At a time when young leaders in the military are facing a mountain of challenges, the Pentagon’s boss chose to keep it simple in his advice to the next generation of Air Force and Space Force 2nd lieutenants on Wednesday: Just do the right thing.
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin gave the keynote address at the Air Force Academy graduation, following Joint Chiefs Chairman Army Gen. Mark Milley’s comments Saturday at the U.S. Military Academy and preceding President Joe Biden’s scheduled Friday remarks at the Naval Academy.
“We’re here to defend America’s security and win America’s wars,” Austin said. “But we’re also here to safeguard America’s values.”
That includes a love of service, he added, not only to your fellow service members, but to your community and your country.
“It means that you never lie, cheat, or steal,” he said. “It means that you treat everyone with dignity and respect.”
In April, the Air Force Academy announced it had expelled 22 cadets and put hundreds more on probation after revelations of widespread cheating in 2020, as cadets were sent home to continue their schooling remotely.
Austin also echoed Milley, who has multiple times in recent years opined on the dangers of tyranny and a service member’s oath to the Constitution.
“And it means a lifelong passion for our core values of democracy, liberty and the rule of law,” Austin said.
His comments come days after the Air Force Academy announced it would graduate, but not commission, three cadets who have refused to be vaccinated against COVID-19, which is required to serve in the military unless an exemption is approved.
It will be up to the Air Force Department to decide whether to seek repayment of the cost of those cadets’ education, as cadets agree to repay the cost of their education if they do not fulfill their service obligations.