U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY — Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin with a brief, but impressive speech to the 2022 graduation class at the U.S. Air Force Academy on Wednesday.
First, he asked the crowd to honor and remember the lives lost in the small Texas community of Uvalde. 19 students and 2 teachers were brutally murdered on Tuesday. Secretary Austin asked those at the graduation this morning to "keep them close in our hearts and deep in our prayers."
For the now newly minted Air Force and Space Force 2nd Lieutenants, he applauded their courage and character, praising their ability to adapt and change to the challenges presented the past four years, of particular note, the pandemic that created so many logistical issues for the students and staff at the Academy.
"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."
Secretary Austin also offered some advice and life lessons to these young leaders of our future, focusing on five key elements. First, he said they didn't just join any Air Force and Space Force, they joined "the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Space Force", and the responsibilities that come with that, most notably, striving to uphold "democracy, liberty and the rule of law", adding, "your country expects it, your troops deserve it and your world needs it. It's these principles that will be your north star".
Secretary Austin also told the new officers that times change, but ideals never waiver, and that teamwork with their future colleagues and with other nations is another key piece of advice. He said that is what is playing out now in Ukraine, where "Putin's unprovoked war", has rallied the world to fight for independence and peace.
"You know, the power 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."
The Secretary also spoke of the "relentless pursuit of innovation", which is paramount to a new world order and a new space-based defense future globally. In fact, he said that this group of graduates, during their four years at the Academy, produced 18 patents. A
His final piece of advice had to do with discipline, telling the graduates, "work hard, master your craft and stay focused."
Times were tough during their time at the Academy, and that will not change as they transition to new responsibilities as leaders.
"Now you're going to face hard decisions, but this Academy has taught you how to make those decisions, and I know that you are ready, because I see Academy graduates shining every day."
In concluding his 25-minute address, he used the metaphor of flight as success, saying that "clarity that comes with flight, allows you to always chase new horizons."
Secretary Austin congratulated the class of 2022 on their success, saying "all of you have answered the call, and "the future of our country is bright."