ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin told incoming U.S. Naval Academy officers on Friday that they are ready to “defend our democracy with honor, courage and commitment.”
Austin, speaking at the ceremony at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium after President Joe Biden addressed graduates last year and Vice President Kamala Harris delivered a speech in 2021, acknowledged the Navy’s role in training allies, helping to expand Ukraine’s maritime capabilities in its fight against invading Russia and providing relief to areas of international conflict.
“Class of 2023, wherever your career takes you, remind the world what you stand for – and what America stands for: Honor. Courage. And Commitment. Democracy. Freedom. And the Rule of Law,” Austin told 1,018 graduates at the academy’s commissioning ceremony.
The secretary said naval officers have a special understanding of the power of teamwork and that “we need that spirit for the critical mission you are all here to take on.”
Austin said U.S. Marines are training alongside allies in Japan and the Philippines to bolster deterrence in the Indo-Pacific. He also said the Navy is advancing the AUKUS partnership with Australia and the UK.
In Europe, he said, American sailors operate shoulder to shoulder with NATO allies.
He told the promotion that their leadership will be central to American efforts for a more peaceful future.
“Our competitors are openly challenging this view,” he said. “They want to replace the hard-won post-war system of rules and rights with an anarchic world of autocracy and aggression. But the American flag atop a US Navy ship has long been a symbol of hope for a freer and safer world.
The secretary noted that the class rose to the challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic during their first year at the academy.
“It separated you from your classmates because you were just starting to feel like family, but you hung on,” Austin said. “You took care of each other.”
The class consisted of 751 men and 267 women. There were 744 graduates who were appointed ensigns of the navy, including 539 men and 205 women. There were 257 commissioned as second lieutenants in the Marine Corps, including 198 men and 59 women. New officers will serve at least five years.