Gen. Schwartz is a highly decorated, highly respected, wonderful leader, and a man I call a personal friend, and a personal friend of the United States Air Force Academy. Please give a warm, Falcon Stadium welcome to Gen. Norty Schwartz.
Ain’t this a Rocky Mountain high?
It is my high honor to introduce an extraordinarily distinguished American. Today’s commencement speaker … Adm. Mike Mullen is the 17th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the first chairman – the first chairman – to deliver a commencement address here at the United States Air Force Academy. … In his career at sea, the admiral served aboard seven warships, gaining his first combat experience off the coast of Vietnam within months of graduating from that other school in 1968. Please forgive me, Chairman.
Admiral Mullen, thank you. Thank you, sir, for taking the time to join us today as we celebrate the achievements of the Class of 2010 and set them on a course of service to the nation. It is our distinct privilege to have you here. Your and Deborah’s remarkable leadership and service to the nation are sterling examples of the Air Force core values of integrity, service and excellence.
And personally, Susie and I would like to publicly thank you and Deborah for your staunch support of our servicemembers, our wounded, our fallen and our families. Your leadership, your advocacy and initiative ensure that we as the family of the Armed Forces of the United States meet our solemn obligations to each and every one. And now, ladies and gentlemen, please join me in welcoming the CJCS, Adm. Mike Mullen.
Ah, that “other school.” Actually, General Schwartz invited me back in the first weekend in October to see, as he said, the Falcons beat the mids. And I’ve accepted that invitation, although I don’t think you’ll like the end results.
Thank you Norty and Susie for your service and leadership in extraordinary times. You two dedicate yourselves to the men and women who serve in all services, their families, those we’ve lost, and we should never, ever forget them. And your leadership has made an incredible difference.
Secretary Donley, General Gould and distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, it is a great privilege for Deborah and I to be here today. And before I begin, I would like to make a special note of a genuine hero with us today: Mr. Peter Lemon, recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor. Peter served with honor and gallantry beyond the call of duty while serving in the Vietnam War. You honor us with your presence, sir. I would also like to recognize the members of the Class of 1960, celebrating their 50th anniversary. Congratulations.
You know, you just can’t come to one of these graduations without realizing how long in the tooth you’re getting yourself. It gets worse every single year. So actually, I want to thank the Class of 1960 for making me feel so especially young today. You guys are holding up pretty will.
What a great, great day. I thought, spending so much time at sea as I did in my career, that I’d seen the very best vistas this world has to offer, but I have to admit it’s tough to beat the scenery here. It’s also tough to beat the occasion, where 1,001 of our nation’s finest young men and women complete their rigorous studies, take their solemn oaths and march off to defend their fellow citizens in a time of war. In fact, we’ve been a nation at war for nearly half your young lives. It’s a reality you’ve literally grown up with, and yet, here you are, ready to step into the breach, ready to face the enemy’s fire and ready to take your place in the Long Blue Line that has preceded you; that you do so knowing full well the risks and full well the rewards of military service speaks volumes not only of your character but also of your courage. So let me be among the first to congratulate you and thank you, the Class of 2010.
I was warned about that. (Heavy breathing) Luke … I am *not* your father. While I’m at it, let me take this opportunity to thank real fathers and mothers, brothers, sisters and grandparents, who I know have been incredibly supportive and loving over the course of these four years, and indeed, over the course of your entire lives. Can I ask the family members of the Class of 2010 to please stand up and proudly be recognized. Thank you as well for your service and your sacrifices.
Thank you as well to the entire faculty and staff of the Air Force Academy. Mentors, teachers, sponsors, Gen. Mike Gould and his wife, Paula, Gen. Cox, Gen. Born, Dr. Mueh, thank you so much for teaching the cadets how to achieve and how to learn and adapt. I’m told you actually produced a Rhodes Scholar in the class: congratulations to 2nd Lt. Brittany Morreale. I’m sure you folks in the faculty kept thinking, ‘If there’s one, surely there must be more.’ Well, there wasn’t, but at least the search was fun. I’ll bet many in the staff here would love to hear from all of you graduates in the future, and after spending four years with you, they’d also like you to know that by ‘the future,’ they mean at least four years from now when they’ve recovered.
Now, as guest speaker, it is my privilege to grant amnesty to any and all demerits accrued from minor offenses during your time here at the Academy. I am certain this applies only to the tiniest fraction of you. But goodness knows, at the rate I accumulated demerits – 115 of them in a single day at the beginning of my first-class year – I certainly could have used some amnesty myself.
Now I know that I’m the only thing that stands between everyone and the hat toss, and I’m certain you’re all tired of taking advice and taking orders. Sadly for you, I love giving advice, and it’s the one thing, indeed the only thing, I get paid to do. So strap in, because here it comes.
