Diversity of force shows in Class of '17

Lt. Gen. Michelle D. Johnson, the superintendent of the U.S. Air Force Academy. (U.S. Air Force photo/Mike Kaplan)

Lt. Gen. Michelle D. Johnson, the superintendent of the U.S. Air Force Academy. (U.S. Air Force photo/Mike Kaplan)

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. --

In events throughout the Pikes Peak region over the past week, our community celebrated Armed Forces Week, where we paid tribute to the men and women who serve in all branches of the U.S. armed forces. I was privileged to attend many of these events, and was once again reminded of what an exceptional place Colorado Springs is to live, work, learn and serve as a member of our military, and what a supportive atmosphere it provides for our military families. The story of Colorado Springs is also the story and heritage of our armed forces. Indeed this year, perhaps more than others, we are reminded of that as the Air Force celebrates its 70th birthday and Colorado Springs' very own 4th Infantry Division commemorates its 100th year.

 

As we recognize the selfless service of our current military members, and reflect upon our proud, shared history, we at the Air Force Academy have further reason to celebrate. This coming week, we will graduate and commission our 59th graduating class. As these young men and women walk across the stage at Falcon Stadium and receive their well-deserved bachelor of science degrees and coveted commissions as officers in our Air Force, they join the ranks of those who came before them in sacred duty to our nation, an honored lineage we have come to know as the Long Blue Line.

 

The warriors and servant leaders that stand in this line represent triumphs in the wide ranges of the human capacity: tested in their intellectual and emotional strength, and tried in their physical and moral courage. They are generals and astronauts, Olympians and Rhodes Scholars, pilots, scientists and inventors, all united by their passion to serve and a humble determination to commit to four years of grueling academics, character and leadership development, military training and athletics. As our newest graduates leave our beautiful campus, they carry the lessons of this proud lineage with them as they enter a geopolitical landscape more uncertain, volatile and intellectually demanding than perhaps any our military has ever faced. But they are ready to lead, and they have proven it in the extraordinary ingenuity and resolve they have demonstrated in their progress through our demanding curriculum.

 

This month, Cadet Hayley Weir displayed the innovative ambition we have come to expect from our cadets, announcing the breakthrough development of a "goo" that can stop bullets, which may lead to using 75 percent less material in military body armor, lightening the loads our troops carry into combat. Weir is an exemplar of not only what our cadets are doing every day, but also the professionalism, drive and creativity of our entire military force.

 

With incredible individual accomplishments such as this, and the many others I've seen here from our cadets over the past four years, I'm reminded that sometimes our uniforms may do too good a job of conveying their purpose -- uniformity. Across our military, behind the uniforms, ranks and traditions, and beyond the fences and gates of our bases, are individuals with a diversity of experience, interests and expertise. In a society that values individuality and liberty, we ask of our cadets and service members that they value order over freedom, the group over the individual, and equality over liberty. We ask that they put others before themselves. We ask a lot of our people, and as the modern profession of arms marches on, we'll ask even more of their unique skills and talents in order to take our mission toward even more ambitious trajectories.

 

The increasingly complex endeavor of our national defense demands this intellectual and tactical agility of our military, and as a result what we ask of our service members can be so broad and collectively uniform that it becomes lost in translation to the public. Framing our conversations in a more relatable way, one that values our military members as individuals, can build even stronger, more intimate bridges of communication and relationships between our military and the society it defends, even in a community as military friendly as Colorado Springs. We're proud to be a part of a community that values service and takes care of its military members and families. I encourage the members of our community to see and hear past the "loudness" of our uniforms and customs, or the stereotypes of popular culture, and look closer into the individual experiences of our military members. In drawing closer together as individuals we can accomplish even more, and together take this region to even greater heights.

 

Thank you to the entire Colorado Springs community for its steadfast support of our cadets, and please join me in wishing heartfelt congratulations to the United States Air Force Academy's Class of 2017.