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Biden: Air Force Academy Grads Face New Challenges

By Terri Moon Cronk
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 29, 2014 – Members of the U.S. Air Force Academy’s Class of 2014 honed their leadership skills amid a culture of commitment and respect -- values they’ll employ as they face the challenges of the future, Vice President Joe Biden told graduating cadets yesterday.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Vice President Joe Biden congratulates Cadet Senior David McCarthy as the top graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy’s Class of 2014 during the commencement ceremony at Falcon Stadium in Colorado Springs, Colo., May 28, 2014. U.S. Air Force photo by Mike Kaplan

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Biden, Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III congratulated each of the new officers as they received their diplomas at the academy in Colorado, Springs, Colorado.

Members of the Class of 2014 have experienced many challenges and changes, Biden said.

“You welcomed gay and lesbian cadets into your ranks with respect. You took a lead in fighting sexual harassment and sexual assault … because honor is your code,” he said.

 “Because of the valor and the incredible sacrifice of your comrades in arms who have gone before you, we've been able to end the war in Iraq. And in Afghanistan, we are bringing America's longest war in our history to a responsible end.”

Yet the end of both wars affords an opportunity to refocus military resources to other parts of the world where the United States faces new challenges, he said.

“Your class has an incredible window of opportunity to lead in shaping a new world order for the 21st century in a way consistent with American interests,” Biden said.

In such a world, he said, the Western Hemisphere “is in a position where it has the possibility of being middle class, democratic and secure from Canada to Chile.”

There’s also an opportunity, he added, for the Pacific Basin to be peaceful and prosperous amid a new competitive but cooperative relationship with China, “where conflict is not inevitable.”

Biden also envisioned “a revitalized global trading order defined by greater integration and economic growth, where barriers are lowered at the borders and behind our borders, generating millions of American jobs.” In such an environment, he said, intellectual property is protected, and major powers come together to deal with challenges.

Yet many challenges persist, Biden said, including violent extremism that is becoming more diffuse. Some countries, he added, will struggle to gain stability after emerging from war-generated chaos. There’ll be challenges to the international order on the high seas and in the skies and emerging threats in cyberspace.

And for the first time in global history, Biden said, the world will see the use of corruption and oligarchs as “a sinister tool” in the conduct of foreign policy.

Such challenges require the United States to stay engaged in the world to lead, and to be a force for positive change, he told the graduates.

It's also necessary, he added, for the United States to have the wisdom and the humility to distinguish between those challenges that warrant acting alone and decisively and those that require building coalitions and marshaling common-cause action.

“It can be done. America has done it before. In a moment of equally great change, the generation that launched this academy 60 years ago did it.”

The leaders of that time knew America had to stay engaged in the world, Biden said.

“They knew that they had lay the foundation for a new world order, a world order that brought the longest period of sustained peace in Europe and Asia and generated the most significant economic growth in the history of mankind.”

Biden pointed out how those leaders helped to write the constitutions of Germany and Japan that led to democratic governments and guaranteed that neither nation would ever possess a nuclear weapon.

“They formed the most significant military alliance in the history of the world, NATO, out of the ashes of war.” They put forth the Truman Doctrine that stopped Soviet expansion. And in the midst of all the sacrifices Americans had made, they supported a Marshall Plan, a sustained multibillion-dollar commitment to put Europe back on its feet, to avoid a repeat of the chaos that followed World War I and led to World War II.”

The “lines of effort” the United States now pursues must continue, Biden said.

“First, our work begins by rebuilding America's foundations -- our economic foundation, our moral and our strategic foundation,” the vice president said.

Part of building that is “the commitment we've made to end torture and to close Guantanamo. We must not only lead by the power of our example, we must lead by the example of our power,” he said.

And the United States is working hard to modernize and strengthen the security foundation of America, Biden said, by helping to revamp NATO to confront 21st-century challenges, revitalizing Pacific alliances with Japan, South Korea and other nations in the region. Such efforts, he added, are in place to maintain and strengthen America’s many military alliances worldwide.

After more than a decade of war, the United States now is able to redeploy its security and intelligence capabilities to focus on other parts of the world from North Africa to Southeast Asia, Biden told the graduates.

“We’re refining our strategy … building up the capacity of our partner countries where terrorists operate and reside, while maintaining the robust capacity to take action when threats are imminent,” he said. “And that means continuing to invest in the unmatched Special Forces and intelligence capabilities of the United States military.”

And the United States is “reinforcing international norms that constitute the global rules of the road … regarding nuclear weapons and weapons of mass destruction, freedom of navigation on both the seas and in the air, norms relating to sovereignty and territorial integrity, and establishing international norms that are still taking shape but are badly needed in the 21st century with respect to cybersecurity, climate change, and global trading,” Biden said.

America is standing up against bullying and aggression in international waters and air space, Biden said.

“[And that’s] why we condemn Russia's violation of Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity,” he said, “and the illegal annexation of the Crimea. And why we will continue to support a democratic Ukraine, and why we're determined to complete international trade agreements to raise the standard of economic conduct in the Atlantic and Pacific, and why we believe it's essential that we make progress on a global framework for climate change.”

Biden said the United States is “rebalancing and deepening our strategic, economic, and diplomatic investments in regions that will shape the century ahead.”

America will remain a Pacific power, the vice president said, noting that power has been essential to the peace and prosperity of the region for seven decades.

“It will be equally essential in the decades ahead to knit together Pacific nations -- from the shores of India to the Americas -- as part of a security and economic order that delivers peace and prosperity and freedom rather than war and conflict,” he added.

And, America “has to remain a force for dignity and relief from suffering,” Biden said. “That's why we have to continue to stand up for basic human rights and democratic principles, speak out against injustice wherever we see it.”

None of this, he told the graduates, can be accomplished “without the finest Air Force in the world: owning the skies, space and cyberspace, providing global reach, global strike capability, nuclear deterrence and command and control. It's all within your grasp and duty.

“You're about to be sworn in as second lieutenants in the finest Air Force the world has ever seen,” Biden continued. “It's your time. You represent the best trained, most powerful, most courageous warriors in the history of the world.”

(Follow Terri Moon Cronk on Twitter: @MoonCronkAFPS


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