There’s a lot of talk today about how much America supports you, and indeed, Americans really do in ways I certainly never experienced as a young officer in 1968. I believe people in this country truly feel they owe you for what you have done and what you are about to do. But today, I want to talk about what you owe them.
I want to talk about duty – your duty. We don’t use that word often enough in my view, and it’s the one thing most common to you all. Look at you – your faces alone speak to the great diversity of this land, indeed, of the world. You come from all 50 states and territories, from different backgrounds and cultures, different families, different faiths, and I’m proud to note you’re graduating students from 15 other countries as well. Together, the Class of 2010 truly represents a diverse strand of the fabric of mankind.
And there are differences, too, in your experiences here. Some of you excelled on the playing field. Some of you led the way in military studies. Some did well academically, and some ... well, not so much. I can relate to that. I graduated number 611 out of 836 in my Naval Academy class. Basically, this means I was qualified to swim without inhaling water. I have no doubt that there are classmates of mine out there saying, ‘Mullen is doing what?! You mean 611 Mullen?’
Today, as you walk up on the stage, the differences between you may still mean something. Tomorrow, they won’t. The only thing that matters is duty, and yours will be great, I assure you, for you’re joining an Air Force well-heeled in combat, an Air Force that has literally been on the tip of the spear since the beginning of the Gulf War. More than 30,000 Airmen are deployed to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan right now, nearly 5,000 of them serving outside their normal career paths. They’re pulling security duty, running logistics flights, leading civil engineering squadrons and managing transportation and convoy systems. Indeed, more than half of the 14 U.S.-led provincial reconstruction teams in Afghanistan are led by Air Force officers, including one in the Panjshir Valley commanded by Lt. Col. Curtis Velasquez, Class of ’93. I have visited many of those teams myself, and I can tell you they are doing amazing things, not only for the mission but for the people of Afghanistan.
The Air Force is also flying 180 combat missions every single day, including more than 40 patrols daily by unmanned aircraft, keeping a constant and vigilant watch over both our troops on the ground and over a very elusive enemy. Just ask Capt. Blaine Stewart(?), Class of ’03, whose MQ-9 Reaper crew last summer saved a convoy from what would have been a well-coordinated ambush in Helmand Province. Airmen keep the supplies and the weapons coming, they find and defeat improvised explosive devices, and they man two of the largest battlefield medical facilities we have in the war zone. Collectively, these docs and medics have achieved an almost unbelievable survival rate for patients in theater of nearly 98 percent.
Sadly – go ahead, feel free to applaud. Sadly, not all of them make it home, as the 174 names on the graduate memorial wall attest, including 1st Lt. Joseph Helton Jr., Class of ’07, killed Sept. 8, 2009, and 1st Lt. Roslyn Schulte, Class of 2006, whom we lost just one year ago last week – the first female graduate killed by enemy action.
Roz did her duty, Joseph Helton did his duty, and that young sergeant, Peter Lemon, did his duty. Every Airman, every Soldier, Marine, Sailor and Coastguardsman out there today is doing his or her duty. And tomorrow, so shall you. So must you. The stakes are too high if you don’t, because even away from the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, airpower gives us power projection, rapid humanitarian support and surveillance of the world’s surface, and all of these underpin our diplomatic and deterrent effects worldwide.
Your first duty is to learn your jobs and learn them well. You’ll be getting out to schools and training centers soon. Some of you will learn to fly, some will learn how to collect and analyze intelligence. Some will become specialists in personnel or manpower or logistics or any other ... challenging field. I encourage you all to become experts in them. Know them cold – know them better than your peers, even better than your superiors. Stay ahead of the technology; stay ahead of the trends. Learn to predict when and how things will change, because pretty soon, you’re going to be on the leading edge of that change. You’re going to be responsible for making sure those you command and those you serve are informed and able to make the best decisions they can, often with little or no notice.
The story of the United States Air Force is the story of the search for that kind of innovation, and innovation will be tested in the coming years to be sure. You’re joining a force that in many ways deploys many platforms badly in need of reset and modernization, a force that increasingly will be coming out of pressure to make the most of what it has. But you will also be operating platforms with capabilities that are only weeks old and many now that operate in wholly new dimensions: space and cyberspace, to name but two. Embrace these challenges and develop your expertise. That is the most meaningful way a junior officer can contribute to the mission.
