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Home : Media : Speeches / Testimony
NEWS | Sept. 14, 2015

U.S. Air Force Birthday Ball


Thank you General (Lori) Robinson, for that motivating introduction.  It’s wonderful to see you tonight.  I'd be honored to be your wingman, anytime and anyplace.


And to all you Airmen out there, happy birthday! 


It’s great to be here with you, honoring the most technologically advanced and professional Air Force in the history of the world.  And while tonight should be a celebration, thank you for recognizing the profound importance of this date – 9/11 – and  the events which fundamentally changed our country 14 years ago.


… Distinguished guest, ladies, and gentlemen.  I’m sure, given the choice, instead of hearing a short speech from an old Navy Admiral who’s almost as old as the Air Force itself, most of you’d rather hear no speech at all.  So I’m going to get on with it, so that you can get on with it.


The United States Air Force has a proud and spectacular history.  From the airspace above Verdun, to the outer space above us, to cyberspace all around us, Airmen have defended our nation with great substance and style as well.  "Off we go into the wild blue yonder" is a clarion call to adventure and the catchphrase of the coolest song of all the services.


The Air Force has long cornered the market on capturing the imagination of young boys and girls across America.  As a kid, I grew up with the exploits of Sky Pilot, Sky King, and Steve Canyon.  Some would even say I took 12 O’clock High to heart by attending the Frank Savage School of Leadership.


Tonight, we celebrate 68 years of tradition, accomplishment, and daring-do by the youngest branch of the U.S. military.  When President Harry Truman – love that first name – signed the National Security Act of 1947 which established the Department of the Air Force, it was the formal recognition that air supremacy was critically important for our national security.


And today, 68 years later, the United States Air Force has the most technologically advanced systems and platforms and, most importantly, some of the most capable and professional war fighters in the world.

And warfighting is what this service is about, a fact that was on clear display just a few years after your creation during the Korean War. 


During that conflict, U.S. aviators faced a superior aircraft, the MiG-15, which was a faster and more maneuverable than our F-84 Thunderjets and F-86 Sabres.  But our Air Force aviators dominated the skies because of their superior training and tactics.  And our Air Force has dominated the skies ever since.


And while we celebrate your 68th birthday as an individual service, your roots are much older and run far deeper.  It's been over 100 years since Lieutenant Benjamin Foulois climbed into a Wright Flyer Type B biplane in what was to be the U.S. military's first aircraft, named "Signal Corps Airplane Number 1."

Since that fateful first flight, the Signal Corps evolved into the Army Air Service, which later became the Army Air Corps, which then became the Army Air Forces, and finally, the United States Air Force. 


Your storied history includes the Lafayette Escadrille, the Flying Tigers, the Doolittle Raid, the Mighty 8th Air Force, the Berlin Airlift, MiG Alley, Thud Ridge, Desert Storm, Bosnia, and the Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, and Space Shuttle programs.  Yours is a lineage stretching back over a century of flying legends – men like Eddie Rickenbacker, Billy Mitchell, Dick Bong, Thomas McGuire, Chuck Yeager, Iven Kinchloe, General Winton Marshall, a Korean War ace who lives right here in Hawaii ... Gus Grissom, Lance Sijan, Bud Day ... and, finally, the only man besides Tom Selleck, Fig Leaf, and Ron Burgundy who could pull off a massively manly mustache, the legendary Robin Olds.

Tomorrow, no one here is going to remember anything I said tonight except that my remarks had “something to do with Ron Burgundy and Anchorman.”


But men hold no monopoly on heroism in your storied history.  Women like Jackie Cochran, Nancy Harkness Love, Eileen Collins, and Martha McSally occupy positions of high honor in our nation's pantheon of heroes.


Innovation is your middle name – brilliant thinkers like Billy Mitchell, John Worden, John Boyd, and Bernard Shreiver changed the way we as a military think and operate.  Air Force test pilots pushed the envelope in the air and in space – the right stuff.  My father-in-law was an Air Force fighter pilot and test pilot in the 1950s – like most of his colleagues you could always tell he was a fighter pilot, you just couldn't tell him much. 


For the last 68 years, you've been America’s sentinel, in the air, in space, and cyberspace.  President Roosevelt had it right when he said, “Hitler built a fortress around Europe, but he forgot to put a roof on it."  And we must never forget that during the Cold War, 13 Air Force reconnaissance aircraft were shot down by the Soviets and their proxies. 


For 68 years, you’ve been the MVP on America’s offense, taking the fight to the enemy, with global power and global reach. 


Since 9/11, terrorist organizations around the world have seen the darker side of the United States Air Force, living in constant fear of your fighters, your gunships, and your appropriately named Reapers.  After 14 years of heavy combat flying in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. Air Force has much to be proud of.  You took the fight to the enemy – and you're still putting warheads on foreheads in our fight against ISIS. 


