Troops Serve as Worldwide Examples, Obama Tells Naval Academy Grads
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May. 22, 2009 U.S. servicemembers are the key to America’s success in the world, President Barack Obama said at the U.S. Naval Academy graduation in Annapolis, Md.
Members of the U.S. Naval Academy's Class of 2009 listen to President Barack Obama honor their decision to serve the country at a time when it faces challenges ranging from 18th-century piracy to 21st-century cyber threats during the academy’s graduation ceremony in Annapolis, Md., May 22, 2009. DoD photo by Donna Miles
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
“It’s not the strength of our arms or the power of our technology that gives the United States our military dominance; it’s our people,” Obama said. “It’s our sailors and Marines, soldiers and airmen and Coast Guardsmen who perform brilliantly in every mission we give them.”
The president said servicemembers serve as an example to Americans and others in the world and that their service fulfills the true meaning of citizenship. “In an era when too few citizens answer the call to service, to community or country, these Americans chose to serve,” he said. “And they did so in a time of war, knowing they might be called upon to make the ultimate sacrifice.”
The newly commissioned officers in the Navy and Marine Corps do not chase outward markers of success, Obama said. “These Americans have embraced the virtues that we need most right now: self-discipline over self-interest, work over comfort, character over celebrity,” he said.
And it is a diverse force that lives the U.S. motto of “Out of Many, One,” Obama said.
The class of 2009 is defined by the values of honor, courage and commitment, the president said. The young officers will need these values as they go into a force confronting many new and different challenges, he said.
“For history teaches us that the nations that grow comfortable with the old ways and complacent in the face of new threats, those nations do not long endure,” he said. “In the 21st century, we do not have the luxury of deciding which challenges to prepare for and which to ignore. We must overcome the full spectrum of threats.”
Servicemembers and the president swear an oath to protect and defend the Constitution. “Yesterday I visited the National Archives and the hall that holds our Constitution, Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights,” Obama said. “I went there because as our nation debates how to deal with the security challenges that we face, we must remember this enduring truth: the values and ideals in those documents are not simply words written into aging parchment, they are the bedrock of our liberty and our security.
“We uphold our fundamental principles and values not just because we choose to, but because we swear to. Not because they feel good, but because they help keep us safe.”
Straying from these basic values not only undermines the rule of law, but also alienates the country from its allies, and gives enemies aid, Obama said. “So as Americans, we reject the false choice between our security and our ideals,” he said. “We can and we must and we will protect both.”
By swearing the oath, the new officers will defend American ideals and accept lives of sacrifice. “That is the oath you take, the life you choose, the promise you make to America,” the president said.
But the commander in chief also made a promise. “I will only send you into harm’s way when it is absolutely necessary, and with the strategy, the well-defined goals, the equipment and the support you need to get the job done,” he said. “This includes the job of bringing the Iraq war to a responsible end, and pursuing a new comprehensive strategy to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al-Qaida and its allies in Afghanistan and Pakistan.”
The president also promised that all aspects of the federal government will participate in this conflict, “so that you and the rest of our military do not bear the burden of our security alone.”
Obama told the class of 2009 that in months or years or decades from now, to remember their academy days and the motto on their rings: “Devotion to Honor, Strength from Courage.”
“Live these values. Live these virtues. Emulate the deeds of those who have gone before you,” he said. “Do this and you will not only distinguish yourselves as sailors and Marines. You will be in the lead as we write the next proud chapter in the story of the country we love.”