Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta gave these remarks on naval strength at the U.S. Naval Academy Commencement in Annapolis, Maryland on May 29, 2012.
Thank you, Vice Admiral Miller. Secretary Mabus thanks for the great job you do as the Secretary of the Navy. Governor O'Malley, Congressmen, distinguished guests, parents, friends, families, deans and faculty, Brigade of Midshipmen, and above all, Class of 2012: it is for me a very great honor and distinct privilege for me to take part in this special occasion as the Secretary of Defense.
And let me first and foremost express my deepest congratulations to those of you in the class of 2012. Congratulations to all of you, you made it!
And I'm sure that right about now your families are all saying, "Thank God, you made it!"
It's also a real privilege to be welcomed here on Navy turf as a former Army officer, although I have to tell you that one of our three sons is a former Navy officer and served in Afghanistan.
I try as secretary to be a loyal supporter of each of our outstanding services. Even when I had the opportunity to attend the Army-Navy football game, my allegiance was to both teams. I sat on each side of the stadium. But I have to tell you I am getting a little bit tired, you're probably not, but I am, of the West Point cheer: "Maybe Next Year...Maybe Next Year...Maybe Next Year…"
To the Brigade, today's ceremony is your last military duty of the academic year, after which most of you can go home or start summer training.
Of course, as you know, a few of you can't leave the Yard because you crossed the conduct system and are being held incommunicado.
However, I'm told that by tradition, I'm expected to set you free. Well, as an Italian-American, I do things in the Italian style, which means that obvious, I treat the Navy as family – and I don't like anyone to mess with family.
It also means that I can make you an offer you can't refuse.
So in exchange for freeing your classmates on restriction, I have an offer – I want the entire Brigade to lead the class of 2012 and their families in one big cheer.
I need to hear everyone or it doesn't count.
Let's hear a big 'Go Navy' on my count. And remember this is the difference between Salvation and Purgatory. So, on three: ready: one…two…three! [Crowd says: "Go Navy!"]
Well done. Vice Admiral Miller, I exercise my authority as Secretary of Defense to grant amnesty to all midshipmen on restriction for minor conduct offenses.
As a Catholic, I'm tempted to order you all to say three Hail Marys and a good Act of Contrition!
With that out of the way, let me first and foremost offer my deepest thanks.
Thank you to the class of 2012, and to all midshipmen, for your decision to serve this nation at a time of war. You have set yourselves apart in a profound and in an honorable way.
Thank you also to all of those in uniform, including the officers, senior enlisted leaders, and instructors, for your dedication and loyalty to our country.
Finally, thank you to the families, sponsor families, administrators, professors, mentors, and friends here today. This is every bit your day to celebrate along with this truly extraordinary class of 2012.
Class of '12, congratulations: over the past four years, you have passed an unrelenting test of character.
You chose to give up the life of a normal college kid and endure the demands of Navy life: rising before dawn, putting on the uniform of our country, standing watch, and marching in formation.
The highs and lows of your life here have changed you in ways that you may not fully understand for years or even decades to come.
You experienced some defining moments together as a class…you celebrated as plebes when a few of you pulled off a daring spirit mission: building an unmanned aerial vehicle, flying it over the Superintendent's house at night, and using it to place a hat on top of the chapel dome. Hell, I could have used you at the CIA.
Two years later, along with the rest of the country, you paid tribute to your Navy brethren who pulled off another daring mission: ridding the world of Osama bin Laden.
Having worked on that mission as Director of the CIA, I will never forget coming out of the White House after the President's announcement and hearing the cheers coming from the crowds that had spontaneously gathered outside the White House: "USA – USA," and I know I heard "CIA – CIA."
You are men and women from every state in the Union and 12 foreign nations, rich and poor, secular and religious, black, white, Latino, Native American, Asian, straight, and gay.
