USA — Mullen Offers Leadership Challenges to AF Academy Grads

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)