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Developing Leaders of Character

Developing Leaders of Character

Remarks to the 10th Annual National Character and Leadership Symposium, U.S. Air Force Academy, Feb. 27, 2003, by Dr. James G. Roche, Secretary of the Air Force.

It's my great pleasure to return to our U. S. Air Force Academy tonight to join the talented lineup of educators and other leaders who are assembled here this week. General (Lt. Gen. John R.) Dallager, (Superintendent of the U.S. Air Force Academy) knows first hand how passionately I feel about education and our mission here. He knows I'm not shy about sharing my views. With the Academy making the national news in recent weeks, and with character and moral courage at the heart of these incidents, my participation tonight is not only timely, it's an excellent opportunity to tell you -- inter alia -- my expectations of our future officers.

Let me begin by congratulating the staff of the Center for Character Development. You've put together an impressive program this week. You are to be commended for your vision, and for completing the first of many decades of character education at the Air Force Academy. Thank you and congratulations on a job well done.

Our mission at the academy is vitally important. More than merely educating, we strive to develop outstanding men and women who, upon graduation, are prepared to employ weapons of war and to lead other Americans in the profession of arms. More than merely training, we envision an institution that is widely regarded as the premier developer of air and space officers. We seek to inspire officership, to teach leadership, and to instill character and discipline with the ultimate objective of leading the world's greatest air and space force in service to our nation, and, if necessary, in war.

There used to be on the certificate of commissioning a reference to a person as an "officer and a gentleman." When I came back into government service, I wondered what did we do for our women, was it an "officer and a lady" -- because it carried so much importance to refer to someone as an "officer and a gentlemen." It meant that there were standards to be met that others didn't have to meet. Unfortunately, we have a gender-neutral commissioning certificate and the entire concept was dropped, but I think it is imperative that here we continue the notion that we will graduate "officers and gentlemen" and "officers and ladies."

The German writer Goethe once noted:

"Character is formed in the stormy billows of the world."

Although his perspective was formed during the turbulent age of late 18th and early 19th century Europe, his sentiment speaks to the need for character in an era of discord and conflict. We face such an era today.

The rise of terrorism and state-sponsored radicalism in the past two decades demonstrates the persistent and legitimate threats we face, both at home and around the world. Since the Iranian hostage crisis nearly a quarter century ago, our nation has encountered a new enemy and a new reality; one in which our traditional defenses of deterrence and geographic isolation have limited effectiveness. Yet, while we were focused on the breakup of the Soviet Union and the liberation of nations held hostage to its bankrupt beliefs, radical ideologies grew in areas of the world that used our culture and religious differences as a rationale for a new form of warfare.

This manifested itself in a relentless progression of deadly attacks against Americans, from the killing of U.S. Marines in Beirut to the shocking suicide attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Regardless of their combatant status, American citizens have and will continue to be targeted by those who oppose our values of freedom and equality.

This is a new era; and it demands we reassess how we develop military leaders to prevail in this dynamic environment. I submit to you tonight that our success in adjusting to this new era as a nation will hinge, in large measure, on the character, integrity, and selfless leadership of the men and women in our armed forces.

In Afghanistan, we remain committed to helping that nation get back on its feet, and to prevent the resurgence of radical views that oppose basic human rights.

In the Philippines, Americans will help train local forces for combat operations to stamp out the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group, a cell linked to Al Qaeda.

Thousands of our fellow airmen are on the front lines protecting the Republic of Korea and our allies in the Pacific rim from a dangerous regime we now confirm possesses nuclear weapons and long-range missile technology.

In the skies of the no-fly zones in Iraq, our airmen were fired upon more than 400 times last year. Quite possibly, we stand at the precipice of renewed conflict with Iraq, a regime that continues to defy the demands of the global community. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines are prepared to go into harm's way should our president order us to do so.

With these global demands as a backdrop, with our airmen on the front lines around the world and going into harm's way daily, the need for uncompromising character in our officer corps is quite clear. That's why Gen. John Jumper (Air Force chief of staff) and I are so committed to the highest standards for our Academy program, and that's why we remain convinced that inculcating values is critical to your future success as officers.

