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Austin: New Officers Ready to Lead in Complex World

"The United States has the most capable Navy and Marine Corps in the world. ... And make no mistake, we're going to keep it that way. And you're going to keep it that way."
Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III

Even as new Navy ensigns and Marine Corps second lieutenants were being commissioned at the U.S. Naval Academy, U.S. Central Command issued a release on the latest threat to mariners in the Red Sea. 

"At approximately 7:26 a.m. on May 23, Iranian-backed Houthis launched two antiship, ballistic missiles into the Red Sea," the Centcom release said. "There were no injuries or damage reported by U.S., coalition or commercial ships. This continued malign and reckless behavior by the Iranian-backed Houthis threatens regional stability and endangers the lives of mariners across the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden." 

This is just one of the threats that the new officers will confront as they begin their military careers. It's an example of the challenges these young officers must face as they join the ranks.


Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III told the graduating service members in Annapolis, Maryland, that their experiences at the Naval Academy have made them ready to confront the challenges of the future.

"I hope that you will see your years here as a long lesson in grit, adaptability and discipline," the secretary said. "You put in the 'reps and sets' to succeed as a team and grow as teammates. And that's what we'll continue to expect of you — today and every day.

"The United States has the most capable Navy and Marine Corps in the world," he continued. "And make no mistake, we're going to keep it that way. And you're going to keep it that way."

The graduating class arrived at the academy at the height of the COVID-19 epidemic. They had to adapt to a new learning situation and new procedures in order to graduate. "You have lived by your class motto: 'From Adversity, Victory'," Austin said. "And during a once-in-a-generation pandemic, that's exactly what you showed." 

Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III shakes hands with a sailor in dress uniform in a stadium full of people.
Congrats to a Grad
Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III congratulates a newly commissioned Navy ensign during the U.S. Naval Academy's Class of 2024 graduation ceremony at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Md., May 24, 2024.
Photo By: Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Alexander Kubitza, DOD
VIRIN: 240524-D-PM193-2183

This is the second year in a row that Austin, a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, has officiated at the Naval Academy's graduation. "Last year, I told the class of 2023 that they would learn that the lifeblood of the rules-based international order is actually seawater," he said. "And over the past year, we've seen how important your mission is. Sea power is a beacon projecting American power and American principles to the world. Our allies and partners depend on it, and our foes and rivals envy it."  

The Navy and Marine Corps are upholding U.S. principles from the South China Sea to the Red Sea. Austin said the United States is seeing new challenges to the open world of rules, rights and responsibilities built with U.S. leadership after World War II. "In times like these, freedom of navigation rides on the bow waves of U.S. Navy ships," he said. "As officers, you will help us increase American security and model American values worldwide. Our sailors and Marines let the U.S. military project power anywhere on Earth."

The new ensigns and second lieutenants will join the services working to "secure the world's sea lanes for the free flow of ships, commerce and ideas," Austin said. "We're depending on you to sail, fly and operate wherever international law allows. We're depending on you to deepen old alliances and forge new friendships. And we're depending on you to deter conflict and to keep the peace." 

Yes, the new officers must be prepared for war, but they must do more. Austin quoted Navy Adm. Arleigh Burke, who in 1961 said that Navy officers must "understand not only how to fight a war, but how to use the tremendous power which they operate to sustain a world of liberty and justice."

Four people stand on a stage.
Graduation Day
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Lisa Franchetti, left, Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro, center left, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III, center, Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Eric Smith, center right, and U.S. Naval Academy Superintendent Vice Adm. Yvette Davids attend the U.S. Naval Academy graduation ceremony in Annapolis, Md., May 24, 2024.
Photo By: Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class William Bennett IV
VIRIN: 240524-N-OF444-1088

"And you will be tested. Just ask last year's graduates," the secretary said.  

The secretary spoke with ensigns of the class of 2023 who are aboard the USS Carney. "They helped defend freedom of navigation in the Red Sea," he said. "They helped those in distress at sea. They helped degrade the capabilities of the Iranian-backed Houthi militia. And they helped shoot down missiles and UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles]. In fact, the Carney conducted 51 engagements in six months, which is the most direct Navy engagement with a foe since World War II.

Sailors in formal uniforms stand at attention along the rails of a large ship as seen from below. A large flag flies above them.
Carney Return
Sailors man the rails as the USS Carney prepares to moor pier-side during a homecoming event at Naval Station Mayport, Fla., May 19, 2024. The Carney was returning from deployment in support of maritime security operations in the U.S. 5th Fleet and 6th Fleet areas of operation.
Photo By: Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Sophie A. Pinkham
VIRIN: 240519-N-EE423-1225C

"And the message of those ensigns on the Carney to the class of 2024 is this: You are ready."  

The secretary said they will lead sailors and Marines through tension and uncertainty. "Your teammates will look to you for leadership, for grace under pressure, for calm under fire. And you will be ready," he said. "Ensigns and lieutenants, long after you leave the Yard, you'll steer by the values that you learned on the Yard, and those values will be your North Star. You'll uphold your convictions with courage. Hold yourself accountable. Treat others with dignity and respect. And defend our democracy and our Constitution with honor, courage and commitment because leadership isn't just about what you do. It's about who you are."

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