Gates Urges New Air Force Leaders to Think Creatively
By John D. Banusiewicz
American Forces Press Service
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo., Mar. 4, 2011 Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates urged U.S. Air Force Academy cadets here today to have the courage to speak up as they move forward as the next generation of military leaders.
“As officers, you will need to show great flexibility, agility, resourcefulness and imagination,” Gates said. “Because your Air Force will face different kinds of conflict than it has prepared for during the past six decades, it will need leaders who think creatively and decisively in the manner of Air Force legends like Billy Mitchell, Hap Arnold, Bernard Schriever and John Boyd.
“You will need to challenge conventional wisdom and call things as you see them to subordinates and superiors alike,” he added.
Accountability is another important quality for leaders, the secretary told the cadets.
“Great leaders embrace accountability in all they do, and are willing to accept criticism from within or outside their organization,” Gates said. “Holding leaders to a high standard of performance and ethics is a credit to the Air Force. But to meet that standard going forward, you must have the discipline to cultivate integrity and moral courage from here at the academy, and then from your earliest days as a commissioned officer.
“Those qualities do not suddenly emerge fully developed overnight, or as a revelation after you have assumed important responsibilities,” the secretary continued. “They have their roots in small decisions you will make here and early in your career and must be strengthened all along the way. And you must always ensure that your moral courage serves the greater good -- that it serves what is best for the nation and our highest values, not a particular program or ego or service parochialism.”
Gates thanked the cadets for choosing the military path in a time of war, knowing they would be at war.
“For my part,” he said, “know that I feel personally responsible for each and every one of you, as if you were my own sons and daughters, and will for as long as I am secretary of defense. My only prayer is that you serve with honor and return home safely.”
The secretary plans to retire this year, and told the cadets that today’s visit to the Air Force Academy would be his last as defense secretary. After his speech, Gates, the former president of Texas A&M University, taught a political science seminar and a class on the politics of national security.