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