That's also why General Jumper and I are so deeply disturbed by the reports we've been receiving from the Academy of late. The conduct of some of our cadet population -- albeit quite small -- is not only morally reprehensible; it is, at times, criminal.

Drugs, driving under the influence, child pornography, defrauding taxpayers and multiple instances of illicit sexual conduct head the list of cases that have crossed my desk. There are now many questions about the character of all Air Force Academy cadets, and recent graduates, due to reported sexual assaults -- clearly criminal acts -- by a dangerous minority here at this institution. This is disappointing, because this is an outstanding institution and because I'm confident that those involved in these incidents represent a small fringe of the student body. Even if there is one cadet engaged in this illegal conduct, that is one too many, and that cadet must go.

Above all, you should know that throughout the Air Force and at this Academy, we will not tolerate anyone who sexually assaults anyone else. All perpetrators, those who fail to prevent assaults, those who knowingly protect perpetrators after the fact, and those who would shun or harass those with the courage to come forward and report criminals, should know that we don't want you in our Air Force -- not I, not General Jumper nor our colleagues. We don't want you among us. We don't want you to sully the uniform of our fellow airmen.

Let me be perfectly clear. We demand that our officers be held to the highest moral standards of conduct -- in peace and in war. Make no mistake about that. We will hold officers accountable for their actions. Our commitment is to produce a world-class officer corps that is the pride of our nation. Weakness of character absolutely will not be tolerated, because the consequences can be catastrophic. The death of soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines due to the failures of character among leaders is criminal. Nothing angers me more than bad officership, nothing. As I will not tolerate the loss of any one of these brave men or women due to the failure of an officer's character, I will not tolerate a single unreported criminal act on the part of our cadets. I will not tolerate any retribution against any victim. It is reprehensible for a rapist or someone who would sexually assault a woman, or anyone who protects the bums who do, to become a leader of airmen. It is counter to our concepts of trust, integrity and responsibility to stand idly by while others engage in such behavior.

Let me say it again; but this time it is General Jumper saying it. As I will not tolerate the loss of any one of these brave men or women due to the failure of an officer's character, I will not tolerate a single unreported criminal act on the part of our cadets. I will not tolerate any retribution against any victim. It is reprehensible for a rapist or someone who would sexually assault a woman, or anyone who protects these bums who do, to become a leader of airmen. It is counter to our concepts of trust, integrity and responsibility to stand idly by while others engage in such behavior. That's how your leadership feels.

We don't want an officer who sexually assaults anyone including a fellow officer, or an aspiring officer who sexually assaults a fellow cadet. We don't want this kind of person as part of our Air Force, and we sure don't want someone with this value system flying jets with his finger on the trigger of 24 2,000-pound Joint Direct Attack Munitions. Besides being illegal, this behavior reflects a breakdown in moral character; it is anathema to us; and, it is a fundamental violation of Air Force standards.

I will do my best to work with our senior officers to ensure the full power of the military justice system is brought to bear to investigate and prosecute those cases that are reported. Ladies and gentlemen, as a former captain of a man-of-war, I am intimately familiar with the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and I know exactly how it should be applied.

I want you to know what I've done to address this issue. At my direction, the Air Force General Counsel -- the Honorable Mary Walker, who is here with me -- formed a senior-level working group to review the policies and procedures in place to deal with sexual assault cases here and any that might appear at any of our other accession sources. I've tasked this fact-finding group to report their findings with respect to the responsiveness, effectiveness and fairness of our current programs. We intend to make changes as appropriate.

Staff members of this working group were on campus last week and this week gathering data. When I receive the team's report, we'll make a determination on what further steps are necessary to ensure justice is done, and to ensure that our values and standards are being met. Throughout the process, I encourage you all to seek out this team if you have ideas as to how these processes should be improved. General Jumper and I will then review our collective ideas with fellow officers, and direct immediate implementation. Expect major changes, and expect them across the board.

In addition to our review, the Office of the Secretary of Defense will be looking at all the service academies to determine if similar problems exist at those institutions, and the Department of Defense Inspector General will look at each specific case reported to ensure independently that due process was followed. We welcome these additional reviews.

