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Rumsfeld Tells Navy Graduates to Shape the Future

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 23, 2003 – Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld told the graduating class of the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., today that their future will be unlike anything they can imagine.

The secretary also thanked the class of 2003 for their choice to serve the United States and defend freedom.

Rumsfeld told the new Navy and Marine Corps officers and their guests that he had spoken at a previous Naval Academy graduation when he was defense secretary the first time. He used the class of 1976 to prove his point about not being able to predict the future.

He detailed the world of 1976 -- embroiled in the Cold War and communism as the major threat. "Europe was divided. The armies of the Warsaw Pact were poised for a tank invasion across Germany," he said.

"U.S. and Soviet subs tracked each other to the deepest corners of the ocean," he continued, "and the two superpowers lived each day with literally thousands of nuclear missiles pointed at each other's cities."

He said no one in that graduating class could have imagined that a quarter century later the Soviet Union would no longer exist, the majority of the world's nations would be free, and many former Warsaw Pact adversaries would be NATO allies. "In fact, the only thing that's the same today that I can think of is that I'm still secretary of defense," Rumsfeld said.

The midshipmen of the mid-1970s are the leaders of today. They are the ones formulating defenses against terrorism, who launched strikes into Afghanistan and Iraq, and who dealt with the painful aftermath of the attacks on September 11, 2001.

Rumsfeld stated that, like the members of the class of 1976, the 2003 graduates will be called upon to serve in ways that they cannot imagine today. "Consider how the world has changed just in the four years since you arrived," he said. "You came to this academy in a time of peace, and you leave today in the midst of a new and unprecedented global war."

But one day the war on terror will end, Rumsfeld said, and the new officers will confront different threats. These could include a world with double the number of nuclear nations, or a world with novel and still unimagined Information Age challenges, or biological threats, or a world with still more ungoverned areas inhabited by terrorists, hostage-takers and drug lords.

He said dealing with new threats will require new thinking. "It's important to note that in dealing with new threats, that will require something even more than new technologies," he said. "To defend freedom in the 21st century, you will have to bring innovation, flexibility and agility into your progressively more important posts.

"Don't be afraid to think for yourselves, to take risks and to try new things," he continued. "Recognize that you may meet resistance along the way. Expect it. But don't be dissuaded. Progress in life generally comes from those who swim upstream."

Rumsfeld, a former naval aviator and reservist, told the men and women to take pride in their services and "the great naval tradition that it is now your responsibility to uphold. But remember at the same time that the wars and the conflicts of the 21st century will not be fought by individual services. Rather, they will be fought joint, and more often than not, combined."

Rumsfeld thanked each class member for his or her career choice. "Each of you came to this academy to serve a cause greater than yourselves," he said. "The fact that you've chosen a life of service says something important important about you, about your character, about the values you hold dear."

"(The choice) says something about our military, that it is an institution that you deem worthy of dedicating your lives and your talents," he continued. "And it says something about our country, that it represents what each of you believes is worth serving and worth defending."

Rumsfeld said that these new officers will face the challenge of shaping events to meet new threats and capitalize on new opportunities. "History teaches us that freedom is not destined to prevail over tyranny," he said. "Liberty and our way of life are fragile gifts; their care is in your hands.

"In my lifetime, I have lived through the Great Depression, witnessed the rise and fall of empires," he said. "My generation has seen fascism, communism and now terrorism emerge to challenge free nations and free people. And we've seen free nations successfully unite and turn back every one of those challenges.

"But each time a foe has been defeated in one corner of the world, a new challenge arises, which is why each generation of Americans has been called upon to produce patriots, patriots willing to dedicate their lives to the defense of liberty.

"You are that next generation of patriots, and upon your shoulders, that burden now rests. The future must not simply unfold. Rather, it will need to be shaped by your leadership. The decisions you make, the courage and creativity you bring to your responsibilities will determine America's future."

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