The diversity of this class is a tribute to the life and service of Retired Lieutenant Commander Wesley Brown, Class of '49, the first African-American graduate of the Naval Academy. Wesley passed away last week at the age of 85, and today we honor his groundbreaking legacy.
And while your class progressed from the first hour of Induction Day up to this moment, the world has undergone its own transformation. Naval Academy graduates have had a lot to do with that transformation:
- Retired Admiral Mike Mullen, Class of '68, guided our military to fight with the right strategy in two wars, and to be ready for future challenges;
- Retired Admiral Eric Olson, Class of '73, led Special Operations Command and its efforts to go after al Qaeda;
- General John Allen, Class of '76, is leading the campaign in Afghanistan with outstanding leadership;
- Admiral Sam Locklear, Class of '77, commands U.S. Pacific Command and spearheaded NATO's efforts and campaign that led to the fall of Qaddafi.
- And the list goes on...to the Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jon Greenert and innumerable other Naval Academy alumni influencing events around the entire globe.
Throughout my time in government, I've relied on the vision and advice of Navy and Marine Corps officers – as President Clinton's Chief of Staff, as Director of the CIA, and now as Secretary of Defense.
Because of their efforts, and the sacrifices of brave men and women from across the services, today the United States stands at a strategic turning point after a decade of war.
Our combat forces have come home from Iraq; NATO just approved a plan last week in Chicago a plan by General Allen to fully transition the lead for security to Afghan forces by the end of 2014; and we have successfully gone after the leadership of al Qaeda to send a very clear message that no one attacks the United States and gets away with it. And we successfully fought with our NATO allies to give Libya back to the Libyan people.
And yet we still face significant challenges and risks: we continue to face the threat of violent extremism, those who continue to threaten attacks on our homeland; we're still at war; we confront proliferation of weapons of mass destruction; the destabilizing behavior of Iran and North Korea; military modernization across the Asia-Pacific; turmoil in the Middle East; piracy on the high seas; and increasing and creative attacks, cyberattacks, here in our country and elsewhere. All of this coming at a time of increasing budget challenges here at home.
Our nation now looks to you, the next generation of military leaders, to confront these challenges I just outlined, to protect our nation, and to ensure that America always has the strongest military force in the world.
That is the way it has always been. And that's the way it will always be.
Across generations, the Navy and Marine Corps have led our nationand our military into the future.
It is up to your generation to ensure that our fleet remains unrivaled by any other nation on earth.
That is why you came here… for the challenge of leading others at sea; deploying to every part of the world; taking risks in the skies; fighting ferociously ashore; and giving our enemies hell wherever you find them.
After you leave here, the challenge that I just outlined is exactly what you'll get.
And it won't be easy. You'll need every quality that got you through the past four years: love of country; the desire to learn; the will to work hard; the will to sacrifice; the judgment to make good decisions; and the drive to overcome any odds.
No one can tell you what challenges you will face in the future. But one thing is for sure – you must be prepared to respond to whatever threats we confront in the future – with courage, with creativity, with leadership.
Adapting to new challenges is what the Naval Service does best. This is not a time for playing it safe; it is a time for imagination and initiative, for putting new ideas into action. That has always been the very heart of the Naval Service.
At the dawn of this Republic, Commodore Edward Preble urged a generation of young officers to take the Navy in new directions. During the War of 1812, "Preble's Boys" improvised the construction of a flotilla that defeated the British on Lake Erie and helped save the nation from British domination.
During the Civil War, David Farragut and his young officers embraced the revolutionary technology of all-iron ships, blockaded the rebel states, and doomed the rebellion.
Farragut's famous words are one of history's finest expressions of initiative and they are built into your very bones. Vice Admiral Miller tells me you can finish this one: so let me hear it from all of you loud and clear…. "Damn the Torpedoes!" [Crowd says: "Full Speed ahead!"]
That initiative is what has carried us through the generations.
