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Chairman, Navy Leaders Challenge New Naval Academy Grads

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

ANNAPOLIS, Md., May 23, 2008 – The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff today challenged the graduating U.S. Naval Academy Class of 2008 to learn from their mistakes, stand up to for what’s right, even to their leaders, and hold themselves accountable for their actions.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Graduates at the U.S. Naval Academy cheer as the Navy's Blue Angels fly over Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Md., during the commencement ceremony, May 23, 2008. U.S. Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was the ceremony's guest speaker. Defense Department photo by U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, a 1968 Naval Academy graduate, told the 1,037 new graduates that the 86 words of the oaths they took today would be among the most important they would ever utter.

“Nothing else comes close when it comes to that level of commitment, particularly in the dangerous world in which we live,” he said.

Mullen called on the class -- 785 entering the Navy and 233, the Marine Corps -- to live up to the trust and confidence the United States and its citizens have put in them and to look out for the committed sailors and Marines they will lead. “Your No. 1 mission is to lead America’s sons and daughters,” he said. “They deserve your time, talent and your honesty.”

In leading those sailors and Marines, the chairman urged the new Navy ensigns and Marine second lieutenants to learn from their mistakes. “Success is wonderful, and you will all succeed,” he said. “But it is often from our failures that we learn the most.”

Mullen recalled his own experience as a young lieutenant, when the gasoline tanker USS Noxubee he was commanding collided with a buoy in Hampton Roads, Va. The incident, which resulted in only minimal damage to the ship, proved to be an important teaching point, he said.

“I learned the power of persistence and the amazing influence that good mentors can have when they see something in you and don’t give up,” he said. “The point is: You will struggle, and sometimes you will fail. What matters most is how you deal with it. If you stop learning from mistakes, you stop growing. You stop leading.”

Mullen also called on the graduates to have the courage to question their leaders and pose the tough questions, especially “when you don’t think things are going well.”

“Few things are more vital to an organization than someone who has the moral courage to question the direction in which the organization is headed and the strength of character to support whatever final decisions are made,” he said. “That’s real loyalty.”

Military leaders have an obligation to the American people to provide their leaders their best, most honest appraisals, he said. But he emphasized that once they do, it’s their responsibility to support whatever decision is made.

“We give our best advice beforehand. If it’s followed, great,” he said. “If it’s not, we have two choices: obey the orders we have been given, carrying them out with the professionalism and loyalty they deserve, or vote with our feet. That’s it.

“Few things are more damaging to our democracy than a military officer who doesn’t have the moral courage to stand up for what’s right,” he continued, “or the moral fiber to step aside when circumstances dictate.”

Mullen called on the new officers to hold themselves accountable as they take on leadership positions. “If you are wrong, admit it,” he said. “If you have erred, correct it. Hold yourselves accountable for your actions.”

He urged them to strive for the best personal conduct and work quality and never to demand less of themselves than they do of the shipmates and Marines they lead. That’s critical, he said, particularly for a nation at war. “We live in dangerous times in a very dangerous world,” Mullen said.

Navy Secretary Donald C. Winter urged the graduates to draw on lessons learned at the Naval Academy as they join the fleet fighting the war on terror.

“You have chosen to serve at a time when terrorists make no secrets of their goals. We cannot say we have not been warned,” he said. “We must remain strong, and we must fight back. We must fight our terrorist enemies today and deter potential future adversaries through strength and preparedness.”

Winter thanked the new officers who have accepted these challenges, and saluted them as they join “the finest and most capable fleet the world has ever known.”

As he administered the oath of office to the 785 new naval officers, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughhead recalled his own Naval Academy graduation 35 years ago.

“Today you begin to soar,” he told the class. “Savor every moment. Yours is the privilege and the opportunity to make the Navy a better place and to make the world a better place.”

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Adm. Mike Mullen
Donald C. Winter
Adm. Gary Roughhead

Related Sites:
U.S. Naval Academy
Photo Essay: Chairman Addresses U.S. Naval Academy Graduates, Annapolis, Md.

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