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Deputy Secretary of Defense Dr. Kathleen Hicks' Remarks at the National Capital Region Joint Commissioning Ceremony (As Delivered)

It really is my pleasure to be joining you this morning in Conmy Hall to salute our nation’s newest ensigns and lieutenants.

At the outset, it’s so wonderful that we have so many friends and family joining us.  I know that over the past few years, the pandemic has made gatherings like this difficult, and I’m glad that you could be here today to celebrate. 

 And I want to thank you for the support and love that you’ve provided our midshipmen and cadets. I know that it means so much to them, and it will be essential as they take on consequential responsibilities for the nation’s security.  

To our ROTC instructors and detachment commanders, thank you.  I know that leading and developing our cadets and midshipmen requires selfless commitment.  Thank you for your leadership and for taking the time to make this a meaningful experience – preparing them to become leaders in their own right, and members of a Joint Force entrusted with defense of the nation.     

And to the class of 2022 – congratulations.  By completing a program as demanding and rigorous as ROTC, you have meaningfully distinguished yourself and made all Americans proud.  

We come together today at historic Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall.  All around us are reminders of the history and the proud traditions that belong to our nation’s armed services. 

Today, this class of 87 officers will be joining that tradition and imprinting your own legacy on it.  

This is a distinguished group.  You’ve displayed exemplary leadership in the field, and at the detachment level – pushing each other and those under your charge.  

Impressively, 14 of you are graduating today as Distinguished Military Graduates, which places you in the top 20% of all cadets nationally.  

For 13 of you, your parents were members of our Joint Force and for 34 of you, you are the first in your family to serve.

And five of our cadets are first generation Americans.   

Nine out of 87 are “Green to Gold” cadets – served previously in our armed services.

That includes Cadet Ethan Wilson. For Ethan and his family, who I had the pleasure to meet this morning, the word “gold” takes on greater meaning.  Joining Ethan this morning are his mom, Julie and his sister Chelsea.  This is a special family – a “Gold Star Family.” We all celebrate the life of Private First-Class Thomas Wilson – whom we lost in 2007 and remember especially today.  All of us here are so grateful, and so thankful, that Ethan and his family are joining us this morning. Your continued commitment to service is inspiring, and it steels our resolve.   

Soon, some of you will be entering active duty, some the reserve, and others reporting to your state’s National Guard. 

No matter where you are headed, you will be working side-by-side with military and civilian personnel across the globe, all of whom are all dedicated to the defense of the nation.   

Today’s class, notably, is the first to graduate since September 11, 2001 that will not see combat in Afghanistan.  

Even so, if you scroll through the news on any given day, you know the United States faces a myriad of challenges.  

First and foremost – the people of Ukraine are on our minds.  Russia’s war of choice and brutal tactics show that it continues to pose an acute threat to the international system. 

And this morning, I would like to acknowledge Cadet Mariami Dolashvili.  

Is she here?  Mariami?  Thank you for standing up. 

Cadet Dolashvili is a first generation American, one of those I referenced before, who emigrated from Ukraine while in high school.  Today, she is completing her Master’s degree in Security Studies Policy, and is set to commission into the U.S. Army Reserves as an Army Intelligence Officer.  Her story is America’s story, and it’s one that makes us very proud.     

But even as we confront Russia’s malign activities, we know that China is our military’s most consequential competitor and the pacing challenge for our military.  It has the military, economic, and technological capability to fundamentally threaten the international system and America’s interests within it.    

We also continue to face persistent, regional threats emanating from North Korea, Iran, and violent extremist organizations.  And we must also confront trans-boundary challenges, like climate change, that impact our operations and missions.  

This morning, I’d like to speak to you briefly about how we – you and I – are going to meet these challenges, and I’ll highlight two of those approaches.   

First, the cornerstone of our 2022 National Defense Strategy is integrated deterrence.  At its core, integrated deterrence requires integrating our military across domains, and across the spectrum of conflict. 

More than that, it also includes new concepts of operation, the elimination of stovepipes between services and their capabilities, and coordinated operations on land, in the air, on the sea, in space and in cyberspace.  

That means that you have to know and rely on your teammates from the start.  I know that this past year, your ROTC Detachment Commanders have been deliberate in ensuring that you have all been exposed to, and learned about, each other’s branches.  You haven’t remained siloed in your stovepipes.    

You did so by breaking out into joint teams and competing against each other in different fitness activities on the National Mall. 

Your ROTC branches joined together and undertook different field activities, where you learned to rely on each other in tough situations. 

And your ROTC Ball this year was a joint occasion – where 200 of you ate together, celebrated the end of the semester, and had the opportunity to watch the Air Force Drill Team.  

These types of activities break down harmful stovepipes, help you become a more seamless Joint Force, and allow all of us to realize the potential of integrated deterrence. We trust that you will build on these experiences as you go forward to defend the nation.

The second approach to meet the challenges we face today is our commitment to invest more deeply in advanced systems and technologies critical to defense.

One of America’s greatest comparative advantages is our ingenuity and inventiveness. 

That is why President Biden’s FY 2023 budget request looks to make investments in advanced systems like missile defeat and missile defense, long range fires – including hypersonic weapons, space and space-based systems, cyber activities, and DoD’s own digital modernization. 

We also asked Congress for over $130 billion dollars for research, development, test, and evaluation.  This will help us develop critical 5G and artificial intelligence technologies that we need for the future.  

For many of you, probably all of you, your relationship with technology is fundamentally stronger than that of prior generations.  You’re quite familiar with the technologies that I’ve just mentioned.

As “digital natives,” you are at home imagining how advanced devices and digital applications can deliver advantage.

You adapt quickly and seamlessly when presented with new software and more data.    

This class is more prepared and primed to leverage and implement the technologies we are employing and developing than any that preceded you. 

That’s great news for the military.  Doing so will be crucial in meeting the challenges we face today.  In fact, your lived experiences aren’t just nice to have, they’re a national security imperative, and we are looking forward to the talent and tools that you will bring to service.     

I’ll close this morning by speaking just a minute about the oath of office that you are about to take.   

We are asking you to support and defend the Constitution of the United States.

There is a lot in just those 11 words.

The oath attests your dedication to public service, your willingness to put others’ needs before your own, and your commitment to upholding the values we hold dear. 

And because of your solemn pledge today, I know that the United States and our democratic way of life is safer because our national security is now in your capable hands.  I, and everyone who has come here to support you today, deeply respect and honor your selflessness and willingness to serve our country.  Thank you.  
Taking the oath, and living the oath, is an enormous responsibility, but one that I know each of you are ready for, and for which your instructors and commanders have prepared you well.  

We are counting on your leadership, your integrity, and your commitment to the military’s core values as you go out to lead the women and men entrusted by their families to serve in our armed forces.

So, congratulations to the Class of 2022 – I can’t wait to see all of the great things that you’ll do for our country, and I look forward to serving alongside each of you.