New Officers Launch into Air Force and Space Force

May 25, 2022

Grit, discipline and excellence beyond their years.

That’s how Air Force Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. Richard Clark ’86 described the Class of 2022’s leadership of the Cadet Wing during a difficult three school years impacted by COVID-19.

The cadets were sent home to finish their sophomore year in March 2020 as the coronavirus began to spread across the country. Fast forward 26 months — and more than 1 million COVID-19 deaths in America — and Wednesday (May 25) was a day to celebrate for nearly 1,000 newly minted second lieutenants who tossed their white caps into the blue sky as the Thunderbirds screamed overhead.

Parents and loved ones on the west side of Falcon Stadium stood and cheered with cell phone cameras snapping away as graduates made their way on stage, shaking hands with graduation speaker Secretary of Defense Gen. (Ret.) Lloyd Austin before celebrating with their classmates.

“Congratulations lieutenants. You’ve completed one of the most rigorous academic workloads in the country,” Austin said. “You have shown outstanding talent, guts and grit. Graduating from this Academy is hard enough without a pandemic. But what counts is how you respond to hard times. You insisted on taking care of each other. So, before you even graduated, you passed your first test of leadership.”

Austin offered the graduates five pieces of advice:

  • First, he reminded the cadets they were joining the premier Air Force and Space Force in the world.

    “We are here to defend America’s security and win America’s wars,” he told the soon-to-be graduates. “It means you will never lie, cheat or steal. It means you treat everyone with dignity and respect. Lieutenants, these principals will be your north star and they will always, always guide you home.”

  • Second, he noted that the world changes, but the military’s ideals never waver.

    “In just four years you’ve seen more change than many see in a lifetime,” he said. “America’s longest war, one that spanned nearly all of your lifetimes, came to an end. Russia’s cruel war and invasion of Ukraine dragged Europe into its largest security crisis since World War II. Today, America’s adversaries are testing the very values that you swore to defend.”

    He said the U.S. is standing strong with Ukraine as it defends its sovereignty.

    “I hope that their fight reminds us all that we should never take our freedoms for granted,” he said. “Your class and your generation now stand ready to do your part.”

  • Third, he reiterated that teamwork is the key to future success.

    “The power of partnership has helped us rush aid to Ukraine to defend itself,” he explained.

  • Fourth, he reminded all that accelerating change will help the nation maintain its strategic advantage.

    “Innovation is the ballgame for the 21st century and countries either lead or they get left behind,” he said. “We are lucky to have your hunger for progress.”

    He noted that the Class of 2022 helped produce 18 patents during their time at USAFA, including one for 3D-printed spacecraft shielding.

    “We can’t possibly know what challenges and surprises tomorrow will bring, but I’m going to report to the president with great pride that we now have 973 brand new Air Force Academy graduates with which to tackle those challenges,” he said.

  • Finally, Austin told the cadets that discipline matters.

    “So, work hard, master your craft and stay focused,” he said. “You’re going to face hard decisions, but this Academy has taught you how to make those decisions. I know that you are ready. And I know that you are ready because I see Academy graduates shine every day.”

    He gave a shoutout to fellow USAFA graduates who played a significant role as the United States evacuated 124,000 people from Afghanistan in 2021 — the largest air evacuation of civilians in the nation’s history.

    “As we speak, airmen are working with our allies on air policing on the skies over Europe,” he said. “And guardians are ensuring that warfighters across the joint force have satellite communications and precision navigation. Those missions couldn’t possibly be more important. No other military can do what we do because no other military has people like you. All of you have answered our country’s call. With outstanding young leaders like the Class of 2022, the future of our country is bright.”

Dean of the Faculty Brig. Gen. Linell Letendre ’96 highlighted that among the graduating class there were 104 distinguished graduates, 53 Academy Scholars and 14 warrior scholars — those recognized for their combined academic, military and athletic excellence.

Letendre also mentioned the 16 international graduates, hailing from Cameroon, The Gambia, Republic of Georgia, Republic of Korea, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Madagascar, Malaysia, Mongolia, Niger, Romania, Rwanda, Singapore and Thailand.

Lt. Gen. Clark thanked parents and families for help shaping cadets into who they are.

“We make leaders at the Air Force Academy, specifically leaders of character, and this class is proof of our product,” Clark said. “I’m inspired by this next generation of officers because their energy seems never-ending and their potential is limitless. I’m extraordinarily proud of each and every one of you, and it has been an incredible honor to serve as your superintendent, and it will be an even greater honor to serve alongside you in the mightiest fighting force on the planet.”

Watch the graduation ceremony: