Welcome to the Long Blue Line, Class of '17

William "T" Thompson, the president and CEO of the U.S. Air Force Academy Association of Graduates. (U.S. Air Force Academy Association of graduates photo)

William "T" Thompson, the president and CEO of the U.S. Air Force Academy Association of Graduates. (U.S. Air Force Academy Association of graduates photo)

On behalf of the U.S. Air Force Academy Association of Graduates, I extend my wholehearted congratulations to the Academy's Class of 2017 and welcome you as the newest members of the Long Blue Line.

The achievement of assuming your place in that Long Blue Line should not be taken lightly. You have invested four demanding years of your life to reach this milestone, and now you are well prepared to serve your country with great distinction.

Your classmates, and the Academy graduates who have gone before you, are counting on you to continue to serve our country and the Air Force with integrity, selfless service and excellence in every job you are assigned. With a commitment to the Air Force’s mission and a strong personal work ethic, we are confident great accomplishments are on your career horizon.

In a relatively brief period of time, the Academy has become one of the world's most prestigious institutions of its kind and you are about to become a part of that rich tradition. As we celebrate the Academy's 63rd anniversary, it is appropriate to review our proud heritage and highlight the integral role you will play in the Air Force and in the communities you will settle.

 Let me share with you some of the attributes of the graduate community you are about to join. We have graduated 48,721 individuals who have gone on to become leaders of character throughout our great nation. 

More than 698 Academy graduates have become general officers, including 40 four-star generals (including one admiral) and five Air Force chiefs of staff. Our graduates are true war heroes who've been awarded the Medal of Honor and numerous Distinguished Flying Crosses and Silver Stars. We are proud that two of the three Air Force Aces in Vietnam were Academy graduates and we respect and honor the 37 graduates who were prisoners of war. Finally, we honor the 185 graduates who have made the ultimate sacrifice and have their names inscribed on the War Memorial.

Our graduates have gone on to achieve great heights -- literally! In fact, 41 graduates have become astronauts and one, until very recently, held the record for the longest walk in space. As you read this, one fellow graduate is spending four months on the International Space Station. Members of the Long Blue Line have won numerous post-graduate academic awards including the Marshall, Fulbright and 38 Rhode scholarships. Academy graduates are doctors, lawyers, business leaders, scientists and entrepreneurs. They are members of the clergy, teachers, college presidents and aviation professionals. Our graduates have served as political leaders at all levels in the country, including Congress and the highest-appointed positions of our national government.

As a member of the 59th graduating class, you will encounter the same challenges that thousands of young women and men who have gone before you have faced. Will you rise to the occasion and become an Academy alumnus who will positively contribute to the legacy of service and excellence that has carefully been established through the years? Will you do all in your power to make your fellow alumni proud of the officer and citizen you become?

The world you are graduating into is a challenging one. The country continues to be involved in various global conflicts, and we are still besieged by terrorist threats. Yet the leadership training you have received and the values you have accepted give our country the highest confidence in your abilities to protect and persevere. 

As you leave the Academy and launch your professional career, I strongly urge you to stay connected to the institution that has given you such a unique opportunity. Most of you are AOG members, but for those of you who have not yet joined, we urge you to become involved with this important association. Your membership helps support the many cadet programs that you have had an opportunity to experience -- the leadership and character programs, the conferences and symposiums, intramural and cadet clubs and the foreign travel and language immersion programs, to mention just a few.

 Understand that you have the privilege and responsibility to reach back and support the cadets who follow you. Realize that you have an obligation to ensure that these future cadets enjoy a richer academic experience than you have enjoyed just as prior grads have done for you.

 The AOG is proud to welcome you as members of the Long Blue Line. We stand ready to assist you in any way we can. Contact us at www.usafa.org when we can ever be of service. All the best to 2017. 

“Respect All, Fear None.”