Some of you may be aware of criminal conduct that should be reported, but out of a misplaced sense of loyalty or fear, you remain silent because you feel an obligation to your peer group versus an obligation to the men and women of our Air Force. This behavior tarnishes all that you accomplish at this Academy and all that your predecessors accomplished since the doors opened in 1954. Just as you have vowed to not tolerate anyone among you who violates the honor code, you should vow not to allow a cadet to remain in your ranks whose weak character permits him to perpetrate such crimes against fellow cadets.

When you enter the operational Air Force, your character and values will be tested severely. You will be charged with supervising men and women who will look to your example to guide their behavior. You will be looked to as the moral compass of your shops, flights and squadrons in the years to come. You will be "the standard" that young airmen, noncommissioned officers and junior officers use to determine if they measure up. You will be the guardian of discipline, justice and equality in your organizations. Should you have the opportunity to command -- that unique and exquisite experience of authority and responsibility -- you may have to face fellow airmen and ask them to follow you into battle.

Ralph Waldo Emerson once noted:

"What you are stands over you... and thunders so that I cannot hear what you say to the contrary."

You may be saying, "This discussion doesn't apply to me." "I am not the problem. I have the character required to be an outstanding officer." Good, I'm glad, but remember, you will face ethical and moral challenges in the Air Force and in society. Each cadet here today is a potential commander of tomorrow. Please, learn now how to stamp out a culture that even remotely accepts sexual assaults. You will be a better officer if you take the opportunity to learn now. You will be a better commander if you learn to master peer pressure, and have the courage to simply "do the right thing."

Leadership requires great moral courage. If you allow your character to be compromised now, you will never be able to stand strong when you face the wrongdoings of others in the future. The flaws in your character now will only be amplified under the great pressure of supervision, command, and combat.

What you do here at the Air Force Academy will follow you after graduation. What you don't do will follow you as well. Maybe you won't get caught for an honor violation or infraction of the cadet regulations while you are here, but I guarantee that years from now, dishonesty, poor judgment or a failure of character will send your file across the desk of a future Secretary of the Air Force. An analysis of your strengths and weaknesses now will help you answer the question of whether or not you should stand before God and country and accept a commission as a second lieutenant in the United States Air Force. Someone in whom your countrymen, in the words of a 100 more years, "repose special trust and confidence" -- the key to your commission.

We want leaders of character in our Air Force. If you can't be one, then you owe it to your peers, and to the 700,000 men and women who populate our officer, enlisted and civilian rolls to walk away, and walk away soonest.

Service to your nation is a noble profession. It is a way of life. To think that persons may conduct themselves in their cadet life in one manner, and in a different manner in their commissioned life, simply is wrong. Neither should you think you can act one way off the base, and another way on the base. You are now officer candidates 24/7/365. When you are commissioned, should you be commissioned, you will be judged as an officer 24/7/365. The fabric of who you are, the basis of your character, is reflected in everything you do, in public service or in a possible business career. Whether it is honesty and integrity when taking a graded review or how you interact with the opposite sex on the weekend, your character and judgment will guide your decisions. For those decisions -- right and wrong -- you are responsible. As aspiring officers, you will be held accountable.

What people fail to understand in dealing with cases of majority versus minority rights and protections is that it is not the responsibility of the minority member to seek protection, it is the responsibility of the majority member to provide it. This is one of the fundamental tenets of our American constitutional system. Anti-Semitism is not a problem of the Jew, it is a problem of the gentile, and only gentiles can fix it. Racial prejudice is not a problem of the minority, it is a problem of the majority, and only the majority can fix it. At the U. S. Air Force Academy, sexual assaults, or any assaults for that matter against women, are not a problem we should expect our Air Force women to solve. I expect our Air Force men to fix it, to solve it and to do it now. Only when our male cadets -- each and every one -- dedicate themselves to solving the despicable problem of assault will this Academy be able to hold its collective head high once again.

As we move forward, I want you to start applying a "wingman" culture, if you are not already doing so. I expect the men to create a culture whereby they protect the women here as if they were their sisters. When you see a situation developing where a female cadet will be in a position of jeopardy, do something to help her. I expect you to respect each other, and to take care of each other, and to help any cadet to avoid those circumstances that lead to bad outcomes.

