WASHINGTON, May 17, 2017 —
President Donald J. Trump expressed pride in the Coast Guard's mission today in his address at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy's 136th commencement in New London, Connecticut.
Each year, the president delivers the commencement address at one of the U.S. military service academies, and this was Trump's first address to a service academy graduating class as commander in chief.
"The Coast Guard stands watch at our ports, patrols our waterways and protects our infrastructure," he said. "The Coast Guard is deployed in support of operations in theaters of conflict all around the world, but not only do they defend American security, they also protect American prosperity. They help keep our waters open for Americans to do business. It keeps our rivers flowing with commerce, and it keeps our ports churning with American exports.
"You help billions and billions in goods to navigate our country every day," the president continued. "You’re the only federal presence upon our inland waterways. You pursue the terrorists, stop the drug smugglers and keep out all who would do harm to our country. Together we have the same mission, and your devotion and dedication makes me proud to be your commander in chief."
Praise for Public Service Work
The president recognized the 195 cadets commissioned as Coast Guard officers today for their public service work, including serving breakfast at a local food bank, rebuilding a home with Habitat for Humanity and donating 24,000 hours in community service.
"You’ve done amazing work, and in true Coast Guard fashion, you had fewer people and fewer resources, but you accomplished the objectives," Trump said. "You did it with skill, with pride, under budget and ahead of schedule."
As millions of high school and college graduates have their own commencement ceremonies, the president said, they may ask themselves, "What now?" But the cadets won’t have that issue, he added.
"Years from now, when they look back, they may ask themselves, 'Did I make the right choice?' In the Coast Guard, you may face many challenges, but that question isn't one of them," Trump said. "You'll know how you spent your time, saving lives and serving your country. You were a leader in the United States Coast Guard."
Cadets at the academy pursue a four-year program for a bachelor's degree in science. They pay no tuition and are required to serve in the Coast Guard for five years following graduation.
Leaders of Character
In his remarks to the graduating class, Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul F. Zukunft advised the new officers to be leaders of character.
“We run the business of military service as national security, and with national security comes public trust,” he said. “These are interwoven, and you have neither without leaders of character. Today, the United States Coast Guard operates in the waters of over 60 nations throughout the world, using up to deadly force to enforce fishery regulations [and] to go after drug smugglers. We had over 27 metric tons of cocaine in the holds of Coast Guard cuttters that we seized in the last three weeks alone. We have leveled the playing field because we have leaders of character carrying out those missions.”
Zukunft said the Class of 2017's motto, "Storms Yield Courage," meant something different 40 years ago when he was at the academy.
"There was only one storm on the horizon, and that was the Cold War,” he told the class. “It was a war with high stakes, but it was a predictable war. You’re going to be leaders in a world that has storms on many fronts. It’s going to require leaders with character to lead this great nation. A leader is not what you wear on your shoulders. A leader is what you hold in your heart.”
Secretary of Homeland Security John F. Kelly, who served 45 years with the Marine Corps from private to four-star general, said his advice to the young officers was simple.
"Take care of your people. Train them, mentor them and defend them," he said. "They will do anything you ask them to do. They'll show up to work on time. They'll put their lives at risk on the high seas interdicting drugs, dealing with the most dangerous men on the planet, or they'll jump out of a helicopter in the middle of the night in the raging seas to save somebody. All you have to do is lead them."
The Coast Guard is part of the Department of Homeland Security.
(Follow Shannon Collins on Twitter: @CollinsDoDNews)