President Barack Obama promised graduating midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy on Friday that, as their commander in chief, he will only send them "into harm’s way when it is absolutely necessary." In his first address to military graduates, Obama also pledged to invest in the men and women who defend America’s liberty, not just in the weapons they would take with them into battle against 21st century threats.
"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 that you need to get the job done," the president told more than 1,000 graduates during a sun-splashed ceremony at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.
Obama said he has halted reductions in the Navy, is building up the Marine Corps and investing in the hardware — combat ships, submarines and fighter aircraft — they’ll need to do their jobs. He promised higher pay, enhanced child care and improved support and other benefits.
"In short, we will maintain America’s military dominance and keep you the finest fighting force the world has ever seen," Obama said, as more than 30,000 watched from the stands.
The president also praised the role of Navy SEALS in freeing a U.S. sea captain by killing his Somali pirate captors last month.
"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," Obama said in his first public comments on the matter.
Among those receiving degrees was John S. McCain IV, the son of Obama’s presidential rival, Sen. John McCain, who watched from a front-row seat on the grassy field with his wife, Cindy, his mother, Roberta, and several of his children. Had the Arizona Republican, who also graduated from the academy, defeated Obama, McCain could have addressed the Class of 2009 himself.
Obama and "Jack" McCain, a fourth-generation academy graduate, shared a handshake, an embrace and a few words when the young man was called up to receive his diploma, following in the footsteps of his father, grandfather and great-grandfather.
Obama did not recognize Sen. McCain in his speech; the White House says it was out of respect for the family’s wishes. But the president did say a few words about his rival for the presidency before he left the White House. He praised the senator as he signed legislation giving the Pentagon new power to curtail wasteful defense spending. McCain was a sponsor of the bill.
"Senator McCain couldn’t be here today because he’s making sure he has a good seat to watch his son graduate from the Naval Academy in a few hours, and that’s where I’m headed as soon as I catch my ride over here," Obama said at the bill signing in the Rose Garden.
Presidents typically deliver the commencement address at one of the service academies each year. Friday’s speech was the third graduation address by Obama in the past nine days. He used the previous two to tackle issues that threatened to overshadow both events.
At the University of Notre Dame last Sunday, abortion opponents protested Obama’s appearance because he supports abortion rights. Obama took on the debate, telling graduates of the Roman Catholic university that people on both sides of the issue must stop demonizing one another.
At Arizona State University, where Obama spoke on May 13, the issue was the school’s decision not to award him an honorary degree on grounds that he hadn’t accomplished enough. Obama said he agreed, saying no one’s body of work is ever complete.
On Thursday, Obama delivered a different kind of speech, one in which he sought to regain control of the emotional debate over closing the detention center for suspected terrorists in Cuba. He denounced "fear-mongering" by political opponents and insisted that maximum-security prisons on the U.S. mainland can safely house the dangerous detainees he wants transferred from Guantanamo Bay.
Former Vice President Dick Cheney countered the same day with a speech denouncing some of Obama’s actions as "unwise in the extreme" and repeating his contention that the new president is endangering the country by turning aside Bush-era policies.
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U.S. Naval Academy: http://www.usna.edu