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Gates Encourages Graduates to Seek Public Service

By Carmen L. Gleason
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 18, 2009 – Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates challenged the graduates of the University of Georgia this morning to consider the obligations of service, citizenship and patriotism as they move forward into the next chapter of their lives.

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U.S. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates congratulates eight new second lieutenants after commissioning them at the University of Georgia's North campus Chapel in Athens, Ga., Dec. 18, 2009. DoD photo by U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Jerry Morrison

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

During his commencement address in Albany, Ga., Gates said America needs its best and brightest to step forward to serve others.

“If America is to continue to be a force for good in the world – for freedom, justice, the rule of law, and the inherent value of each person – then the most able and idealistic of our young people – of you – must step forward and accept the burden and the duty of public service,” he said.

Serving others can take many forms, the secretary said.

“Working in the public sector at some level offers a chance to learn the inner workings of our government and to build skills that will stand you in good stead to deal with other challenges,” he told the graduates.

The audience applauded when Gates announced that later today he will commission eight of the graduates as second lieutenants in the military.

“This is no light commitment, and certainly no segue into a life of ease and comfort,” he said. “They join an American military that has been actively waging our nation’s war for almost a decade now.” In a year’s time, the secretary noted, some of these young men and women could be leading troops in the war zones of Iraq or Afghanistan.

Putting others before self is not a new concept to many graduates of the university, Gates said. He reminded the audience of a 2004 graduate who became a military police officer who was killed while deployed to Iraq; the 1952 graduate who turned down the opportunity to play professional football and went on to serve several tours in Vietnam and later founded the military’s most elite counter-terrorism unit; and the graduate who, in 1933, left his position as professor to work with farmers to transform cooperative farming during the Great Depression.

“To serve our country, you don’t need to deploy to a war zone or a Third World country or be buried in a windowless cube in a Gothic structure by the Potomac River,” Gates said. “Whatever the job, serving in government requires a singular commitment to missions and themes larger than yourself.”

The secretary caused the graduates to chuckle as he recounted some of the good and bad experiences he’s had in his 43 years of working for the CIA, the National Security Council and the Defense Department.

“But I still believe that public service remains a necessary and honorable calling and, contrary to the perceptions of many, a fulfilling and satisfying opportunity,” Gates said.

“We live in a time of great necessities – a time when we cannot avoid the burdens of global leadership. The stakes are too high,” he said. “So I ask you, the University of Georgia Class of 2009, will the wise and honest among you come help us serve the American people?”

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Robert M. Gates

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