You know what they are -- underage drinking, drinking to excess and a host of questionable behaviors that endanger the lives and well being of others. When you witness illegal acts, safeguard the potential victims and identify the assailants. This is not optional behavior. It is what we expect from our officers. It is what we expect from you. Above all, report criminal conduct when you witness it, are victimized by it or become aware of it. We'll do everything in our power to address the issue, but our Air Force needs your help to succeed. If we "hit hard, hit fast, and hit often," as one of my heroes, Admiral Bull Halsey, once described, we can attack and overcome this blemish on our collective reputation. You male cadets cannot tolerate males among you who prey on your female colleagues. They are unmanly, they are cowards, and if you permit them to be commissioned, you may find yourself flying at Mach speeds in formation with them, or on board their aircraft. If you can't trust their character now, why would you when your life might be at stake? Let's get rid of them now. To you female cadets, you also have an obligation to those in our Air Force who may have to go in harm's way to help us rid ourselves of these criminals. We beg your help.

One of the great dangers we face in society today is the gradual spread and acceptance of moral relativism. In the Air Force, we don't accept relative notions of absolute character traits. Moral relativism says, "It's true for me, if I believe it." This concept says that morality, or standards of right and wrong, are culturally based and therefore become a matter of individual choice, and what's right for one isn't necessarily what's right for another.

Unfortunately, it sometimes seems as if this notion is gradually replacing traditional concepts of morality as the prevailing moral philosophy in our society. Some have begun to embrace the idea that right and wrong are not absolute values, but are to be decided by the individual, and can change from one situation or circumstance to the next. Moral relativism can undermine our ability to develop a commonly held view of the values we deem important to officership. More appropriately, we want officers:

With forthright integrity who voluntarily decide the right thing to do, and do it;

Who are selfless in service to their country, our Air Force and their subordinates;

Who are committed to excellence in the performance of their personal and professional responsibilities;

Who respect the dignity of all human beings;

Who are decisive, even when facing high risk;

Who take full responsibility for their decisions and actions;

Who reflect always the "special trust and confidence" reposed in them;

And, who have the self-discipline, determination, and courage to do their duty well under even the most extreme and prolonged conditions.

There are those that argue that America has changed, and that the standards of the Air Force should reflect what is acceptable behavior in other realms of society. Nonsense! The defense we provide the nation and the demands of warfare have not changed, nor have our values. By coming to the Air Force Academy, you have signed a contract with the American people that you will uphold the standards of conduct that are required of commanders that lead this nation's sons and daughters into battle. If you chose to uphold standards of high moral conduct, then you are in the right place. If that's not what you want, or that's not what you are able to do, then this profession is not for you.

Now I'm sure there are many of those among you who are of such high character that the demands placed on you by this Academy are met with ease. Further, you cannot envision how a person could act absent the dictates of a fully developed moral character to serve as a guide to his or her conduct, but the future will hold many challenges. Some activities you will encounter may be illegal; others, immoral; others, unethical; and others, just stupid.

You may be in business some day. You may be involved in international business. You may find that your competitors beat you because they bribe people. The temptation will be "well maybe we can do it," but it's illegal, it's also unethical. Under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, it's also illegal if you know someone associated with you has done it. It is very hard often to walk away from a wonderful business deal that could be so easily obtained if only you could be unethical like others, but you can't.

For those of you who may have visited the Battle of Sharpsburg, you may remember "Burnside's Bridge." Ambrose Burnside, class of 1847 at the U.S. Military Academy. General Burnside, who asked his troops to march along Antietam Creek and cross a bridge, never having gone down there himself, never realizing he was sending his troops to certain death, because across this very narrow creek was entrenched a significant Confederate force. That Confederate force killed those Northern troops, and killed those Northern troops, and Ambrose Burnside never came down to find out why. They stopped, by the way, when they ran out of ammunition, and there were no more supplies of ammunition.

The commanding officer of the Southern detachment was named Toombs, he was a brigadier general and he was an attorney. The next day, or shortly thereafter, he resigned his commission. He left the United States, and went to England to make a living. His point was that Academy graduates on both sides were so patently stupid they were going to destroy the youth of the United States in this conflict. Was Ambrose Burnside illegal, were his actions unethical, were they immoral, or were they just plain stupid?

