Austin pushes Air Force grads to ‘safeguard’ US values in commencement remarks
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin on Wednesday pressed graduating students at the Air Force Academy to act honorably following the school’s 2020 cheating scandal and recent vaccine refusals.
“We’re here to defend America’s security and win America’s wars. But we’re also here to safeguard America’s values,” Austin said during the commencement address in Colorado Springs, Colo.
“It means that you will never lie, cheat, or steal. It means that you treat everyone with dignity and respect and it means a lifelong passion for our core values of democracy, liberty and the rule of law.”
His remarks come after the Air Force Academy last month revealed that 22 students were expelled or resigned and hundreds more were put on probation after a major cheating scandal took place while the school engaged in remote learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Austin’s comments also follow a school announcement earlier this week that three cadets would graduate but not be commissioned after they refused the COVID-19 vaccine — a requirement to serve in the military unless an individual obtains a medical or religious exemption.
“Graduating from this academy is hard enough without a global pandemic,” Austin said. “And graduating after years of being clouded by COVID shows serious courage and character, and I know it’s been a time of challenge and loss for many of you. … What counts is how you respond to hard times.”
The Pentagon chief’s keynote follows Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley’s speech on Saturday at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Austin’s speech also comes ahead of President Biden’s anticipated remarks at the Naval Academy, set for Friday.
In his speech, Milley told graduating cadets they will bear the responsibility to make sure America is ready for a more unstable world.
“The world you are being commissioned into has the potential for significant international conflict between great powers. And that potential is increasing, not decreasing,” Milley said.
In his address on Wednesday, Austin referenced the same upheavals in the world.
“Our times change, our world changes, but our ideals never waver. And in just four years you’ve seen more change than many see in a lifetime,” Austin said, noting Russia’s attack on Ukraine and the end of the Afghanistan War.
“As President Biden has said, the United States leads not just by the example of our power but by the power of our example,” Austin said. “So lieutenants, I want you to think about the example that you will set — by your conduct, by your courage, and by your devotion to the Constitution.”
The Hill has removed its comment section, as there are many other forums for readers to participate in the conversation. We invite you to join the discussion on Facebook and Twitter.