of that unique segment of our citizenry which bears the burdens of liberty.
When you ask yourself, as Patton did, if you are able to meet the obligations these duties impart, you can be confident that you are ready. Congratulations on this magnificent achievement. Today you embark on a lifetime of camaraderie and esprit that no other enterprise could hope to bestow upon its members. General John Jumper and I congratulate you. But, we also envy you, for you embark this day on an exciting and noble career leading some of the finest citizens this great nation can produce.
Thanks you all very much. May God bless each and every one of you, and may he bless this noble experiment in democracy, our United States of America.
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|Title Annotation:||Air Force secretary James G. Roche|
|Publication:||Air Force Speeches|
|Date:||May 28, 2003|
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