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Gates Praises Those Who Answer Nation’s Call

American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 21, 2009 –

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates praised young Americans who have answered the nation’s call to duty in a commencement address at Indiana University Saturday.

“Over this past decade, doing one’s duty has taken on a whole new meaning and required a whole new level of risk and sacrifice – with hundreds of thousands of young Americans in uniform who have volunteered to put their lives on the line to defend us – to set aside their dreams to protect yours,” he said to the Bloomington, Ind., audience.

Gates recognized four of the ceremony’s graduates who have volunteered to serve their nation in uniform as well as past alumni who have numerous deployments and combat leadership roles to their experience.

Second Lt. Christian Litscher is from the "Wild Aces" detachment, Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps. Army 2nd Lt.s Eric Bolin, Nathan Carpenter, and Andrew Roberts are from the "Screaming Bison Battalion" that was ranked fifth among all 273 ROTC units nationwide. 

Gates then told of the sacrifice made by 2005 graduate Brett Hershey, who lost his life in Afghanistan while deployed with the Indiana National Guard in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

“All of these Hoosiers and their families deserve our admiration, our gratitude, and our respect,” he said. “They are part of a group of young Americans who are as decent, giving, and compassionate as our nation has ever seen.”

The secretary noted that although these same young people are public-minded on campus and in their communities, he is troubled that they seem to be uninterested and distrustful of political processes and public service.

“As a result, I worry about how difficult it has become to persuade talented and capable young people to enter the public arena,” Gates said.

Attending Indiana University himself in the mid-60s, the secretary said his study of America’s Cold War adversary, the Soviet Union, led him down a path working for the CIA. This began a 43-year career in public service, including jobs at the National Security Council and the Defense Department.

“It was my entry into a way of life where I could combine my intellectual curiosity with something greater: service to country,” he said. “It is an important potential path open to you at this moment in your lives.”

Irreverence informed by healthy skepticism is one thing, Gates said. But cynicism about the people and institutions that govern and protect our country can be corrosive. He noted that many private citizens may view public life as too mean, ugly, risky, dangerous or frustrating.

“I have a different view – a view informed by my own experience and by what I see every day: that public service remains a necessary and honorable calling, and, contrary to the perceptions of many, a fulfilling and satisfying opportunity,” he said.

Gates said that many public servants who may seem outwardly tough or jaded, are actually romantics, idealists and optimists.

“You see, we who have taken this path actually believe we can make a difference, that we can change the lives of others for the better, that we can make a positive difference in the life of our country,” he said.

The secretary closed by quoting John Adams in a letter to his son, “Public business, my son, must always be done by somebody. It will be done by somebody or other. If wise men decline it, others will not; if honest men refuse it, other will not.”

“And so I ask you,” Gates said to the graduates, “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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