Another case I am intimately familiar with -- in 1967, in the Tonkin Gulf, when Navy aircraft came feet wet after having attacked and had unexpended ordnance, they took to developing the habit of finding nearby fishing fleets and expending the ordnance on the fishing families. These fishing families were not part of the war; they belonged to small villages on the coast. Other pilots, seeing that, created a special combat air patrol and flew CAP over the fishing boats so that we could declare the air foul and not the location proper for the expenditure of ordnance. They got to be known as Dove 1 and Dove 2. Everyday, two planes took the duty to protect these fishermen. Now, is dropping unexpended ordnance on a fishing fleet in a conflict illegal, is it immoral, is it unethical, is it stupid? You think about it. I think you will agree that Dove 1 and Dove 2 did something of which we can be very proud.

I want to leave you tonight with a story about character and leadership that hopefully will illustrate the absolute commitment required of service in our Air Force, and to ask you to consider aspiring to such levels. This story comes from an engagement in our Global War on Terrorism nearly a year ago.

Next week is the anniversary of Operation Anaconda and the battle now referred to as "Robert's Ridge," named in honor of Petty Officer Neil Roberts. On March 4, 2002, men of great personal ethics, bravery and moral courage demonstrated a sense of duty borne of a lifetime of character. Let me tell you a little about what they did.

Air Force Tech. Sgt. John Allan Chapman was the combat controller assigned to a Navy SEAL team during the two-week-long U.S. sweep against al Qaeda and Taliban forces in a valley in eastern Afghanistan. On the morning of March 4, his helicopter attempted to land on the top of a 10,000-foot mountain to establish a blocking force for the maneuver element in the valley. When they tried to land, they took a direct hit from a rocket-propelled grenade. As the pilot struggled to get out of the kill zone and gain control of his severely damaged helicopter, Navy SEAL Petty Officer 1st Class Neil Roberts was lost overboard and the crew was forced to make an emergency landing about five kilometers away. Neil Roberts was down in the midst of a heavily defended enemy position. Yet, Sergeant Chapman and his teammates were adamant, adamant in their refusal to leave their fallen comrade behind.

Despite the imminent danger presented by a well-armed and entrenched enemy, Sergeant Chapman and his team returned to attempt a rescue. Characteristic of this unit, voluntarism was not merely a choice, but a self-imperative borne of a code of conduct thoroughly internalized. Back on top of the mountain, Chapman's helicopter again took heavy enemy fire. Still, he raced to engage the enemy to help rescue his comrade in arms. When heavy fire from an enemy machine gun threatened the safety of his entire team, Sergeant Chapman made the fateful decision that would cost him his life.

At that moment, John Chapman exposed himself to enemy fire to draw it away from the rest of his team. He charged the machine gun, engaging a dug-in enemy position hoping that his actions would give his team the time they needed to escape over the ridgeline to cover and safety. Eyewitness reports recounted his gallantry, and confirmed that his actions saved the lives of all of those on the ground that time.

For his heroism, I posthumously awarded the highest award our service can bestow, the Air Force Cross, and General Jumper and I presented it to his widow, Valerie, as we remembered the timeless words of the Greek statesman Pericles:

"And they are surely to be esteemed the bravest spirits who, having the clearest sense both of the pains and the pleasure of life, do not on that account shrink from danger."

About an hour later, a year ago, traveling in the dark and out of radio contact, another team of American warriors landed on the same hill and in close proximity to the enemy forces that killed Neil Roberts and John Chapman. They also took immediate and heavy enemy fire but this time, this helicopter couldn't escape. Four crewmembers were killed instantly. Many others were wounded. Despite heavy fire for several hours, Pararescueman Senior Airman Jason Cunningham -- a former Navy enlisted man -- was undeterred from performing his lifesaving duties. He cared for the wounded, established a casualty point, and exposed himself to enemy fire repeatedly as he personally moved his wounded comrades from point to point, depending on where enemy fire was coming from.

