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Biden to Air Force Grads: 'Think Beyond the Theater of Battle'

4 years ago
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Vice President Joe Biden has been known to utter flat jokes and impromptu gaffes, but yesterday's quips at the United States Air Force Academy, including an off-the-cuff poke at his boss, were made in good taste and welcomed with cheers from the crowd of over 30,000 attendees.

"What am I gonna tell the president when I tell him his teleprompter is broken? What will he do then?" Biden said after a gust of wind knocked over his teleprompter. He got a stadium-wide chuckle and applause for that one, and he received a few hearty cheers from the cadets for referencing long-standing traditions such as the customary fountain jump following a last final.

After solid week of uncharacteristic rain, Biden shook hands with each of the 1,046 cadets amid sunny skies as the class of 2009 became the fifty-first to graduate from the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.

The Air Force Academy, though prepared for inclement weather with a separate location and even separate speakers, has always hosted an outdoor ceremony. Cadets were promised the name reading would only take exactly an hour and a half to complete, but Biden took some extra time to personally address many of the young graduates. As they shook his hand, a few wondered aloud whether his arm had tired. The Vice-President laughed and said he had trained for it.

Biden's 27-minute speech moved from a quirky introduction into a heartfelt message as he told the cadets that they are needed now more than ever. "This is your moment to bend history to the service of a better day," he said. He applauded the chosen class motto "Nostrum tempis" -- Latin for "our time" -- saying that they now inherit a fast-changing world with more unique dangers and opportunities than any class before them had faced, not just in enemy states and against terrorism, but in the issues of global warming, education, and health care as well. He encouraged graduates to "think beyond the theater of battle."

"You'll be asked like few generations before you to shape a new history - and I mean that literally, a new history - for your country," Biden told the newly-commissioned second lieutenants.

"Things are changing, whether you like it or not, and they are changing in significant ways, setting a course for a generation," said Biden. "We're at a moment in our nation's history when unstable countries around the world are seeking nuclear weapons and methods to deliver them."

"It is your time, even more than you ever might have anticipated," he said. "I envy you. I envy you for what you have a chance to do."

It was the first Air Force Academy address for the Obama team, but Biden made a point to say that an aggressive and strategic global military is still a top priority of the new administration. President Obama made similar reassurances at the Naval Academy graduation on May 22.

"Peace without military strength is an illusion, and military strength without wisdom is insufficient," Biden said.

"You will carry our skies and beyond on your backs . . . I promise you . . . we will have your back. That is a guarantee," promised Biden, who considers support of the armed services both during and after active duty a commitment above all others. "It exceeds our obligation to educate. It exceeds our obligation for health care. It exceeds our obligations for all else," he told the class of 2009, which erupted in one simultaneous "HUB!!" after each mention of their class year in honor of Hubert Zemke, the chosen class exemplar.

Following his speech, for which he received a warm standing ovation from the crowd, Biden greeted each graduate --albeit with fewer chest bumps and high fives than previous years -- with a sturdy salute and a handshake as they crossed the stage to receive their degree. Graduates then took an oath to officially become second lieutenants, then they tossed their white hats toward the shrieking Thunderbird jets that shot over the Falcon stadium. By Air Force tradition, children ages 7-10 scattered across the field to retrieve the stray hats and the $20 bill and 9 cents taped inside.

Vice-President Biden stuck around for the post-ceremony air show to mingle, pose for mug shots, and chat with the new lieutenants as the smell of victory cigars wafted throughout the stadium.

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