By Staff Sgt. Don Branum
Academy Public Affairs
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff delivered the commencement for Graduation 2010 in Falcon Stadium before a reported crowd of 29,682 here May 26.
Navy Adm. Mike Mullen is the first Joint Chiefs chairman to speak at an Air Force Academy graduation ceremony in the Academy’s 55-year history.
“Let me be among the first to congratulate you and thank you, Class of 2010,” said Admiral Mullen, who has previously served as chief and vice chief of naval operations and commander of U.S. Naval Forces Europe. “While I’m at it, let me take this opportunity to thank … fathers and mothers, brothers, sisters and grandparents, who I know have been incredibly supportive and loving over the course of these four years, and indeed, over the course of your entire lives.”
The admiral thanked the staff and faculty of the Academy for their role in developing today’s second lieutenants and congratulated 2nd Lt. Brittany Morreale for earning a Rhodes Scholarship.
“I’ll bet many in the staff here would love to hear from all of you graduates in the future – and after spending four years with you, they’d also like you to know that by ‘the future,’ they mean at least four years from now when they’ve recovered,” Admiral Mullen joked.
The admiral devoted much of his 25-minute commencement talking about the commitment to which graduates have sworn themselves.
“I believe people in this country truly feel they owe you for what you have done and what you are about to do,” he said. “But today, I want to talk about what you owe them. I want to talk about duty – your duty.”
Duty, Admiral Mullen said, is the common theme for each of the Academy’s 1,001 graduates.
“You come from all 50 states and territories, from different backgrounds and cultures, different families, different faiths,” he said, “and I’m proud to note you’re graduating students from 15 other countries as well. Today, as you walk up on stage, the differences among you may still mean something. Tomorrow, they won’t. The only thing that matters is duty, and yours will be great.”
The graduates will lead an Air Force that has been on the front lines since the first Persian Gulf War, Admiral Mullen said. More than 30,000 Airmen are currently deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, with 5,000 of them filling Joint Expeditionary Taskings outside their normal Air Force specialties.
“They’re pulling security duty, running logistics flights, leading civil engineering squadrons and managing transportation and convoy systems,” he said. “Indeed, more than half of the 14 U.S.-led Provincial Reconstruction Teams in Afghanistan are led by Air Force officers, including one in the Panjshir Valley led by Lt. Col. Curtis Velasquez, Class of ‘93. I have visited many of these teams myself, and they are doing amazing things, not only for the mission but for the people of Afghanistan.”
However, some Academy graduates – company grade officers like 1st Lts. Joseph Helton and Roslyn Schulte – cannot come home. Lieutenant Schulte was killed in May 2009, and Lieutenant Helton was killed in September.
“We’ve been a nation at war for nearly half your young lives. It’s a reality you’ve literally grown up with,” Admiral Mullen said. “And yet, here you are, ready to step into the breach, ready to face the enemy’s fire and ready to take your place in the Long Blue Line that has preceded you. That you do so, knowing full well the risks and rewards of military service, speaks volumes not only of your character but also of your courage.
“Roz did her duty. Joseph Helton did his duty. Every Airman, every Soldier, Marine, Sailor and Coastguardsman out there today is doing his or her duty. And tomorrow, so shall you. So must you,” he continued. “The stakes are too high if you don’t.”
The officers’ first duty is to be proficient in their career fields, Admiral Mullen said.
“Some of you will learn to fly; some will learn how to collect and analyze intelligence,” he said. Others will become specialists in logistics, manpower or other Air Force specialties. “I encourage you to become experts in them. Know them cold – know them better than your peers, even better than your superiors. Learn to predict when and how things will change, because pretty soon, you’re going to be on the leading edge of that change. You’re going to be responsible for making sure those you command and those you serve are informed and able to make the best decisions they can with little or no notice.”
Their second duty is to lead – which includes loyalty, strength of character, integrity and imagination, Admiral Mullen said.
“When you think about it, imagination has been the key to our success as a nation and without question the root of the success of the Air Force,” he said. “It was imagination that drove you from propellers to jets … and from manned to unmanned aircraft. Imagination set you free to explore the wild idea of supersonic flight, which today we take for granted, and to expand into the realm of space, which today forms the backbone for all our communications and navigation. It’s frightening to think where we would be without pioneers like Hap Arnold, Jimmy Doolittle, Chuck Yeager or John Boyd.”
The graduates’ final duty, Admiral Mullen said, is to listen – to one’s instinct and to others.
“As President Barack Obama said at West Point, ‘The burdens of this century cannot fall on America’s shoulders alone.’ No one military, no one nation, can do it alone anymore, and no one nation has the corner on the good ideas market. We need each other in ways we could not have imagined when the Berlin Wall came crashing down,” he said.
Admiral Mullen concluded his speech by advising cadets that their four years at the Academy marks only the end of the beginning of their education.
“The Air Force is now your classroom, and Airmen are your instructors,” he said. “Take full advantage of their knowledge to improve yours. Show them your loyalty, and they will show you theirs. Demonstrate integrity in everything you do, and they will respect you. Tap into your and their imaginations, and there will be no limit to what you can accomplish.
“Only by the support of those you lead can you become a leader yourself. Only by doing your duty, straight and true, can you hope to prove worthy of the trust this nation places in you today,” he said. “Best of luck to each and every one of you and your families. God bless and congratulations.”