USA — Gates Urges Air Force Cadets to Demonstrate Leadership

WASHINGTON, April 5, 2010 — As the Unit­ed States and Rus­sia pre­pare to sign a his­toric nuclear arms reduc­tion treaty, Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates relat­ed to Air Force cadets some lessons he has learned from a gov­ern­ment career that has tak­en him from the shad­ows of the Cold War into a much-altered secu­ri­ty land­scape as the Pentagon’s chief. Speak­ing to cadets at the U.S. Air Force Acad­e­my at Col­orado Springs, Colo., last week, Gates dis­cussed changes in the geopo­lit­i­cal struc­ture since his ear­ly days as an Air Force offi­cer assigned to Strate­gic Air Com­mand more than four decades ago.

“The world you are enter­ing is much more com­pli­cat­ed than it was when I was a junior offi­cer dur­ing the Cold War,” he told the audi­ence in Col­orado Springs, Colo. “From glob­al ter­ror­ism to eth­nic con­flicts, from rogue nations to ris­ing pow­ers, the chal­lenges we face sim­ply can­not be over­come by tra­di­tion­al mil­i­tary means alone.”

Gates’ remarks on April 2 came ahead of Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s sched­uled vis­it this week to Prague, Czech Repub­lic, where he and Russ­ian Pres­i­dent Dmitriy Medvedev are slat­ed to sign the new strate­gic arms reduc­tion treaty. “New START,” as the treaty is known. The treaty will slash each country’s nuclear arse­nals by a third and improve over­sight of the draw­down.

But, while the move brings the world fur­ther from the specter of the Cold War, Gates implored the young Air Force offi­cers to dis­play the lead­er­ship and courage nec­es­sary to con­front a new set of threats their nation faces.

He empha­sized that junior offi­cers should con­tribute to an envi­ron­ment in which they can offer their can­did advice to supe­ri­or offi­cers. Gates relat­ed anec­dotes about Air Force offi­cers of note whose mav­er­ick — and even tact­less — style made them alter­nate­ly demo­nized and lion­ized.

“If, as an offi­cer, you don’t tell blunt truths or cre­ate an envi­ron­ment where can­dor is encour­aged, then you’ve done your­self and the insti­tu­tion a dis­ser­vice,” Gates said.

Gates cit­ed the con­tin­u­ing neces­si­ty for men and women in uni­form “to demon­strate uncom­mon courage – both on the bat­tle­field and off.”

“In order to suc­ceed in the asym­met­ric bat­tle­fields of the 21st cen­tu­ry – the dom­i­nant com­bat envi­ron­ment in the decades to come, in my view – the Air Force will require lead­ers of great flex­i­bil­i­ty, agili­ty, resource­ful­ness, and imag­i­na­tion, lead­ers will­ing and able to think and act cre­ative­ly and deci­sive­ly in dif­fer­ent kinds of con­flict than we have pre­pared for dur­ing the last six decades,” he said.

Gates said such exem­plary Air Force ser­vice can been seen in the skies above Iraq and Afghanistan, and even on the ground, as air­men have been called on to per­form tasks far dif­fer­ent from what they envi­sioned when they donned the uni­form — from con­voy secu­ri­ty to bomb clear­ance and dis­pos­al to search and res­cue.

“I seri­ous­ly doubt any­one would have believed that America’s first 21st-cen­tu­ry war would begin with air­men on horse­back direct­ing B‑52s to pro­vide close air sup­port for cav­al­ry charges in Afghanistan,” Gates said. “[It’s] iron­ic, con­sid­er­ing that ear­ly doubters of aviation’s mil­i­tary val­ue feared that noise from the planes would fright­en the army’s hors­es.”

The Afghan cam­paign, Gates said, which is in the midst of a U.S. troop surge, has put new demands on the Air Force, as the pri­or­i­ty has shift­ed from Iraq, where the num­ber of Amer­i­can forces will draw down to 50,000 before Sept. 1.

“I am told that since 2007, the dai­ly traf­fic at Bagram Air Base has near­ly dou­bled to rough­ly 900 air­craft oper­a­tions each day,” Gates said, refer­ring to a main U.S. logis­ti­cal hub in Afghanistan. “The surge of troops and oper­a­tions asso­ci­at­ed with the president’s new strat­e­gy will require yet more work, more ded­i­ca­tions, and more sac­ri­fice from America’s air­men.”

In a part­ing mes­sage to the cadets, Gates not­ed that each of those in uni­form had entered the mil­i­tary in a vast­ly dif­fer­ent time than the Cold War era in which he began his mil­i­tary ser­vice.

“You entered mil­i­tary ser­vice in a time of war, know­ing you would be at war,” he said. “Theodore Roo­sevelt once said, ‘The trum­pet call is the most inspir­ing of all sounds, because it sum­mons men to spurn all ease and self-indul­gence and bids them forth to the field where they must dare and do and die at need.’ ”

“All of you have answered the trum­pet call,” Gates con­tin­ued, “and the whole of Amer­i­ca is grate­ful and filled with admi­ra­tion.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)