Your second duty is to lead, and there’s a lot that goes into that. Let me just tell you a little of what it means to me. It means loyalty. Just by taking the commissioning oath today, you young officers have already demonstrated an admirable loyalty to your country. A good leader remembers that a vow – the promise to put service before self always. He or she remembers that loyalty must be demonstrated to seniors, peers and subordinates alike and that it must never be blind. Few things are more important to an organization than people who have the moral courage to question the direction in which the organization is headed and then the strength of character to support whatever final decisions are made.
Leadership means integrity. You may at times prove better than your word, but you will rarely prove better than your actions. The high standards by which you measure your own personal behavior and that of others say more about you and your potential than any statements you make or guidance you give. You should strive to conduct yourself always in such a manner that it can never be said that you demanded less of yourself or of the men and women in your charge than that which is expected of you by your families or your country. If you are wrong, admit it. If you have erred, correct it. Seek responsibility and then hold yourselves accountable.
A leader must also exhibit imagination, which may seem out-of-place for a modern military professional, but when you think about it, imagination has been the key to our success as a nation and without question the root of the success of the Air Force. It was imagination that drove you from propellers to jets, from the (??) bomb sight to GPS-guided munitions and from manned to unmanned aircraft. Imagination set you free to explore the wild idea of supersonic flight, which today we take for granted, and expand into the world of space, which today forms the backbone for all our communications and navigation. It’s frightening to think where we would be if it were not for the brave pioneers like Hap Arnold, Jimmy Doolittle, Chuck Yeager or John Boyd. These luminaries had not only the vision to change warfare but the leadership to see it through, and it is that combination of vision and persistence that has enabled America’s leadership in the world.
A leader today must likewise think creatively. She should be able to place herself outside the problems before her and look at them from a fresh perspective. While great decisions can be made in the heat of battle, great ideas are usually born in the ease of quiet. You must find the quiet and let your imagination soar.
And that leads me to your final duty: to listen. You must listen to yourselves, to your instincts, but you must also prove capable of listening to others, of trying to see problems through the perspectives of our allies, our partners and our friends all over the world, because America’s own power and our own security is stronger when we act in concert with those alongside we fight. As President Obama said at West Point, “The burdens of this century cannot fall on American shoulders alone.” We must build new partnerships and shape stronger international standards and institutions. No one military, no one nation, can do it alone anymore, and no one nation has the corner on the good ideas market.
We need each other in ways we could not have imagined when the Berlin Wall came crashing down. That’s why I visit my counterpart in Pakistan so much. That’s why I sat cross-legged in a shura with tribal elders in Afghanistan, and it’s why our troops in that war-torn country are trying so hard to speak the language and understand the culture. Trust cannot be won over the phone. Perspective cannot be gained in a PowerPoint slide. You build it one person and one issue at a time, and you earn it by listening. It is critical, even at your level, and I hope you’ve listened to your foreign counterparts here. I hope you’ve learned from their views, and I hope you’re willing to do the same when you go to your first joint assignment.
Tomorrow, the chief of staff of the Air Force and the chief of Naval operations will begin rolling out what they call the air-sea battle concept, a concept which I believe is a prime example of how we need to keep breaking down stovepipes between services, between federal agencies and even between nations. Because quite frankly, the military owes it to our commander in chief and to the American taxpayers to operate effectively and efficiently across the battlespace, to integrate our efforts with each other and with our civilian counterparts to work seamlessly with old allies and new friends, and to keep pace with a flatter, faster and more interconnected world.
I am particularly concerned about cyberspace, a global common in which we do not enjoy unmatched advantage, where international mores are the easiest to flout without consequence, and upon which our entire way of life depends. In the next 20 years, cyberspace will change how we fight – of that, I am certain. You need to stay open to new ideas in cyber. You need to imagine that world right now. You need to shape it and to lead it. Goodness knows, old guys like me and the Class of 1960 aren’t going to get it.
My last bit of advice to you is simply to remember that graduation and commissioning represent only the end of the beginning of your education. The Air Force is now your classroom, and Airmen are now your teachers. They and their families are the best they’ve ever been – talented, eager and proud of what they are doing. Take full advantage of their knowledge to improve yours. Show them your loyalty, and they will show you theirs. Demonstrate integrity in everything you do, and they will respect you. Tap into your and their imaginations, and there will be no limit to what you can accomplish. Seek counsel in what Theodore Roosevelt once so keenly observed: that the best way to tell the worth of a commander yet untried in war is to get at the estimate in which he is held by the fighting men who have served under him. In today’s military, you lead both fighting men and women who represent the values they have, throughout our history, struggled to defend, and soon, you, too, will be tried by war. Only by the support of those you lead can you truly hope to become a leader yourself. Only by doing your duty, straight and true, can you hope to prove worthy of the trust this nation places in you today. Best of luck to each and every one of you and your families. God bless and congratulations.