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Joint Chiefs Chairman Addresses Air Force Academy Cadets

By Butch Wehry
Special to American Forces Press Service

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo., Feb. 25, 2005 – Two incompatible visions locked in a struggle for hearts and minds pose a special challenge to present and future military leaders, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told cadets here Feb. 24.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, addresses the U.S. Air Force Academy's 12th Annual National Character and Leadership Symposium on Feb. 24. Photo by Danny Meyers

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

Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers spoke extensively to cadets about today's leadership environment during the U.S. Air Force Academy's National Character and Leadership Symposium.

"These are very serious times," Myers said. "There are two incompatible visions out there in the world."

One vision, he said, is known very well: religious tolerance, justice, freedom and hope. "The other vision we know very well is the one espoused by the zealots in this world, the perpetrators of the 9/11 tragedy -- injustice, intolerance, violence, tyranny, terror, fear," said the chairman.

"And those two are opposing, and that's the environment we're in," the general told the cadets. "What it demands is absolute stalwart leadership. We've got to be very strong in these times."

He noted that Islamic extremists have stated it is every Muslim's job to kill Americans. "Now, clearly, not every Muslim believes that, but there are people out there that do believe that," said the chairman. "I think it's pretty clear that if they can get their hands on weapons more devastating than airplanes, they would use them. Your imagination needs to run just a little bit wild before you figure out that that could be quite nasty."

Myers cited his 3-year-old granddaughter, and said leadership holds the key to the kind of world she will live in. "You know what we all want, and what I want for my granddaughter," he said. "I want her to grow up in a place where you are free -- free from things like fear. And that's only going to come true for her, and for your families and friends, and for our allies and everyone on the planet if we have really strong leadership."

The chairman told cadets and others in Arnold Hall that future leadership is going to have to be agile, yet flexible qualities he illustrated with an anecdote from Iraq.

"A lieutenant colonel and his troops were at the site of one of the holiest places in Islam," Myers said. "He was confronted by an angry crowd. He immediately told his men to point their rifles at the ground.

"I said, 'Why did you do that?'" the general continued. "He said, 'Well, they obviously thought that we were dishonoring the place by coming here, and so we showed them respect, and it probably saved lots of lives.' I bet the doctrine didn't say to do that, but that's agile leadership."

Myers told the cadets of an Army lieutenant who grew as a leader in Iraq. "He said, 'You know, I came over here to fight in Iraq, but I found out that we're involved in a lot more than just fighting,'" said the general. "He said, 'We can help the Iraqi people in so many different ways. I've come to realize that I'm a soldier and a leader, and somewhere down the line I am an artilleryman.'"

Innovation will be a key to future leadership, the nation's top military officer told the cadets, but he added that one quality still stands out as the most important for any leader.

"If there's one trait that I think is important for anyone in the military, and I think it's important for any walk of life, it's integrity," Myers said. "It's particularly important in the military, because we count on each other for our well-being. We work together as a team; it's always teamwork. If somebody doesn't think you have integrity, you're no use to the team, and you'll be asked to leave, and you will not be effective."

The chairman told the cadets he was once on a board to select students to attend a weapons school when he was handed a letter from a senior official wanting an individual to be selected. The board was supposed to be immune from the "good old boy network," he said.

"So I went for a cup of coffee to think about it for a minute," the chairman said. "Then I told my wing commander, 'Hey, I'm down here on this board, and I got this input that I don't think is permissible.' So you make decisions," he said.

"In my life," the general continued, "this would have been a pretty important person not to irritate. I got together with the colonel in charge, and we decided the board could not enter this letter and we'd see how it came out. Well, it came out the way you would suspect: The individual did not make it on this list."

Myers told the 2,000 cadets they can expect to face similar dilemmas that will put their integrity to the test. And he said it wouldn't always be comfortable to maintain their integrity.

"I didn't know exactly what to say," the general said about the selection board incident. "You've all been confronted with that sort of situation." He said he called the senior official, and an "unpleasant" phone talk followed.

"Life goes on," Myers said. "My guess is that you'll have many more opportunities to make those judgments."

(Butch Wehry is assigned to U.S. Air Force Academy public affairs.)

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Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff

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