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Remarks by Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III at the U.S. Air Force Academy Graduation (As Delivered)

Good morning.

Before I begin this morning, I wish to extend my condolences and those of the entire Department to the people of Uvalde. All of us here today are moms and dads, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters. And our hearts break for them and for the unspeakable grief that they are enduring. We cannot assuage that grief. We know that. But we can endeavor to keep them and the loved ones they lost close to our hearts and deep in our prayers. So today, we are all citizens of Uvalde.  

Well, thank you, Secretary Kendall, for that kind introduction.

I’m also delighted to be joined by General Raymond and General and Mrs. Brown. You know, it takes an exceptional team to produce exceptional leaders. So let me thank General Clark, Brigadier Generals Moga and Letendre, Chief Master Sergeant Sparks, and the academy’s faculty and staff for the tremendous work that they have done. Let’s give them another round of applause.

[Applause]

Now, Class of 2022—

[Class shouts, “Chap!”]

—You’re all here to get an important promotion.

So let me be the first to make it official. Congratulations, Lieutenants.

[Cheers and applause]

It’s going to take a little while to sink in. But that’s where we’re headed.

Now Supe, before we continue, I’d like to get one piece of business out of the way.

In coordination with yourself and the Commandant of Cadets, I hereby waive any confinements and restrictions from minor cadet disciplinary system violations during the academic year, up to the start of today’s ceremony.

[Applause]

You know, I’ve wanted to do that ever since I was a cadet.

[Laughter]

Lieutenants, it’s great to join all of you here at Falcon Stadium.

The view here at the foot of the Rockies is absolutely breathtaking. Or maybe that’s just the altitude.

[Laughter]

Graduating from this academy is a huge achievement.

And your families and loved ones walked this journey with you and held you up with their love and their support. They’ve done so much to make today possible. So, we’ve already applauded them once, let’s give them another round of applause.

[Applause]

Class of 2022—

[Class shouts, “Chap!”]

—you have shown outstanding talent, guts, and grit. And today, you proudly join the next generation of Air Force and Space Force leaders.

You’ve completed one of the most rigorous academic workloads in the country. We’ve got Holaday Scholars and Marshall Scholars here. Champion debaters. Engineers and inventors.

And your achievements go far beyond academics. You conquered the “O” course and the “A” course as well as the slopes of Keystone and Breckenridge.

[Applause]

You survived the dreaded “Jack’s hack.” You beat Recognition. And you overcame the irresistible draw of your red blankets during M-5. 

You’ve excelled in sports. We’ve got conference champions here in swimming, in soccer, in water polo, gymnastics, and more.

And I hear that we even have a national champion in the freshman class. Soon-to-be Cadet Third Class Scott Rockett beat out the country’s best in air rifle—including an Olympian medalist. Let’s give Scott a hand.

[Applause]

Now, that’s a great name—Scott Rockett. I’m sure you’re already being recruited by the Space Force. 

[Laughter]

But Scott, the way that you shoot, the Army and the Marines are looking for you too.

Now, graduating from this academy is hard enough without a global pandemic. And graduating after years of being clouded by COVID shows serious courage and character.

I know that it’s been a time of challenge and loss for many of you. I know how hard it was to be sent home during your sophomore year and to have to finish a service-academy curriculum online.

But what counts, what counts is how you respond to hard times. And I’m told that during lockdown, you kept this wing flying. And you insisted on taking care of each other.

Your class motto is “Strength and Sacrifice.” And during a once-in-a-generation pandemic, that’s exactly what you showed.

So before you even graduated, you passed your first test of leadership. So I want everyone in the audience here to give the Class of 2022 another round of applause.

[Applause]

Now, I’d like to offer you five pieces of advice as you start careers that I know will be outstanding.

First, always remember that you didn’t just join any Air Force. You joined the United States Air Force.

[Applause]

You’re not just any Guardians. You’re United States Guardians.

[Applause]

We’re here to defend America’s security and win America’s wars. But we’re also here to safeguard America’s values.

So that means a love of service—to your classmates, to your community, and to your country. It means that you’ll never lie, cheat, or steal. It means that you treat everyone with dignity and respect. And it means a lifelong passion for our core values of democracy, liberty, and the rule of law.

Your country expects it. Your troops deserve it. And your world needs it.

Lieutenants, these principles will be your North Star. And they will always, always guide you home.

So that brings me to my second point.

Our times change. Our world changes. But our ideals never waver.

And in just four years, you’ve seen more change than many see in a lifetime. A pandemic reminded us that some of this century’s biggest threats don’t even notice borders. America’s longest war—one that spanned nearly all of your lifetimes—came to an end. And Russia’s cruel and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine dragged Europe into its largest security crisis since World War II.

Today, America’s adversaries are testing the very values that you swore to defend.

Putin’s war of choice is an affront to the rules-based international order. And it’s a challenge to free people everywhere.

But the world has been inspired by the bravery of the Ukrainian people. And I know that you have been as well.

We’re standing strong with Ukraine as it defends its democracy and its sovereignty. And I hope that their fight reminds us all that we should never take our freedoms for granted.

As the late, great Congressman John Lewis used to say,

“Democracy is not a state. It’s an act, and each generation must do its part.”

Your class, and your generation, now stand ready to do your part.

As President Biden has said, the United States leads not just by the example of our power but by the power of our example.

