USA — Chairman’s Corner: The Only Thing That Matters is Duty

WASHINGTON — I had the hon­or of address­ing the grad­u­at­ing class of 2010 from the Unit­ed States Air Force Acad­e­my. They and a select group of col­lege grad­u­ates through­out the coun­try are receiv­ing a diplo­ma this month and then rais­ing their hand to defend our nation. As I fly back home to Wash­ing­ton, it is to these young men and women enter­ing our mil­i­tary that I wish to impart some of the same time-test­ed advice I gave our newest Air Force offi­cers. In a word, it’s about duty.

Your first duty is to learn your jobs, and learn them well. Know them cold. Know them bet­ter than your peers, bet­ter even than your supe­ri­ors. Stay ahead of the tech­nol­o­gy and the trends, because you are going to be on the lead­ing edge of that change.

You are 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. You can’t do that if you don’t know what you’re talk­ing about. Become an expert. 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, I know. Let me just tell you a lit­tle of what it means to me. It means loy­al­ty. And loy­al­ty must be demon­strat­ed to seniors, peers, and sub­or­di­nates alike. 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 also requires 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 coun­try­men.

Lead­ers today must like­wise think cre­ative­ly. They should be able to place them­selves out­side the prob­lems imme­di­ate­ly before them 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 to let your imag­i­na­tions soar.

And that brings me to your final duty — to lis­ten. You must lis­ten to your­selves, to your instincts. 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. No one mil­i­tary, no one nation, can do it alone any­more. It’s why I sat cross-legged in a shu­ra with trib­al elders in Afghanistan. It’s why our troops in that war-torn coun­try are work­ing so hard to speak the lan­guage and under­stand the cul­ture.

Final­ly, remem­ber that grad­u­a­tion and com­mis­sion­ing rep­re­sent only the end of the begin­ning of your edu­ca­tion. The world is now your class­room. Sol­diers, Air­men, Sailors, and Marines 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. You rep­re­sent the val­ues they have — through­out our his­to­ry — strug­gled to defend. Only by earn­ing the sup­port of those you lead can you ever 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 you all, God bless and con­grat­u­la­tions.

Chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)