We live in an uncertain world, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton A. Schwartz told an audience at Vance Air Force Base Friday morning, but Americans historically have come through in times of uncertainty.

Schwartz was featured speaker at the graduation ceremony for Joint Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training Class 09-04.

The world economic crisis, Schwartz said, coupled with wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, have helped create the current atmosphere of uncertainty.

“No one knows with certainty what the future will bring,” he said. “It is uncertainty that will shape our future strategic environment.”

Schwartz cited “The Star Spangled Banner” as a prime example of how the nation was forged out of uncertainty.

“The song is filled with dramatic words of beauty, power and ideals,” Schwartz said. “But the song isn’t about those things. Our national anthem is a song about facing uncertainty.”

He told the story of the British bombardment of Fort McHenry during the Battle of Baltimore in September 1814.

“As night fell and the battle subsided, Francis Scott Key had no way to know who had won the hard-fought battle,” Schwartz said. “The night brought nothing but confusion, desperation and fear to those whose fate hung in the balance.”

The song, he said, “recounts a scene where no one would know the results until the ‘dawn’s early light,’ would reveal the victor by the color of the flag flying over the fort.”

During the night the small storm flag that had been flying over the fort was taken down and a large garrison flag hoisted in its place. That is the flag Key and all those within sight of the fort saw flying as dawn broke the next morning.

“As the morning broke it was clear to see that America had conquered its foes,” said Schwartz.

The Air Force’s highest-ranking officer urged the graduates, their family and friends to remember the story of the battle the next time they sing the national anthem.

“The tune took new meaning and would forever immortalize America’s triumph through the darkness into the light,” he said. “Let us not take for granted the meaning of the words, for this is our heritage, this is our identity, this who we are.”

The graduates of class 09-04 enter a world, Schwartz said, in which “virtually every American institution now faces a crisis in some form or another.” But he expressed confidence in them, and the other members of America’s armed forces, as they go forth to meet the challenge of this uncertain world.

“When I consider recent events that hold so many hearts in doubt,” he said, “I feel nothing but a sense of promise when I look at this group of graduates today. Your service proves that America is still the land of the free, only because it is home of brave men like you.

“Never underestimate the power of your service or the moral force of your devotion to duty. Because of you and thousands like you, I am sure America will always find its way through the dark and stormy night.”

Schwartz thanked the graduates for “bravely answering the call to service,” and said he is confident “America will once again triumph in a time of trial and adversity.”

As an example of America’s triumph over uncertainty, Schwartz offered the example of his Air Force Academy classmate, U.S. Air pilot Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger III, who recently landed his crippled jet on New York’s Hudson River after having both engines knocked out on takeoff, saving the lives of all 155 people on board.

Sullenberger, Schwartz said, “has proven the meaning of performance with integrity, service and excellence.”

The graduates of 09-04 are “ready to serve a nation whose esteem hangs in the balance,” said Schwartz. The class of 19 included a young officer from the Persian Gulf nation of Qatar.

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