Mattis Welcomes 983 New Lieutenants Into Air Force

May 23, 2018 | BY Jim Garamone , DOD News
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Defense Secretary James N. Mattis told the 983 graduating cadets from the U.S. Air Force Academy that now their missions commence and he expects them to follow in the footsteps of giants.

Mattis was the commencement speaker at the Colorado Springs, Colorado, school.

The secretary told the graduates that they must make the Air Force better every day. “You must make it into your own image and you have a legacy to carry forward,” he said.

VIDEO | 00:34 | Defense Secretary Tells U.S. Air Force Academy Graduates to Lead, Take Charge

The retired Marine Corps general told the cadets that they must lead by example as they enter the force. “More than any other piece of your leadership, it will be your example that most inspires and shapes our Air Force for the future,” he said.

While the new lieutenants will be the future of the force, they should look to the past for examples, the secretary said. He pointed to the Doolittle Raiders of World War II who lifted the spirits of a shocked country by launching a bombing attack on Japan from an aircraft carrier. He pointed to the bombing attacks against oil production targets in Ploesti, Romania, during World War II that sought to strangle the Nazi war machine and which took incredible casualties to accomplish the mission.

The secretary also pointed to the 41 Air Force aerial aces from the Korean War, and the graduates of the class of 1968, who a few short months after graduating, found themselves flying high-performance jets over North Vietnam.

The members of the class of 2018 may find themselves flying in defense of America and its values in the complex skies over Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, he said. “I share this because of the legacy that is now entrusted to you: the warrior ethos and the fierce character that you now inherit as your own character will now have to stand between us and some of the forces that would take our democracy and liberty away,” he said.

For decades, American ground and naval forces could operate knowing that the United States Air Force was overhead “protecting them like guardian angels,” Mattis said.

VIDEO | 01:25 | Mattis Highlights Bravery, Victories at Air Force Academy Commencement

Air Superiority Survives

“Each of you is now responsible that American air superiority survives in a world of renewed competition,” the secretary said.

The cadets could have gone to any other college in the country, but they chose the academy and the Air Force. “You now stand ready to hold the line to protect America’s experiment in democracy with all the cunning, ferocity and grit you have inside you,” he said. “As you step into your new roles, my expectation for you is quite simple – always be ready to fight and to win. There is no room for complacency as our adversaries will do everything in their power to erode our military’s competitive edge and even less room for a sense of cynicism or victimhood.

“It is now your responsibility that our adversaries know they should always prefer to talk to our Department of State rather than face the U.S. Air Force,” he said.