Reaching Our Youth--Ensuring the Future
Gen. Kevin P. Chilton, Commander, Air Force Space Command
Tuskegee Awards Luncheon, Phoenix, AZ
Thank you General Bradley for your very generous introduction. It's not every day you get two former F-4 pilots, in uniform, on the same stage. I actually got to see one flying the other day...that was a treat.
Thank you to the many military and civilian leaders in attendance...Secretary DeMesme, Vice Admiral James McArthur, Lt Gen Craig McKinley, Lt Gen Russ Davis, and other Flag Officers...thank you for being here.
Thank you Tuskegee Airmen...you've played such an important role in our Nation's defense...and if I may add...are still playing important roles. Col McGee and all the original Tuskegee Airmen...it's an honor to be in your company.
Wow, the coveted after lunch speaking slot...second only to the pre-open-bar speaking slot.
Although I would take any speaking slot to address this prestigious audience. It's great to be here in Arizona...I was actually up at the Grand Canyon about three weeks ago. Well, actually I was circling above the Grand Canyon for about 40 minutes after a power outage killed all the radars on the west coast. You know you're in trouble when your aide wakes you up and says, "The pilot's hearing something on the radio and he wants to know if you've ever heard it before." Apparently it was the code for...all the airports from Arizona west are closed. I wondered for a moment if I should do something...but they figured it out without any help. Just like lieutenants have always been doing.
I've been at the helm of Air Force Space Command for a little over a month now. You know that first month or two in any new job is all about getting your feet under you and getting to know the new team. Two of the first people I met were my new speechwriters.
I told them we've got some big speeches coming up...including this one here...and I asked if they were ready to make me look good. I think my exact words were, "Make me look like Abe Lincoln." Apparently they took me seriously...because the next day I strolled into my office to find a top hat and a fake beard sitting on my desk. So Abe Lincoln I'm not. But you don't have to be Abe Lincoln to make a difference...all it takes is the willingness to contribute.
That's what's so great, and one of the lasting impressions of the Tuskegee Airmen. It's truly special to have so many people assembled here who have made, and still are making such a big difference in the lives of our American youth.
It's a humbling experience to stand here in front of so many great Americans and so many great Airmen. As I thought about my remarks this week I couldn't help but think there's a lot I could say to you.
What I Won't Talk About
I could talk about our Air Force Chief of Staff, General "Buzz" Moseley's top three priorities.
1. Winning the Global War on Terrorism
2. Recapitalizing our aging air and space fleet
3. And continuing to develop world-class people
General Moseley is a great American...and great Airman...and the priorities he's laid out are right on the mark. But I think I'll save that for another day.
I could talk about some of our many success stories. About the air strike that got Al-Qaeda's top terrorist in Iraq, Al-Zarqawi.
The bomb that finished him off was a 500 pound GBU-38...assisted to its target by the Global Positioning System. I could also talk about some of the 11,000 plus GPS-aided munitions we've employed in Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. How your Air Force can deliver a bomb that is accurate to inside the length of the weapon. But I don't think I'll do that either.
I could talk about what's going on in the Pacific...North Korea's attempt to test their ballistic missile technology and send a signal to the rest of the world. Yes, I could stand here and explain how the Defense Support Program satellite constellation...or DSP for short...detected each of those launches. Within seconds, space professionals from the 460th Space Wing at Buckley Air Force Base in Denver detected each launch. The situational awareness they provided enabled us to quickly inform the Japanese government.
It was your United States Air Force and the technology of DSP, orbiting 23,000 miles above the Earth's surface that kept our President informed and helped ease tensions. Of course, we won't talk about that either.
Nor will I talk about the...
179,000 Airmen engaged in the Global War on Terrorism
57,000 Airmen who are forward deployed
The 234 tanker sorties flown each day
The 1,000 plus Short Tons offloaded each day
The 50+ combat sorties flown each day
Let me simply assure you that, the spirit and determination of our Air Force is alive and well in the men and women engaged in each of those activities...as we fight in air, space, and cyberspace...24/7, 365 days a year. It's that spirit that I will talk about this afternoon.
Spirit of Tuskegee
It's that same spirit and determination that has made our Air Force so successful for nearly 60 years. It's the same spirit that has personified Tuskegee since Dr. Booker T. Washington founded the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute in 1881...125 years ago.
A spirit of service...
A spirit of excellence...
And a spirit of perseverance...
And if I could add...a spirit of, "Don't tell me I can't do something!"
That spirit brings to mind heroes like William V. Eagleson...one of the original Tuskegee Airman who passed away this year. In one of his last interviews he said..."This is as much my country as anyone else's...I should have the right to fight and die for it."
And he had to fight for the right to fight!
Just think about those words for a minute. Where would this Nation be without great Americans willing to fight and die for our freedom?
