As a second-generation airman and an Air Force Academy graduate, I cherish our storied heritage and the sacrifices of all the trailblazers who made our academy and the Air Force what we are today. As the 21st Chief of Staff, I am also equally proud of today’s exceptional men and women that make us the greatest Air Force on the planet.
Holding dear these two unmistakable realities — our rich heritage and who we are today — underpin my decision to update all stanzas in the U.S. Air Force Song. Effective today, we will begin singing a modified version of our song that better reflects the reality of today’s force by celebrating all who have and will step up to serve.
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Dave Goldfein said it became apparent to him last year that the song was excluding female airmen.
Over the past few years, I have been honored to attend the women’s service academy volleyball tournament played at the Pentagon. At the end of the match, I stood with our brave women and sang our alma mater. Women we will ask to go into combat and fight just as women have done for a generation. Yet the song was not about them. We sang “a toast to the host of the men we boast”. Across the court stood midshipmen singing their alma mater that changed in 2004 and West Point who changed theirs in 2009. It is time for us to change.
Last year, a team of airmen and cadets at the academy updated the lyrics of the third verse based on a few simple principles I provided the superintendant. Our song must reflect our history, the inspiring service and accomplishments of all who’ve served, and the rich diversity that makes today’s Air Force indisputably the strongest and most capable in the world. When I asked Gen. Silveria and our Air Force Academy to lead this change, I announced we would take a hard look at whether updates may be warranted for the other verses of the song.
We listened to feedback from young and old, men and women, active, guard, reserve, civilian ... and so many who have been part of the long blue line throughout our 73 year history. I have decided it is time to update all stanzas of our Air Force song to represent the valor and heritage of our forces while also recognizing the contributions of everyone who has served and will serve.
Valid as this rationale is, these changes will draw notice and spark debate. The Air Force song is such a powerful and enduring touchstone that has been sung at countless funerals and ceremonies. Changing it will elicit strong emotions and opinions from many with valid concerns.
This is why I must be clear. In making this decision, I respect the views of others who will not agree … but I also know with absolute certainty and clarity that these changes are about adding to, not subtracting from, who we are. Changing the lyrics in no way diminishes the history and accomplishments of men or dilutes our eternal gratitude for their sacrifice and bravery.
These new lyrics speak more accurately to all we do, all that we are, and all that we strive to be as a profession of arms. They add proper respect and recognition to everyone who serves and who has served. This respect and recognition is not only appropriate, it is fully earned.
There are plenty of inspiring examples of courageous women leading us in combat and in service. Col. (ret) Martha McSally, Class of 1988, was the first woman in the Air Force to serve as the commander of any combat aviation squadron, to include fighters and bombers. She now serves as a U.S. senator from Arizona.
Capt. Amy Lynn Svoboda, Class of 1989 is another. Her squadron’s training officer, Svoboda was killed flying her A-10 during a night training mission. While a cadet, she was a member of the women’s volleyball team and every year the Amy Svoboda award is given to the player who best exemplifies selfless service.
Let me share as well the story of Maj. Adrianna M. Vorderbruggen, Class of 2002, a highly regarded special agent with the Air Force’s Office of Special Investigations who was killed in 2015 by a suicide bomber while stationed in Afghanistan. She was one of six Airmen killed in the attack at Bagram Air Field in what was the single deadliest attack since 2013. All served with OSI or Air Force Security Forces.
This is who we are. We will never forget our history. Our song embodies our ethos and must be inclusive of all who raise their right hand and take the solemn oath to support and defend the Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic ... an oath taken without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion.
Going forward, I expect the revised lyrics to be adopted quickly, taught to our new airmen and sung at ceremonial events. Our bands also will update recorded versions of the song in our online music libraries, as we are able to record them.
Last weekend on Memorial Day, I once again walked the sacred grounds of Arlington National Cemetery and visited the airmen killed under my command as CFACC. Men and women buried side by side. Such is the nature of combat … it does not discriminate. Neither should we.
Gen. David Goldfein is the 21st Air Force Chief of Staff.