Character matters no matter what stage of life

SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, Germany -- I had the honor of addressing a group of Junior ROTC cadets and their parents at their annual awards banquet a couple of ago. As I thought about what to say to a group of high school teenagers, I couldn't help but think of the similarities between them and Airmen, officers and enlisted. It dawned on me the remarks I made that night are appropriate, regardless of age or rank.

My message was simple ... this is the time in your life that matters most.

You can achieve anything in this life if you set your mind to it. Nothing is out of your reach. If you want to be an astronaut, be an astronaut. If you want to be a brain surgeon or a nuclear physicist, do it. It all depends on how much effort you are willing to put in and how much you are willing to sacrifice to make it happen.

The opportunities set before you are greater today than at any time in the history of our country. Set high goals, and never let anyone say you can't do something.

Don't ruin your chances of fulfilling your dreams by making bad choices, such as using drugs or abusing alcohol. I know too many sad stories where promising careers were cut short because people succumbed to peer pressure or made a bad choice. So don't do it. Same goes for breaking the law. Don't do it. If there is even the smallest doubt in your mind about whether something is right or wrong, moral or immoral, don't do it.

No matter you current age and rank, you have made a choice to be a leader - your peers look to you for guidance and mentorship. Most of all, they look to you to set a good example. Your peers observe how you act, how you walk, how you dress, how you comb your hair, how you address others in public, how you shake hands, and how you tackle challenges.

You will find yourself challenged with situations that may or may not be your fault. Maybe you'll witness a crime; maybe that crime was committed by a friend. What should you do, and how will you act? Who can you go to for advice? This is why your character is so important. You have to have a core set of beliefs and values to fall back on when you find yourself in a pickle. If you mess up, it's better to fess up rather than add to the problem by lying about it or trying to cover it up.

Character matters!

Never forget that you are an American and dedicated to the principals that made our country free. Be brave, and have the moral courage to do the right thing. Always remember, we live in the greatest democracy the world has ever seen. It is up to you to keep it that way.

Whether you are 16 years old or 60, a junior ROTC cadet, an airman first class or a colonel ... good character matters.