Another of the heroes we said good bye to this year was Bennett Hardy. His grandson, Staff Sgt. Darren Hardy, stationed at Ellsworth Air Force Base, summed up his grandfather, a Tuskegee Airman, the best. He said, "The biggest thing I learned from my grand pop was it really doesn't matter where you're from or what your job is, if you are motivated you can do anything."
There it is again. The message. The spirit. Don't tell me I can't do something! That same spirit is what makes us successful today. The Tuskegee Airmen showed us the importance of having the drive to contribute to a cause greater than one's self...a sense of selflessness if you will. And a determination to not take "no" for an answer.
Today, you continue to serve through education and mentoring programs for our young people. In that light, the theme of this convention..."Reaching Our Youth--Ensuring the Future" is absolutely perfect.
This afternoon we honor Airmen who exemplify the spirit of Tuskegee. Field grade and company grade officers. Senior noncommissioned officers and noncommissioned officers. All who have inspired those they lead and who have exhibited outstanding performance in both professional and community service.
"Spirit of Tuskegee" is Needed More Than Ever
We need professionals like our award winners now more than ever. Not only do they fight for our freedoms...but they also inspire the next generation of heroes. For more than half a century Tuskegee Airmen have inspired young Americans and pushed them to greater heights.
And our youth need that inspiration more than ever today...because today we face a threat as dangerous, in the long term, as any terrorist. The threat we face is a growing intellectual deficit. The latest census on high tech degrees provides serious cause for concern.
58,000 U.S. students graduate each year with degrees as scientists or engineers.
India graduates 80,000 annually.
Japan graduates 200,000 annually.
And China graduates more than 800,000 scientists and engineers annually!
I don't have to tell you that's a problem. Right now more than 5,000 science and engineering positions in U.S. defense-related fields are unfilled.
That number needs to be zero if we want to ready our Nation to meet tomorrow's threats.
Our security can only be insured if we make use of all our resources...and that includes our human capital.
This is your work...your message continues to be so important to America today! The youth inspired by this convention will grow up and take the place of today's Airmen, and hopefully fill some of those science and engineering vacancies. If only one young person walks away from here inspired to serve, you'll have done a great thing.
But I know you will touch more than one soul. You've inspired hundreds and thousands of young people. You are an inspiration to me. Yes, we do face an uphill battle growing future scientists and engineers...and the leaders of tomorrow...but we do have one key advantage. I like to say space provides an asymmetric advantage to the warfighter.
And each of you...each of you and this organization provides an asymmetric advantage in the battle for knowledge and inspiration.
So I applaud you for reaching out to our youth and focusing your energy on our next generation. Sometimes we might ask ourselves if our youth understand and believe the "American Dream." The dream that Bennett Hardy put in the mind of his grandson.
I don't think we can ever beat that drum enough. I think another important question to ask is...Do our youth understand all the possibilities?
It wasn't long ago that I didn't understand all the exciting opportunities available to me.
I grew up just a mile from LAX (Los Angeles Airport, Calif.), and the school I went to was just past the runway. It was so close, we had to use sign language every two minutes when a plane would come flying overhead and drown out the teacher. From living there, I knew I wanted to be a pilot, but I didn't know how I could ever achieve my dream.
I found out quite by accident.
During the summer we would take any chance we got to go to the beach. Anytime word got out that one of the moms was going to the beach, about twenty bikes would descend on the house to catch a ride. Well, one day we got word my best friend's brother was home on summer vacation and heading that way. So of course a swarm of bikes descended on his house. As we were driving, I asked him about what he was studying. It turns out he was a cadet at the Air Force Academy. After he explained, I asked him how much it cost and he said, "Nothing, in fact they pay you." Well, that's all I needed to hear...they pay you to learn how to fly!
I often wonder what would have happened if I didn't jump in the car that day...if instead of living one mile from LAX, I lived ten miles north. Would I have had the same opportunities? Would I have been able to realize the American dream?
Right now there are young people out there just like I was...they are searching for knowledge and possibilities. We can't leave it to chance...we have to reach those young people living ten miles away from the airport and everywhere else too.
I know one thing for certain though...the youth influenced and inspired by Tuskegee Airmen know full well the American dream and the opportunities available to them. Because of you, they have been given a rare glimpse into their limitless potential.
So I say to you...you're on the right track.
But we can't leave a task this important to chance...and I'm glad you're not. Reaching our youth with the "Tuskegee Spirit," that you can succeed with hard work and determination...that no one but the Almighty can tell you what you can't do...coupled with making known to them the exciting possibilities that await them, will ensure our future.
It's an honor to be in your presence and an honor to be a part of the greatest Air and Space Force this planet has ever known.
Thank you, for seeing your duty and fighting to do it.
For the inspiration you give me, my children and generations to come.
For the work you are doing today for our youth.
For our future.
God bless you all, our United States Air Force, and the United States of America.