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Bold leaders make the mission happen

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Just this week, we witnessed the New Horizons spacecraft approach the planet Pluto. What's that? Of course it is a planet. Regardless of what you call it, the world got its first look at this majestic celestial body that orbits the Sun 4.67 billion miles from Earth.  How did we get there?  One word - leadership.

Space, by its dark, cold and massive nature, demands boldness. It takes a special band of pioneers, innovators and leaders to push back the boundaries of the known universe and reveal its vast riches to the Earth's population. Despite the success of New Horizons, many more challenges await us in the near future. What can be found beneath the murky waters of the Jovian moons? How can we tame the asteroids surrounding us, both tapping into their resources and preventing them from establishing a collision course with our planet? Can we establish a viable colony on Mars? And, will it have a Starbucks? OK, maybe not the last one (yet). But, with all of the numerous challenges we face, one thing is clear - we will be unable to meet them without bold, innovative leaders.

Previous generations supplied us with leaders who are forever etched in our memory. People like Alan Shepherd, John Glenn, Neil Armstrong, John Young, Robert Crippen, Sally Ride and many others answered the call to solve the mysteries of our universe. Some of them, like the astronauts aboard the Space Shuttles Challenger in 1986 and Columbia in 2003, were not returned to us. While each of these brave explorers had a distinct personality and leadership style, they all had one thing in common - none of them specialized in risk aversion.

That is where you come in Knights. Space requires bold, innovative leadership and the 21st Space Wing needs it more than ever. Not only is leadership paramount to meet our mission but we need the right kind of leadership. Phrases like "do it because I said so" and "we've always done it this way" need to disappear into the vacuum where nobody can hear them scream.

Taking risks, taking chances and daring to be different are how we are going to discover what lies at the bottom of the Europan Ocean. Speaking up and making your voice heard is how we are going to plant a flag on Mars. We need leaders who will stand up, erase the entries of "Here there be Dragons" from the map of the Cosmos and leave bigger and bolder challenges for the generations that follow. We need...you.
It won't be easy, Knights. Bold and innovative leadership never is. But, you have already made a key first step by joining the Air Force team. You could have chosen to sell insurance or peddle department store wares, but you chose to cast your lot with us. You did this because the mundane and routine did not appeal to you. Your thirst for adventure and exploration brought you to our doorstep. You have already earned the respect of your fellow citizens for that. However, that is not where your journey ends.

As your Air Force career evolves, you will gain numerous insights on leadership from both schools and practical experience. The Air Force teaches you to act decisively and lead young men and women even when your surroundings have descended into chaos. That is a lot to ask from you and we know that. We do it for one reason - we have no choice. What we are charged to do is difficult. Without fine men and women providing the leadership that the Air Force requires, the mission does not happen. Satellites do not fly. Missile warning systems do not track. The boundaries of space do not progress since the days of Galileo and Copernicus. Communication systems remain silent.

That is our charge to you - lead. Be bold, be decisive and innovate. Take risks, work hard and carry us further into the universe. After all, you are not the Knights who say "ni". You are the Knights who say "forward". Let's do this!