Air Force Secretary Praises, Advises Graduating Cadets
By Amaani Lyle
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May. 29, 2013 As more than 1,000 cadets prepared to graduate today from the U.S. Air Force Academy, at Colorado Springs, Colo., Air Force Secretary Michael B. Donley commended them for succeeding at one of the most “demanding and prestigious universities in the world.”
Air Force Secretary Michael B. Donley congratulates Cadet Zebulon Hanley as the top graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy Class of 2013 during the commencement ceremony in Colorado Springs, Colo., May 29, 2013. U.S. Air Force photo by Mike Kaplan
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Donley also advised the newly-minted Air Force second lieutenants to learn their jobs and be good leaders during a period of great opportunity and rapid change.
“We face a challenging and dynamic strategic environment and Air Force capabilities are in high demand,” Donley said. “As a new officer, we are counting on you to use your education and training to the fullest.”
Donley assured the cadets that the Air Force will be an enduring source of strength for the nation as they begin their careers as military leaders.
“You will have a precious opportunity to shape the future of the Air Force you will someday lead,” Donley said.
While education and leadership advice should remain cornerstones of the cadets’ development, Donley also spoke of the value of obtaining advice from seasoned noncommissioned officers.
“I would also encourage you to welcome mentorship from members of our senior noncommissioned officer corps,” Donley said. “One of the best things you can do at your new duty assignment is to find a respected senior NCO, buy them a cup of coffee and soak-in their wisdom.”
Donley then reviewed the current world situation, noting that as military operations in Iraq have concluded and operations in Afghanistan are drawing down, uncertainty persists regarding North Korea, Syria, Iran and elsewhere.
“With the rebalance to the Asia-Pacific and our continued presence in the Middle East and Africa, we expect Air Force capabilities to remain central to our nation’s security in the years and decades ahead,” he said.
The secretary also noted that the Air Force faces fiscal difficulties.
“Defense spending reductions mandated by the Budget Control Act followed by sequestration cuts are seriously undermining our efforts to maintain military readiness and modernize our aircraft fleets, satellites, weapon systems and other critical equipment,” Donley said.
Still, Donley urged the cadets not to be distracted by budget debates in Washington as Air Force leaders continue to work through the issues.
“Our responsibility is to ensure that this nation retains the world’s best Air Force with whatever level of resources is provided,” he said.
Donley said this year’s Air Force Academy graduating class boasts “academic all-stars,” noting that 114 members have received scholarships they’ll use for their graduate studies this fall. Of these, he added, 45 cadets won nationally competitive scholarships, 17 will enter the academy’s Cadet Graduate School Program and 21 will attend the acquisition accession program. Another 25 cadets will go on to study in the medical and health care professions.
The class, Donley said, also excelled in a broad range of athletic competition, including hockey, water polo, wrestling, women’s basketball and track and field.
Beyond traditional athletics, Donley added, cadets were involved in new kinds of 21st-century competition.
“The cyber competition team led by members of the class of 2013 received national and international recognition at multiple cyber-defense contests,” he said. “And recently, 15 cadets … developed an award-winning design for a vertical take-off and landing aircraft, besting the competitors from West Point and the Naval Academy.”
The secretary lauded the Air Force’s rich tradition of upholding the highest standards of service, namely through its core values: “Integrity First, Service Before Self, and Excellence in All We Do” which he said define the character of the Air Force just as freedom defines America.
But the character of the Air Force, Donley said, is under scrutiny by some.
“The scourge of sexual assault is inconsistent with our core values,” he said. “It is an affront to every airman and every individual who wears the uniform and it must not be tolerated.”
The cadets have received training on how to avoid and intervene on situations that can lead to such crimes, in addition to Air Force efforts to deter sexual assault, encourage reporting, support victims and hold perpetrators accountable.
“But policies and initiatives are not enough,” the secretary emphasized. “Each of you is responsible for the character of this Air Force and its reputation and I therefore charge you to serve with integrity.”
Wherever cadets travel in the Air Force and for as long as they serve, he said, their oath to their country and fellow service members will endure through the ages.
“It will bind you together with the generation of Americans before you who have worn our nation’s cloth and sacrificed their personal comfort and even their lives in the defense of freedom,” Donley said. “It will bind you and your individual story to the future success and security of our nation.”