Obama To Navy Grads: No Choice Between Security and Ideals

ABC News' Yunji de Nies and Sunlen Miller report:

President Obama delivered his third commencement address of the graduation season at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md.

“This class is about to become the latest link in a long, unbroken chain of heroism and victory,” the president told the graduating class of 1036. “Of all the privileges of serving as president, I have no greater honor than serving as your commander in chief."

Speaking at the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, the president said that at a time when too few citizens answer the call to service -- especially during a war -- these men and women should be honored, in addition to those who have done so in the past.

“As we near Memorial Day, we pay tribute to all those who have given their lives so that we might live free, including those aboard that navy helicopter who were lost this week in the waters off California. We send our prayers to their families and all who loved them.”

Describing a culture that is leaning more toward chasing “outward markers of success” like “titles and status materialism and money, fame and popularity” Mr. Obama said the graduates have shown that they have embraced the virtues that the United States needs right now -- “Self-discipline over self-interest. Work over comfort. Character over celebrity.”

“After an era when so many institutions and individuals acted with such greed and recklessness, it is no wonder that our military remains the most trusted institution in the nation,” Mr. Obama said, “And in a world when so many forces and voices seek to divide us, it is inspiring that this class came together and succeeded together, from every state and every corner of the world.”

Largely avoiding politics, the president made only a brief mention of his speech yesterday at the National Archives in which he responded to the recent debate over the administration's policy on Guantanamo Bay, detainees, and larger national security issues.

“I went there because as our nation debates how to deal with the security challenges that we face, we must remember this enduring truth: the values and ideals in those documents are not simply words written into aging parchment, they are the bedrock of our liberty and our security. We uphold our fundamental principles and values not just because we choose to, but because we swear to. Not because they feel good, but because they help keep us safe.”

The president said that the midshipmen’s pledge today as they become officers is the pledge to protect both the nation’s security and ideals. He, in turn, promised the graduates that he would not send them into war without the proper resources.

“And, today, this is the promise I make to you. It’s a promise that as long as I am your commander in chief, I will only send you into harm’s way when it is absolutely necessary, and with the strategy, the well-defined goals, the equipment and the support you need to get the job done.”

Amid scattered applause, the president said that this included the promise to bring the Iraq war to a responsible end and defeat al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

“We will also ensure you can meet the missions of today, which is why we’ve halted reductions in Navy personnel and increased the size of the Marine Corps. And we will ensure you can meet the missions of tomorrow, which is why we’re investing in the capabilities and technologies -- the littoral combat ships, the most advanced submarines and fighter aircraft -- so that you have what you need to succeed.”

The president recalled the Bravery of the U.S. Navy off the seas of Somalia last month with the pirate situation and the USS Bainbridge. The president said that after Captain Phillip was freed, he spoke to a number of the Navy SEALS who were there, as well as the skipper of the USS Bainbridge.

“The extraordinary precision and professionalism displayed that day was made possible, in no small measure, by the training, the discipline and the leadership skills that so many of those officers learned at the United States Naval Academy,” Mr. Obama said. “The success of that day belongs not only to a single commander or a small team of SEALs. It belongs to the many. It belongs to all the sailors -- officers and enlisted, not on one ship, but several -- who diligently stood their watch.”

The president -– not famous for his gift-giving ability -– may have brought a gift that at least pleased the midshipmen.

“All midshipmen on restriction for minor conduct offenses are hereby officially absolved,” the president joked amid cheers. “I did say minor.”

Former campaign rival, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., was in the crowd with his family to watch the graduation of John “Jack” Sidney McCain IV, a forth generation graduate of the academy in the McCain family. The president made no mention of his former foe.

-- Yunji de Nies and Sunlen Miller

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