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Air Force Academy Grads to Keep Competition From Becoming Conflict

May 26, 2021 | BY C. Todd Lopez , DOD News

Since the end of World War II, there've been many other wars — but not another global war between great powers. The balance and stability that's existed for more than 75 years is now at risk and for recently-commissioned young officers out of the U.S. Air Force Academy, it'll be their job to maintain a now fragile world peace, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff said.

A man in a military uniform stands behind a lectern.
Milley Speaks
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley speaks at the 2021 Air Force Academy Commencement ceremony, May 26, 2021, in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Photo By: DOD Screen Capture
VIRIN: 210526-D-D0439-001M

"We are now in the 76th year of the great power peace following World War II — and the structure is under stress," Army Gen. Mark A. Milley said while speaking to more than 1,000 cadets at the U.S. Air Force Academy commencement ceremony today in Colorado Springs, Colorado. "We can see it fraying at the edge. With history as our guide, we would be wise to lift our gaze from the never-ending urgency of the present, and set the conditions for a future that prevents great power war."

Right now, Milley said, the United States is in great power competition with nations like Russia and China. That competition must not escalate, he told cadets — who will soon be out in the force as second lieutenants.

"We need to keep it [competitive] and avoid great power conflict. Each of you [will] play an important role in keeping the peace. You can expect to be at the edge, many, many times, making hard choices with imperfect information. But you're going to have to keep your guard up against the enduring nature of evolving security challenges. Each and every one of you are going to be fundamental to our nation's defense in the years to come. And it will be you that leads our country safely through the next 20 years."

— Army Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
 After four years at the Air Force Academy, he told them, they move from being students, sons and daughters, to being servants of the nation — ready now to shoulder the burden America places on them.

"Your parents see their sons and daughters on the field before you, but your nation sees lieutenants, sees airmen, sees space Guardians, who will lead our Air Force and our Space Force as pilots and navigators, engineers, intelligence officers, special tactics and combat rescue officers — each one critical to the joint force mission."

Students in military uniforms throw their caps into the air. Overhead, military aircraft fly through the air.
Academy Graduation
Students at the U.S. Air Force Academy throw their caps in the air during the Air Force Academy graduation in Colorado Springs, Colo., May 26, 2021. Shortly after the graduation event, the U.S. Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron "Thunderbirds" performed a fly-over.
Photo By: Air Force Staff Sgt. Laurel M. Richards
VIRIN: 210526-F-YM230-412M

The threat landscape that exists now, Milley said, includes artificial intelligence, robotics, human engineering, hypersonics and long-range precision fires that all provide capability beyond what has ever existed in human history.

As defenders of the nation, Milley said, the new officers will need to be agile and adaptive — they will not have the luxury of time their predecessors might have had to make decisions. The new face of warfare, he said, moves too quickly and changes too unexpectedly. He challenged them to be ready for that.

"The country that masters these technologies, combines them with doctrine and develops the leadership to take advantage of it — the side that does that best — is going to have a decisive advantage at the start of the next war," Milley said. "It's your challenge to be on that side. You will lead us as a nation, not just as an Air Force or a Space Force."