So Lieutenants, I want you to think about the example that you will set. By your conduct. By your courage. And by your devotion to the Constitution.

That brings me to a third lesson.

In uniform or as a civilian, I’ve learned that lasting success comes through teamwork.

You’ve seen that in this class. We just get more done when we come together.

As President Eisenhower said in 1959 at the North Atlantic Council, “Look at the hand. Each finger in and of itself is not a very good instrument for either defense or offense, but close it in a fist, and it can become a very formidable weapon of defense.”

And that’s why America’s unrivaled network of allies and partners is so important.

They’re crucial to what I call integrated deterrence. They extend our strength, they magnify our power, and they deepen our security.

So I’m especially glad that we have 16 graduates from allied and partner countries here with us today. I want to thank you all for being on the team. And ladies and gentlemen, let’s give them a round of applause.

[Applause]

You know, the power of partnership has helped us rush aid to let Ukraine defend itself.

And in the Indo-Pacific, it’s helping us to counter aggressive behavior from the People’s Republic of China which our new National Defense Strategy calls the pacing challenge for the U.S. military.

You’ll see the power of teamwork as Airmen, Guardians, and warfighters. And it is central to our strength.

You know, in 2003, early in the Iraq War, my division was pushing toward Baghdad on the ground. And above us, an Air Force Lieutenant Colonel named Richard Clark and his squadron were in the skies, and they were putting bombs on target.

Thanks to your Supe, nobody ever came close to us back then. And no one comes close to us today. And thanks to all of you, no one will come close to us tomorrow. 

[Applause]

Here’s a fourth lesson—and it evokes the spirit of the Air Force and the Space Force.

You’re joining services that are relentless about innovation and restless for ways to push the envelope.

Lieutenants, innovation is the ballgame for the 21st century. And countries either lead or they get left behind.

So we’re lucky to have your hunger for progress.

This class includes Andrew Panzarella, and Joshua Krutz, and Jim Wang. I’m told you developed a great app to automatically track key statistics across the wing, from evaluation scores to parking tickets to room inspections. Of course, I know no one here ever failed a room inspection. 

In fact, this class helped produce 18 patents—including one for 3-D printed spacecraft shielding.

So as the Department weaves together our concepts and capabilities in new and networked ways, we’re going to call on you.

You can count on it.

And that forward-looking spirit shines especially bright in our newest service, the Space Force.

One former Airman, Jay Raymond, became Guardian number one and the first Chief of Space Operations. And the first female General in the Space Force is an Academy graduate, Lieutenant General Nina Armagno, Class of ’88.

These outstanding leaders have helped stand up a service that is digital and driven and rooted in innovation and ingenuity. 

Today, the Space Force and the Air Force are working on what’s called Joint All-Domain Command and Control—a concept that will allow the Joint Force to work better across every potential domain of conflict.

You know, we can’t possibly know what challenges and surprises tomorrow will bring. But I’m going to report to the President with great pride that we now have 973 brand-new U.S. Air Force Academy graduates to tackle those challenges—with the right training and the right spirit.

Now, one final piece of advice. And trust me on this: discipline matters.

So work hard. Master your craft. And stay focused.

As cadets, you’re no strangers to putting in the reps and sets that it takes to be successful. As Lieutenants, I hope that you’ll keep up that persistence.

As your Supe has noted, your class exemplar, General Chappie James, believed that nothing was more important than preparation.

General James liked to quote his mother, who taught him,

“You be prepared with your bags of knowledge, your patriotism, your honor, and when somebody opens the door, you charge in.”

For four years, Lieutenants, you’ve been packing those bags.

Today, that door opens.

And it’s time to charge in.

Now, you’re going to face hard decisions. But this academy has taught you how to make those decisions.

And I know that you’re ready—and I know that you’re ready because I see academy graduates shine every day.

When I travel the world—from Eastern Europe to the Indo-Pacific to remote bases—I see young lieutenants and captains just like yourselves.

Last year, your fellow graduates played a significant role as the United States evacuated 124,000 people from Afghanistan—the largest air evacuation of civilians in our country’s history.

Young service members showed courage, skill, and deep humanity. And they got plane after plane into the sky.

And as we speak, Airmen are working with our allies on air policing in the skies over Europe. And Guardians are ensuring that warfighters across the joint force have satellite communications and precision navigation. And pilots with TRANSCOM are moving heaven and earth to rush urgently needed security assistance to Ukraine.

Those missions couldn’t be—couldn’t possibly be—more important.

And we can carry them out because of the extraordinary services that you are joining—services which provide “airpower anytime, anywhere” with spacepower “always above.”

You know, no other military can do what we can do. Because no other military has people like you. 

Lieutenants, when we’re earthbound, it’s easy to lose perspective—to get caught up in the day-to-day.

But there’s a clarity that comes with flight.

In every respect, you rise above. You don’t get bogged down in the ugliness or division. Because you’re always chasing new horizons.

You move faster, you see further, and you fly higher.

All of you have answered your country’s call—with courage and commitment, with tenacity and teamwork, and with strength and sacrifice.

You know, with outstanding young leaders like the Class of 2022—

[Class shouts, “Chap!”]

—the future of our country is bright.

Congratulations, Lieutenants.

May God bless you and your families. May God bless all our troops. And may God bless the United States of America.

Thank you very much.