The things that matter most

GOODFELLOW AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- During the past two years I've presided over the graduations of more than 4,000 students. When I face the graduating classes I try to convey what I think will be of the most value to the graduates. 

I'm always filled with an overwhelming sense of gratitude at graduations. I look around the audience and I'm grateful to the attending families, who represent all the graduates. Their faces show the pride they have in their graduates, yet they know the future will be tough. So I'm thankful to the families for not only what they have done to help these great graduates, but also for the impending sacrifices we all know they will soon face. 

In a similar fashion I'm grateful to the graduates. They committed to wear the uniform of our nation's military. In doing so, they are entrusted by our leaders and citizens to protect what we hold dearest, the freedoms we claim in this great nation. Of course we have many enemies in the world who would do anything to take our freedoms, our lives, and the lives of our families. 

Additionally our graduates accept the responsibilities associated with holding high security clearances within the intelligence community. They are entrusted with the secrets of our nation's military, our capabilities and our plans. They are asked by the leaders of our military to ascertain the capabilities and intentions of our enemies. We train them to find and hold those secrets until the time and place comes for our military to execute a decisive victory. 

How do we guarantee personal success through the chaos? I believe the answer lies in placing our priorities on what matters the most. 

The things that matter the most are the things that last the longest. 

I believe that at the end of our time in the military, whether it is only for one enlistment or an entire career, we should look back on an admirable performance and find ourselves surrounded by friends and family. If we cannot, we may have failed by sacrificing what matters most. I believe in a perspective and priorities which have emerged as a collective of experience from past peers and mentors. 

I believe we should place our first priority in our faith, our set of beliefs and values. That may be a religion or not. But it is our guiding star nonetheless. 

Thomas Jefferson said, "My confidence is that there will for a long time be virtue and good sense enough in our countrymen to correct abuses." 

I challenge each of us to live up to his confidence. 

Our second priority should be our families. On this subject President Jefferson said, "The happiest moments of my life have been the few which I have passed at home in the bosom of my family." 

Our third priority should be our flag, our country. My experience has allowed me to observe that we succeed in the long run when we keep our priorities in this order and don't allow other priorities to interfere with these three. 

We still face an enemy who refuses to draw the line between combatants and non-combatants. We still face an enemy who hides behind terror and civilian populations.
 
Thomas Jefferson once wrote, "I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man." It is inscribed in tall letters inside the rotunda of the Jefferson Memorial in Washington D.C. The freedom he defended then is the same freedom we defend today.

The current war is precisely about giving freedom to those who have been under tyranny and providing a stable environment in which they can exercise freedom. Our intelligence graduates leave here to become a central part of this "by name" war. They are those who seek out and target terrorists and their support systems.

Every week we graduate so many and yet we may lose sight of our mission impact on the Global War on Terror. So imagine the work spaces of all the graduates of the past year are now. Imagine the thousands of collection and analysis hours they dedicate everyday. They don't get there without the collective effort of Team Goodfellow. Of that, we should all be proud.