And in this theater, for the past 68 years, Airmen have worked with our close allies and partners to maintain peace and stability throughout the region. 


For example, during Talisman Sabre 15, U.S. and Australian C-17s flew 22 hours straight from Alaska to Australia and delivered 450 Army paratroopers with extraordinary precision.


After the devastating earthquake hit Nepal back in April, PACAF deployed over 200 Airmen in support of Joint Task Force-505.  During the operation, Airmen flew over 148 sorties delivering equipment and supplies and Airmen from the 36th Contingency Response Group worked with our Nepalese partners in Kathmandu to distribute Humanitarian Aid and validate the airport’s runway structural integrity.


During Cope North 15, our Airmen worked alongside 2,300 military members of our allies and partners to increase our combat readiness, interoperability, and ability to quickly and effectively respond to a natural disaster.  Airmen are making a real impact to the region and the nation.


Last month, during Red Flag, U.S., Japanese, Korean, and New Zealand Airmen executed a large-scale airfield seizure scenario, the first in Red Flag’s history.  During the exercise, a U.S. C-130 Hercules assigned to the 36th Airlift Squadron from Yokota Air Base became the first U.S. aircraft ever to airdrop Japan Ground Self-Defense Force members onto U.S. soil.


The Pacific theater is deeply embedded in the DNA of the U.S. Air Force. 


The Indo-Asia-Pacific region is center court in the great game of geo-politics in the 21st Century.  I speak often about the threat from North Korea, the challenge of a rising China, and the critical importance of America’s Rebalance to the Pacific.  Our countrymen and women are again looking to us to ensure stability and prosperity in this vital region.  Airmen and Sailors, Soldiers and Marines, standing the watch together.  And there’s no question about it – we’re ready to do what’s necessary to protect our national interests, wherever and whenever they are threatened.


While tonight’s events largely focus on exploits of the past, remember, the task in front of each of us is to be ready for the next fight.  Ready to fight tonight if need be.


Well folks, I see I’ve talked too long.  I’m reminded of the man who shot and killed a long-winded speaker.  He went to the sheriff’s office and said, “Sheriff, I’ve just shot me a keynote speaker.”  The sheriff turned to the man and said, “Son, you’re in the wrong place.  You pick up your reward money at the courthouse.”


I’m hoping none of you Fighter Weapons School graduates are thinking about collecting any reward money.  But just in case, let me close with this thought.


The true strength of our Joint Force is the people who devote their lives to a cause greater than themselves.  All of you here have paid your dues, given in many cases the best years of your lives to serve our Nation.  Now, thousands of young Sailors, Soldiers, Airmen, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen stand the watch around the world.


America is the country she is because of young men and women who are willing to forego wearing a business suit, forego strolling down easy street, and forego living the good life, to wear instead the cloth of the nation.  To travel instead along an uncertain road fraught with peril, to live instead a life on the ragged edge of danger.  To live lives that matter on a fundamental level.


Now, I’m not a preacher-man, but there's a passage in the good book which defines for me the spirit that lives in each and every citizen who has ever chosen to wear the cloth of the nation.  And it's appropriate this day of all days.


One day God was searching for the right man – a man with the right stuff, if you will.  A man to embark on a dangerous mission and go into a dangerous land:


“Whom shall I send?  Who shall go for us?”


And the prophet responded, “Here am I Lord, send me.”


Here am I, send me.  Powerful words.  When our nation was attacked 14 years ago today, Lady Liberty called out in her pain and anguish “Whom shall I send?  Who shall go for me?”


And everywhere, Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, Coast Guardsmen, and civilians called out:






From the Atlantic to the Pacific and beyond, America’s sons and daughters answered that clarion call, and they continue to answer that call today, serving with great flair and greater distinction.


Our United States Air Force is the finest flying fighting force the world has ever known.  You’re expeditionary, you're fast, tough, hard-charging, courageous, and you're always ready.  You’re envied by many, feared by most, and forever respected by friend and foe alike.  None of that’s aspirational or boastful, it's just fact. 


I can assure you, you’ve got the respect of this old Navy Sailor as well.  I know exactly what you’re capable of, and I'm honored to be your wingman as we protect our great nation together.  I look forward to flying with you into the future, as the Joint Force continues to protect our national interests abroad.


Indeed, as Curtis Lemay once said, "If we maintain our faith in God, love of freedom, and superior global air power, the future looks good."


May God bless our men and women who serve on the forward edge of the battle area, the FEBA of freedom.  May God bless and comfort the families that support us.  May God bless the United States Air Force.  And may God bless this land of liberty we call America.


Happy birthday, Airmen … Aim High!


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