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American Forces Press Service

Academy Graduates Put Air Force in Good Standing, Donley Says

By Lisa Daniel
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 25, 2011 – The U.S. military has existed without a draft due to the willingness of young Americans to serve, even during war, and has thrived by the caliber of their talent, Air Force Secretary Michael B. Donley told graduates of the U.S. Air Force Academy today.

Before the draft ended in 1973, “not all wore the uniform by choice,” Donley, who served in the Army with airborne and Special Forces units from 1972 to 1975, told the graduates during commencement ceremonies at the academy’s Falcon Stadium in Colorado Springs, Colo.

“We’ve had an all-volunteer force because of men and women like you who stepped forward to serve the nation’s call,” he said. “Today’s graduates made a conscious choice to serve. You did this knowing it would lead to a military service commitment during a time of war.”

The risks of military service were underscored at the academy last month when three of its graduates were among those killed while training Afghan air forces in Kabul, Afghanistan, Donley said.

“Despite the risks, we know that each of you actually wants to be here … and contribute to the greater good of the country,” he added.

But it takes more than willingness to serve to make a great service, Donley said, and the caliber of the academy graduates puts the Air Force in good standing.

“This is a great day for the United States Air Force,” he said. “Now that graduation is in sight, know that we expect great things ahead. The nation has invested in your talent and your promise.

“You have chosen not only a career, but a way of life that puts service before self,” he added. “For many, this is a lifetime commitment. You represent our Air Force and our nation, and we are depending on you to keep our nation secure.”

Despite being the most technically advanced air force in the world, Donley said, the quality of the service still is directly related to its people. Noting its fleet of state-of-the-art aircraft, weapons systems, satellites and missiles, he said, “we still depend on the education, training, commitment and quality of airmen who work on these systems.”

The 1,021 graduates are among 3,300 newly commissioned Air Force officers, who add to about 28,000 new enlisted members, Donley said. It’s important for officers and enlisted airmen to work together, he said.

“They will be looking to you for guidance and leadership,” the secretary said. “We’re counting on you to use your education and training to the fullest …. Your relations with your senior [noncommissioned officers] is important. They will help you more rapidly gain the leadership experience we need at all levels of the Air Force.”

Donley noted some distinguishing characteristics about the class:

-- 39 won national scholarships;

-- 20 are entering graduate school; and

-- 14 are going to medical school.

And he noted changes in the class reflective of the broader Air Force:

-- More than 20 percent minored in a foreign language;

-- They were the first to earn wings for remotely piloted aircraft; and

-- More are entering space and missile and cyber fields than ever before.

The Air Force and the other services will work to rebalance forces following years of war and during a time of fiscal constraints, Donley told the graduating class. “We have no doubt that you and your fellow airmen are up to the challenge,” he added.

The secretary advised the graduates to “always keep learning,” and build relationships in their workplace just as they did at the academy.

“The Air Force needs you to be good teammates,” he said. “National and international security are team sports, and our nation’s success will depend on the coalitions you can bring together. These skills are essential in the Air Force and critical as you work with others.”

Donley urged the graduating cadets to put their leadership skills to work. “Never forget that you are a leader,” he said. “Always look for ways to make a contribution and take your organization to the next level. It’s not just about mission accomplishment, but that others have learned from your example and that you leave your unit, your squadron, your wing, a better place.

“We need you to make this count,” he continued. “Take this education, this experience, and do something great for our Air Force and our country. There is no Air Force leader, past or present, who does not envy the future ahead of you.”

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