Jason's gallantry in the face of intense, accurate and deadly enemy fire was remarkable. After moving his patients for a third time -- carrying wounded teammates at 10,000 feet and under heavy fire throughout -- he received a mortal wound to the abdomen. Yet, while he struggled to stay alive on the top of that mountain, he continued to give life-saving instructions to his comrades until he died. As a result of his extraordinary heroism and determination, his team returned 10 seriously wounded Americans to live-saving medical care and successfully recovered seven fallen comrades. For his heroism, I also posthumously awarded him the Air Force Cross, and I stood with General Jumper as he presented it to his wife, Air Force ROTC Cadet Teresa Cunningham. Teresa will be commissioned into our Air Force this June, and we will welcome her. With this award, 11 of 23 Air Force Crosses awarded to enlisted men -- nearly half -- have gone to pararescuemen.

What drove these two men to incredible deeds? Did they act out of self-interest, personal gratification or apply situational ethics to their actions? Or did this senior airmen and this technical sergeant, both married and fathers of two young children, act out of a deep and enduring commitment to an internalized, unwritten code? Clearly, there was a deeply imbedded belief in the rightness of their actions -- a conviction to a set of principles that drove their decision to expose themselves to hostile fire at great danger to their personal safety and survival -- to die for their comrades, to give their lives for our country.

At the two Air Force Cross ceremonies, where their widows were presented with their husbands' decorations, I stood with General Jumper and looked at the young wives, their children and their parents as he presented the medals on our behalf. A decoration and our solemn condolences were not enough to replace their lost husbands, fathers and sons. While their grief spoke of their loss, their pride spoke clearly about something we seek to understand.

Although heartbroken, they were proud of the values for which their husbands lived their lives. They were great men. They were great Americans. They were men of character and lived in pursuit of those traits of character of which I briefly spoke. And their widows are great women. When you consider the ethical, legal and moral choices you may have to make as a cadet, we expect you to choose a course that is befitting of your future as an officer, and worthy of a commission in the U. S. Air Force. John Chapman and Jason Cunningham had the courage to "do the right thing" when it counted. Their young widows have the courage to raise their children without their husbands every single day. I have gotten to know the culture and many of the airmen in the combat controller and pararescueman community. Now, if any of you cannot live up to these standards, then you should not aspire to be an officer who may lead them or work with them in combat.

The men and women of the U. S. Air Force comprise the finest fighting force in the world. With few exceptions, they are honorable, brave warriors who have acquitted themselves brilliantly in conflict. They embody the spirit of the heroes of past and give us great hope for the future. Given the troubling reports of recent weeks, ladies and gentlemen, reports that call into question the culture of the Academy for many past years; I challenge each of you tonight to ask yourselves: are you worthy to be an Air Force officer? To answer yes, your integrity must be unblemished, your character sound. You must help us regain the high ground of this institution.

General Jumper and I are committed to helping build here an internationally recognized military institution of higher learning that produces the world's best air and space leaders. More important, we want to be recognized for producing men and women of the highest character and moral standards. Men and women who will lead our Air Force in the 21st century, and who are prepared to meet the challenges they will face. Men and women who can look Valerie Chapman or Cadet Teresa Cunningham in the eyes and not be ashamed of what they have done at the Academy or what they may have failed to do while at the Academy.

Ours is an Air Force of values, character and excellence. As I close tonight, I implore you to follow the uncomplicated, yet discerning guidance of Sir Winston Churchill:

"Let us go forward without fear into the future and let us dread naught when duty calls."

Our commitment to this simple prescription of character will enable you, and this institution, to regain the trust and confidence of the American people. I will give you every bit of help you need. General Jumper will give you every bit of help you need. We want you to do the right thing. We ask you to do the right thing. I can assure you if you do, you will never regret it. So why don't we make a collective agreement tonight to go forward collectively to fix this mess, restore this institution to its level of pride that it once knew, and not have our citizens question the ethics or the behavior of our wing of cadets.

Thank you for listening to me tonight. God bless you all, and may God bless the United States of America. Thank you very much.


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Directeur de la publication : Joël-François Dumont
Comité de rédaction : Jacques de Lestapis, Hugues Dumont, François de Vries (Bruxelles), Hans-Ulrich Helfer (Suisse), Michael Hellerforth (Allemagne).
Comité militaire : VAE Guy Labouérie (†), GAA François Mermet (2S), CF Patrice Théry (Asie).

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