Newly minted 2nd Lieutenants Catlin Butterfield, David Drennan and Kandi Hendershied pin second lieutenant bars on each other during the 2007 U.S. Air Force Academy graduation ceremony May 30 in Colorado Springs, Colo. (U.S. Air Force photo/Mike Kaplan)
Newly minted 2nd Lt. David Drennan pins second lieutenant bars on Catlin Butterfield during the 2007 U.S. Air Force Academy graduation ceremony May 30 in Colorado Springs, Colo. (U.S. Air Force photo/Mike Kaplan)
Newly minted 2nd Lieutenants Catlin Butterfield, David Drennan and Kandi Hendershied celebrate during the 2007 U.S. Air Force Academy graduation ceremony May 30 in Colorado Springs, Colo. (U.S. Air Force photo/Mike Kaplan)
Newly minted 2nd Lt. Heather Moe waves and talks to her family as they celebrate her graduation during the 2007 U.S. Air Force Academy graduation ceremony May 30 in Colorado Springs, Colo. (U.S. Air Force photo/Dennis Rogers)
Newly minted 2nd Lt. Eric Goldman holds up his diploma for his friends and family to see during the 2007 U.S. Air Force Academy graduation ceremony May 30 in Colorado Springs, Colo. (U.S. Air Force photo/Mike Kaplan)
Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates walks across the Falcon Stadium field May 30 at the start of the 2007 U.S. Air Force Academy graduation ceremony in Colorado Springs, Colo. Dr. Gates was the commencement speaker. (U.S. Air Force photo/Mike Kaplan)
Secretary of the Air Force Michael W. Wynne walks into Falcon Stadium at the start of the 2007 U.S. Air Force Academy graduation ceremony May 30 in Colorado Springs, Colo. (U.S. Air Force photo/Mike Kaplan)
by Butch Wehry
U S. Air Force Academy Public Affairs
5/30/2007 - U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. (AFPN) -- "Willingness always to take the right path, even if it is the hard path, is called character," Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates told the 977 graduating members of the U.S. Air Force Academy's Class of 2007.
The challenges graduates will face will test both their spirit and resolve, Secretary Gates said.
"At the academy you have undoubtedly heard much about what it takes to be a leader," he said. "The time for words has now passed. From this day forward, you will have to demonstrate that you can live up to the standards you were taught, that you can perform in a military that is unique in the world in terms of how heavily it relies on the judgment and integrity of junior officers. I can tell you that it will rarely, if ever, be easy."
The Department of Defense's top official was commissioned as an Air Force second lieutenant in 1966. By that time, the importance of airpower was a universally accepted fact. But people forget the reservations many people had against the concept of airpower.
"Since then and throughout the 60-year history of the Air Force, Americans have stood in awe as Airmen pushed the limits of technology and courage," he said. "Airmen have crashed through the sound barrier many times over and extended the range, scope, and nature of air missions beyond what anyone could have imagined, to the point of running 7,000-mile B-2 bombing sorties in Iraq from Whiteman Air Force Base, (Mo.), where I was assigned to a Minuteman missile wing some 40 years ago."
Coming to the U.S. Air Force Academy was not an easy path, acknowledged the secretary.
"You are one of the first classes to begin the arduous process of applying to the academy since September 11th," he told them. "You knew the dangers of the world you were entering, but you still chose to step forward. You still chose to embark on the journey that brings us here today."
Graduates will face enemies who possess no conscience and no remorse, who will lie about and distort their actions and who will purposefully blur the line between civilians and combatants, Secretary Gates said.
"You will not always know who your enemies are," he continued. "You will not always be able to understand their motivations, and you will not always be able to rely exclusively on technology to win battles or wars.
"There is only one way to conduct yourself in this world, only one way to remain always above reproach," he said. "For a real leader, the elements of personal virtue -- self-reliance, self-control, honor, truthfulness, morality -- are absolute.
They are absolute," the secretary continued, "even when doing what is right may bring embarrassment or bad publicity to your unit or the service, even when doing what is right requires sacrificing personal allegiances and friendships for professional duty and ethics. Those are the moments that will truly test the leader within you, test whether you will take the hard path or the easy path, the wrong path or the right path."
The secretary encouraged the soon-to-be lieutenants to apply character in their everyday lives.
"In every aspect of your life, whether personal or professional, you must always maintain the courage of your convictions, your personal integrity," Secretary Gates said. "More often than not, doing this involves traveling a difficult, lonely road."
It is by no means an easy future, he said.
"We are engaged in two wars on the other side of the world and we are engaged in a global ideological struggle against some of the most barbaric enemies we have ever faced," the secretary said.
"There are many threats on the horizon, both of a traditional and non-traditional nature, and as always there are the threats that still lie beyond the horizon, threats we cannot even yet perceive," he said. "The true measure of leadership is how you react when the wind leaves your sails, when the tide turns against you. If at those times you hold true to your standards, then you will always succeed. If only in knowing you stayed true and honorable.
"We expect great things from you in the years and decades ahead," the secretary said. "The safety of the nation is in your hands and there is nowhere else the American people would rather it be."