Mr. Vice President [Dick Cheney], thank you so much for being here today. We appreciate it and value your presence. Ladies and gentlemen; [outgoing Air Force Chief of Staff] General Mike Ryan, Jane [Ryan], members of the Ryan family; [incoming Air Force Chief of Staff] General [John] Jumper, Ellen [Jumper], and the members of the Jumper family. Senator Stevens and members of the House and Senate gathered here—we thank you for joining us. [Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff] General [Hugh] and Mrs. Shelton; [Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs] General [Richard] and Mrs. Myers; the members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the combatant commanders, former leaders of the Air Force I see gathered in the audience. And all the leaders and distinguished guests, civilian and military, from around the world who’ve traveled to be here today for this very special occasion; and most especially, as General Shelton said, the men and women of the United States Air Force.
General [Hap] Arnold once said that the way to stay on the battle’s leading edge is to "think in terms of tomorrow." Those words could well apply to our friend Mike Ryan. Mike’s a man who not only thinks in terms of tomorrow, but he’s a man, to the great benefit of the Air Force, who is grounded and rooted in integrity. Mike’s outlook, I’m sure, came from a life of service dedicated to his country that grew from a very proud family tradition of military service, as Secretary [of the Air Force Jim] Roche mentioned.
His father, Jack Ryan—a combat pilot in the Second World War—went on to see the rise of the modern Air Force and then to lead it as Chief of Staff during the war in Vietnam. Mike’s brother, Jack Jr., was at his side at the Air Force Academy and later flying F-4s. They shared squadron life and combat missions over Vietnam. And Mike’s son, Sean, has also worn the Air Force blue. Indeed the Ryans’ two sons and two daughters have each built rich and productive lives—lives that reflect the values of integrity and duty so important to their parents.
We retrieved a copy of Mike’s Air Force Academy yearbook and discovered that, 36 years later, that mischievous smile and gleam in his eye that suggest a wonderful sense of humor are still exactly the same.
Beside his youthful picture it says that Mike went to the Academy "determined to make his mark." Mike, you have certainly succeeded. More than a hundred combat missions. A squadron and a wing commander. Director of the NATO air combat operation in Bosnia. Commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe, and ultimately, Chief of Staff of the United States Air Force.
During General Ryan’s four years as leader of the Air Force, he has worked tirelessly for America’s airmen—for he knows that you, those gathered here and across the globe, are the heart and soul of every success. He led the transition to an Expeditionary Aerospace Force, bringing more stability and predictability.
He applied the lessons of his past—from those of Vietnam, to those gleaned from the skies over Bosnia and Kosovo—and worked to provide what is needed to best serve our nation.
General Ryan has indeed left his mark—and the legacy of this smart, tough leader will be measured for decades to come in lives saved and in victories won. We know that, as we honor Mike today, somewhere certainly, his father, and his brother are watching and are enormously proud.
And though we gather here today to mark the completion of this outstanding general’s 36 years of service, there’s one Ryan here who can claim an even longer affiliation. And so, today we also honor Jane.
I’m told that Mike’s career really started kind of slow. But it took off like a rocket when he was a member of the Air Force Academy’s Choir. He traveled to Loretta Heights Catholic Girls’ School to sing High Mass, and he met Jane. It was divine intervention [laughter].
Jane’s been through literally every day of this extraordinary career that spans some 20 assignments. Like so many military families, you and your four children have endured long periods of separation, and the difficulty of seeing Mike off on dangerous missions. So, Jane, we honor you, and we thank you—for your service as well.
Filling Mike Ryan’s shoes is no easy task. Like his predecessor and friend, General John Jumper was also born to be an airman: his father was an Air Force pilot, and made sure that John had flight time in planes like the legendary P-51 Mustang by the time he’d reached the ripe age of three.
Once he was "formally" in the Air Force, General Jumper served in a series of challenging posts that has schooled him in the lessons of leadership: combat missions in Vietnam, command positions in the squadron and wing levels, to the U.S. Air Forces in Europe and the Air Combat Command. General Jumper understands that we’re living in a period of transition, when the threats of the Cold War have receded, and the new challenges of the 21st Century have not yet fully emerged. He will continue to lead the transition of our Air Force that General Ryan began—from a force that won the Cold War to a force for the 21st Century—one that can face challenges from sources that we cannot yet know. And so, John and Ellen, we congratulate you and we welcome you.
I mentioned a story to General Ryan the other day that has an important message about service—and certainly all those gathered here understand the importance of service. I said, Mike, on the day when you no longer put on your uniform, think about the old soldier who went home after a life of service. He looked around, he saw how his hometown had prospered, and said to his wife, "You know, maybe I should have stayed here. Look at the parks, the factories, the schools, the banks, the new homes. It’s a good place."
His wife replied: "Yes, but you made it possible for all this to happen."
So Mike, remember that. Every time you see youngsters playing and having a good time, couples starting out, a safer world, a more prosperous world, and most of all, a world of freedom, it is, in no small part, because of you and the magnificent Air Force team that you have helped to build and lead. Mike, we all join in thanking you for your remarkable service. To Jane and to you, good luck and Godspeed. [Applause.]