COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff today challenged the Air Force Academy’s graduating class to embrace a sense of duty and build on the lessons they learned here as they become tomorrow’s leaders.
Navy Adm. Mike Mullen praised the character and courage of the Class of 2010’s members who chose to join an Air Force that’s “literally been at the tip of the spear since the beginning of the Gulf War” and remains engaged in combat.
“We’ve been a nation at war for nearly half of your young lives. It’s a reality you’ve literally grown up with,” he said, surveying the 1,001 graduating cadets assembled in Falcon Stadium. “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.” Mullen noted that 30,000 airmen currently are deployed for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In addition to flying 180 combat missions a day, nearly 5,000 of these servicemembers are serving outside their normal career fields, providing critical support to ground forces.
“Airmen keep the supplies and the weapons coming. They find and defeat improvised explosive devices,” Mullen said. “And they man two of the largest battlefield medical facilities we have in the war zones.”
Mullen challenged the graduating class to embrace the sense of duty their fellow servicemembers share, with an eye toward constant improvement.
“Your first duty is to learn your jobs and learn them well,” he said, urging them to stay ahead of technology and trends so they can be on the leading edge of change. This, he said, will ensure they’re able to keep those they serve informed and are positioned to make the best decisions possible.
Mullen next challenged the graduates to be leaders demonstrating loyalty, integrity and imagination as they live up to their commissioning oath. “A good leader remembers that oath – the promise to put service before self – always,” he said.
But the chairman emphasized that loyalty should 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,” he said.
He called on the graduates to exceed what’s expected of them as they lead by example. “If you are wrong, admit it. If you have erred, correct it,” he said. “Seek responsibility, then hold yourselves accountable.”
Mullen also urged them to exhibit imagination – the kind of vision that he called key to the success of the Air Force and the country as a whole. “A leader today must … think creatively,” he said, seeing problems from fresh perspectives to rise above them.
The chairman challenged the cadets to listen to their own instincts, but also those of others – allies, partners and friends all over the world. He reiterated President Barack Obama’s call during the U.S. Military Academy commencement last weekend to build new partnerships and shape stronger international standards and institutions.
“No one military – no one nation – can do it alone anymore,” he said. “We need each other in ways none of us could have imagined when the Berlin Wall came crashing down.”
As they join the force and help to forge some of these new relationships, Mullen urged the graduating class to learn from their fellow airmen. “They and their families are the best they’ve ever been: talented, eager and proud of what they are doing,” he said. “Take full advantage of their knowledge to improve yours.”
Mullen offered some parting advice as the graduating class takes on leadership positions. “Show them your loyalty, and they will show you theirs,” he said. “Demonstrate integrity in everything you do, and they will respect you.
“Tap into your – and their – imagination,” he continued, “and there will be no limit to what you can accomplish.”
Gen. Norton A. Schwartz, Air Force chief of staff; Lt. Gen. Michael Gould, Air Force Academy superintendent; and other academy officials joined Mullen on the stage in presenting diplomas. The cadets raised their right hands as Brig. Gen. Samuel Cox, commandant of cadets, administered the oath of office for the graduates’ commissions as second lieutenants. Before the ceremony, members of the graduating class sat excitedly outside the stadium, awaiting the events they’d worked four years to enjoy.
Emma Przybyslawski, commander of the outstanding cadet squadron for the year, the Cadet Squadron 19 “Wolverines,” grappled to explain the magnitude of the moment. “There are no ways to explain it,” she said. “Sometimes along the way, some of us thought that we might never make it. But we did, and being here is the happiest day of our lives.” Przybyslawski follows a long family tradition of Air Force service. Her grandfather was a World War II pilot, and her father, Maj. Gen. Anthony Przybyslawski, will soon retire as special assistant to the Air Force Space Command commander.
Dreaming of following in their footsteps, Cadet Przybyslawski left the academy after her first year, then realized what she had missed attending a civilian university. “I came crawling back,” she said. “There’s really a sense here of being a part of something bigger than yourself.”
Clarke Sumerel, a Class of 2010 classmate, is excited about heading off to pilot school at Columbus Air Force Base, Miss. He said he’ll take the close friendships he gained at the academy, but more importantly, the leadership lessons he learned from his superiors as well as his peers. He’s ready, he added, to launch his Air Force career, undeterred by the recognition that he’s entering a military at war that will frequently take him far from home and into harm’s way.
“I want to go as soon as I can. That’s why I signed up,” he said. “After all, when you’re on the basketball team and have spent so much time practicing, you don’t want to sit on the bench.”
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)