WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Ash Carter shared four commitments that guide him and asked cadets of the U.S. Air Force Academy to adapt them to their circumstances on Thursday. Carter spoke to about half of the cadets who attend the academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
The first commitment, the secretary said, is "to ground all of your training, all of your thinking and all of your actions in our core mission of the Department of Defense." "Our primary mission will always be protecting our people and serving our nation's interests," he told the cadets. From the White House Situation Room to flightlines around the world, defending American interests is what matters most, Carter said. "Some regions of the world are exceedingly messy, but we're not daunted or confused, because we have our North Star," he added. Leading Other Nations and Peoples Protecting American interests often means leading other nations and other peoples, the secretary said. "Ever since World War II, the United States has stood as the world's foremost leader, partner and underwriter of stability and security in every region of the world," he said. "It is a mantle we embraced again after the Cold War, and one that continues today to the great benefit of this nation, but also the rest of the world." The positive and enduring partnerships the United States has cultivated with other nations around the world are built on American interests, but rest on American values – "which most find decent, honorable and attractive," Carter said. The Air Force provides the United States unprecedented global power and global reach, said the secretary told the cadets, and these capabilities, when applied consistent with American values, are of great benefit to the nation. "When a natural disaster occurs on the other side of the world … it is often the United States Air Force who is first on the scene to deliver aid and demonstrate our values to the world," he said. "I can tell you that really creates an impression." When targeting enemies, America does all it can to protect innocent life, Carter said. "When we do that," he added, "we demonstrate our values to the world." Keeping People in Mind The next commitment is to remember it is people who make the American military the finest fighting force in the world, Carter said. "And it is our people who will ensure that the force of tomorrow, which you will command, remains as great as the force of today," he said. The secretary said this is why he is pushing for new ways to recruit and retain the best and why the United States military seeks to be inclusive. "From the first classes of female cadets, including Brig. Gen. Allison Hickey and your own superintendent, Lt. Gen. [Michelle] Johnson, to the first female combat pilots, including my former assistant, Brig. Gen. Jeannie Leavitt, to Gen. Lori Robinson, who tomorrow will become the first woman to lead a combatant command, the Air Force has proven time and again that we are strongest when we draw from the strength of our entire nation," he said. Finding Solutions The third commitment is to remember "that our nation's defense rests on being able to find solutions to seemingly intractable problems," Carter told the cadets, noting that they will face unexpected challenges and life-or-death decisions. "Have the courage to accept risk to solve those problems and the wisdom to determine when a risk becomes a gamble," the secretary said. "You are responsible for the lives of your people and the accomplishment of your mission. Balancing these two solemn duties one of the most difficult tasks you will face, but you've got to succeed. That is the burden of command." As missions progress, Carter told the cadets, they must constantly re-evaluate the situation. "And to chart a new course," he added, "you must have the confidence to be open to new ideas." "This should be a lesson for our enemies: never underestimate the ingenuity of our officers," he said. "We need to maintain that advantage forever." Character and Resolve Finally, the secretary discussed character. He noted that the halls of the Pentagon have portraits of many airmen who were held as prisoners of war in North Vietnam. "They serve as reminders of the character and resolve at the core of our mission," he said. Throughout their careers, Carter said, the cadets must constantly learn – and teach -- character. "You'll find the words of George Washington you memorized as a fourth class cadet: 'Remember that it is the actions, and not the commission, that make the officer, and that there is more expected from him than his title,'" Carter said. "That will have new and greater meaning as you go on. "We are a great nation, with great responsibilities," he continued. "As we meet these responsibilities, our nation stands on the foundation of character that both you and this institution make stronger and send forth into the world. As you embark on your career and lives of service, know that our nation is 100 percent behind you. I'm a thousand percent behind you, and I am so proud of you."