When Teddy Roosevelt sent the Great White Fleet around the world, the Admirals of that time didn't want to bring along the brand new destroyers. That didn't sit well with some young lieutenants. So these enterprising junior officers found Roosevelt aboard his presidential yacht and asked him to overrule the admirals.
Roosevelt did, proving junior officers can have the best ideas…you just need to have the guts to prove it.
Down through time, our nation has needed military leaders with that kind of vision:
- Chester Nimitz's screen formations to push the Japanese back across the Pacific;
- Hyman Rickover's bold plan to put nuclear power in ships and submarines, and;
- Grace Hopper's computer genius that anticipated a networked fleet.
The future is no different. That is why we developed a new defense strategy adapting to the budget requirements that we face, but more importantly to ensure our military can meet the challenges of the 21st century.
Our military force for the future must be agile, it must be flexible, it must be deployable, it must be technologically advanced; we will emphasize Asia-Pacific as well as the Middle East; we will strengthen key alliances and partnerships around the world; we will ensure our military can confront aggression and defeat any opponent anytime, anywhere; and we will protect investments in new capabilities – from cyber, to unmanned systems, to space to special operations forces.
The Navy and Marine Corps are fundamental to every element of that strategy.
America is a maritime nation, and we are returning to our maritime roots. One of the key projects of your generation will have to face is sustaining and enhancing American strength across the great maritime region of the Pacific.
America's future prosperity and security are tied to our ability to advance peace and security along the arc extending from the Western Pacific and East Asia into the Indian Ocean and South Asia. That reality is inescapable for our country and for our military, which has already begun broadening and deepening our engagement throughout the Asia-Pacific.
One of your great challenges as an officer in the Navy will be to ensure the peace and prosperity of the Asia-Pacific region for the 21st century.
We need you to project America's power and to reflect America's character: to serve on ships and submarines, to fly planes, and to train and operate throughout the region.
We need you to do the important work of strengthening and modernizing our historic alliances with Japan, with Korea, with Australia, with the Philippines, with Thailand.
We need to you to build robust partnerships throughout the region; with countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia; with Vietnam, Singapore, India and others.
We also need you to strengthen defense ties with China. China's military is growing and modernizing. We must be vigilant. We must be strong. We must be prepared to confront any challenge. But the key to peace in that region is to develop a new era of defense cooperation between our countries – one in which our militaries share security burdens to advance peace in the Asia-Pacific and around the world.
Tomorrow I depart on a trip to Southeast Asia. And later this year, I will visit to China for the first time as Secretary of Defense.
I'll tell all of these nations that the United States will remain a Pacific power, and I'll tell them why: because of you. Because during your careers many of you will be headed to the Pacific.
There and across the globe, the Navy and Marine Corps must lead a resurgence of America's enduring maritime presence and power.
As graduates of the Naval Academy, you've earned much and you've been given much. And now, as Navy and Marine Corps officers, your nation will ask you to give much of yourselves to service to this country. It is about giving back to this country. That's what service is all about.
As Secretary of Defense, I could not be more proud of you for choosing to serve this great country.
As mentioned, I'm the son of Italian immigrants. And as a young boy, I once asked my dad: "Why would you travel all of that distance, coming to a strange country, no language ability, no money, no skills, why would you do that?"
My father said he did it because he and my mother believed they could give their children a better life in America. That is the American dream: the dream that we all want for our children, to have a better life. That dream depends on people like you who are willing to serve and to fight for America.
A U.S. Navy ship captain once wrote that he could think of no greater prize for anyone than an appointment to the Naval Academy…for as he put it, "there may be more money elsewhere, but there is no more honor anywhere."
Indeed, there is no more honor anywhere than right here.
As you leave here, carry that honor with you. Defend it, fight for it and yes, if necessary, die for it. The honor is yours – now earn it!
Congratulations to all of you. God Bless you, God Bless the Navy, God Bless the Marine Corps, and Fair Winds to the Class of 2012.