Former AETC vice commander speaks to JSUPT Class 15-11

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. James Bolinger
  • 71st Flying Training Wing Public Affairs
Nineteen new pilots from Joint Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training Class 15-11 joined the rank of U.S. Air Force pilots July 1 after a formal graduation ceremony.

They were welcomed to the fraternity of pilots by retired Lt. Gen. Douglas Owens, who was the vice commander of Air Education and Training Command before he retired in August 2013.

Owens last visit to Vance was in February of 2011 when his son Michael received his wings.

The retired three-star stood before the graduating class in a civilian suit and shared an anecdote about an aircraft mishap as a way to explain to non-aviators the way that flyers think.

"After a catastrophic engine failure, I landed long," said Owens, retelling the pilot's story. "As I had no power, the gear would not come down, and I had no brakes. I bounced across the stone wall at the end of the runway. I hit the trailer of a truck that was passing down perimeter road as I crossed it. I crashed through the guard rail. I grazed a very large tree, and I struck a tractor that was sitting in the adjacent field, and I hit another tree. -- It was then, that I lost control."

Nothing like that has happened to Class 15-11, he said over laughter from the audience.

Gentlemen, now you join the fraternity of aviators, and add your names to the likes of generals Billy Mitchell, Carl Spatz and Hap Arnold; Medal of Honor recipients Richard Bong and Lance Sijan; and Air Force Cross recipients Bill Andrews and Paul "PJ" Johnson, he added.

"All of these (who) I have mentioned were aviators of great skill and vision and valor," he said. "All of them rose to meet the extraordinary circumstances that found them. They didn't go looking for it. It found them, and they responded."

There is no doubt that the potential to match the feats above is contained within this room, he said. Yet, you are bringing that potential into a very complex world. You are entering an Air Force that has been in active combat and contingency operations since 1990, before many of you were born.

More than 6,000 American servicemen and women died in Iraq and Afghanistan and more than 50,000 were wounded.

More than 16,000 Airmen are deployed right now in support of contingency operations, said Owens. The majority are in Southwest Asia.

"This is serious business that we are engaged in, and it has been this way for many years, for even most of my career," said Owens. "Your countries, your nations are counting on you to do the right thing.  

"So please, do not screw this up," said the general to laughter from the audience. "Now, I've softened that message since I was here as a three star general. Now I have to ask you please."

Remember this -- it is your integrity that is the foundation of our nation's strength, he said. It is your commitment -- the selfless acts of your families -- that is the embodiment of service before self, and it is your professionalism and skill that is the mark of our excellence. 

"There is no bigger Air Power anywhere," said Owens. "As a fellow Airman, as the father of two Airmen, as the national commander of the Order of Daedalians ... I congratulate all of you."