Richard B. Cheney photo

The Vice President's Remarks at the United States Naval Academy Commencement

May 24, 2002

United States Naval Academy

Annapolis, Maryland

Secretary England... General Jones... Admiral Clark... Admiral Ryan... Dean Miller... members of Congress... Academy staff and faculty... distinguished guests, officers, midshipmen, and graduates:

Thank you all. It's a pleasure to be back at this Academy, and a high privilege to stand before the newest officers in the United States Navy and Marine Corps.

I congratulate each of you on your achievement, and the years of effort that brought you to this day. Now the only thing standing between you and your diploma is a commencement speech. I'll keep it short. And if I do a good job, maybe all the plebes will come down on the field and give us 50 push-ups. But now that I think of it, the Herndon Climb is over - and there are no more plebes.

I am also honored to extend to the class of 2002 the personal congratulations of your commander in chief, President George W. Bush.

The President was here last year, and apparently received not only handshakes from the graduates but quite a few hugs. They tell me this year's group is under clear orders to be a little more restrained. For my part, I have no objection at all. If any of you feel swept up in the moment, I invite you to go right ahead and give a big friendly bear hug to Admiral Ryan.

As you all know, Admiral Ryan will be leaving this year as Superintendent of this Academy. He has followed in a great tradition. He has proved himself worthy of it in every way. Admiral, the President and I - and all who have gathered here today - thank you for your fine service to this great American institution.

President Bush also sent me here with an instruction concerning minor conduct offenses. We talked about it, and the President felt very strongly that we should be lenient. Me, I could have gone either way. In the end we agreed, and at his direction I hereby absolve the midshipmen on restriction for minor conduct offenses.

In a little more than an hour you will be commissioned officers. But your journey does not end today, and it did not begin on Induction Day. Very early in life, the people who know you best and care the most set you on a path to the rank and respect you have now earned. For those people, your parents, this is a glorious day too, and let's take this chance to thank them with a round of applause.

As you leave for your different assignments, all 965 of you will take away many memories of this place, to be recalled "whenever two or three shall meet." And I know that when you think back to these years, you'll never forget two young men who did not live to see this day. You'll think of Midshipman Stephen Douglas, who shared those early months with you, and was taken so suddenly. You'll think of Midshipman Ken Neptun, who said farewell to you only weeks ago. His mother and father, who are with us today, can know that their son went to his rest with the respect and love of the class of 2002.

You are about to collect a diploma that sets you apart, and places you among only 68,000 in the nation's history who have called themselves graduates of the United States Naval Academy. You have been tested - mentally, physically, and morally. You have learned to give direct, unequivocal answers to be loyal in all circumstances, while never compromising the truth to go beyond what is expected, toward a standard of excellence to be fair, and just, and strong in adversity. You know what it means to be a person of integrity. All of these qualities, four years ago, defined the kind of person you hoped to become the kind of person the Navy knew you could be.

Each one you has earned the right to be called a Naval or Marine Corps officer. Because of that sole distinction, certain values will be automatically attributed to you - honor and courage commitment and accountability service and duty. For four years you have studied the United States military and its history. This afternoon, with one oath, you will step into that history.

I am told that on the morning our country was attacked last year, every one of you had the same wish - to graduate on September 12, and take your place in the first war of the twenty-first century. Much has happened since that day, but there is a great deal yet to do, and you will be among those who lead us toward victory. The United States has entered a struggle of years - a new kind of war against a new kind of enemy. The terrorists who struck America are ruthless, they are resourceful, and they hide in many countries. They came into our country to murder thousands of innocent, unsuspecting men, women, and children - including 14 graduates of this Academy. There is no doubting they wish to strike again, and are working to acquire the deadliest of all weapons. Against such enemies, America and the civilized world have only one option: Wherever terrorists operate, we must find them where they dwell stop them in their planning and one by one bring them to justice.

In Afghanistan, the Taliban regime and al-Qaida terrorists have met the fate they chose for themselves. And they got their first look at the new methods and capabilities of the American military - of military power that cannot and will not be evaded.

When the campaign began in October, there were warnings that the obstacles would be extreme - and they were. Here, after all, was a landlocked country with a forbidding, mountainous terrain, and winter setting in. The enemy force was widely scattered, but well armed, protected by deep caves, and skilled in guerilla tactics. Added to that was the sheer mileage between our forces and the objective.

We responded to these obstacles with a combination of tactics and technology that marked a turning point in modern warfare. The success of our coalition forces has shined very brightly in our Naval task forces, with unprecedented cooperation and integration from the operational to tactical levels. Operation Enduring Freedom assembled the largest naval task force since World War Two. Tomahawk missiles, precision-guided munitions, and tons of ordnance fell upon our enemies and their assets all day, all night, in all weather, around the clock. Our unmanned Predator aircraft gave commanders a clear and immediate picture of conditions on the ground, allowing for swift and timely strikes.

Overwhelming air power, much of it off our carriers, removed the need for large stationary forces on land. Within three weeks after the campaign began, Special Ops were on the ground - going to the far corners of Afghanistan meeting with tribal leaders forming them into military units and leading them into combat. Small teams of Navy SEALS scoured the countryside, engaging enemy holdouts, designating targets by laser, and calling in precision air strikes from hundreds of miles away.

All of this represents a dramatic advance in our ability to engage and defeat an adversary. The Persian Gulf War showed the tremendous effect of precision-guided munitions. Yet that technology was the exception, making up only a small percentage of munitions fired. In Afghanistan, the majority of our munitions were precision-guided - making our strikes far deadlier for the enemy, and far less so for innocent civilians. In the Gulf War, air tasking orders with targeting assignments were written at headquarters in Saudi Arabia, then flown out to carriers and given to the pilots. This time, targeting assignments were transmitted directly to pilots by special forces near the targets themselves. In the Gulf War, naval expeditionary forces were part of a feint and the supporting attack. In Afghanistan, naval expeditionary forces opened the conventional ground war by establishing a forward-operating base 450 miles inland - more than twice the distance that previous military doctrine considered supportable.

The combination of advantages already seen in this conflict - precision power from the air, real-time intelligence, special forces, the long reach of Naval task forces, and close coordination with local forces - will only become more vital in future campaigns. The war on terror has accelerated changes in thinking and strategy that were already in the making. President Bush has often spoken of how America can keep the peace by redefining war on our terms. That means that our armed services must have every tool to answer any threat that forms against us. It means that any enemy conspiring to harm America or our friends must face a swift and certain and devastating response.

As we transform our military to meet the challenges of the new century, sea power will remain central to American strategy. Able to move freely around the world's oceans, our naval forces can project great power from over the horizon against targets both at sea and far inland. Our carrier groups allow the commander in chief to commit forces while retaining flexibility. With ships and submarines, often already in place around the globe, we can dispatch precision air strikes launch sea-based rockets and missiles deploy SEALS and Marine Air-Ground Task Forces by day or night, from close by or from a distance. The Navy and Marine team can do all of this, while fighting alongside the Army and Air Force to deliver the full measure of U.S. military capability.

And we have found new ways to use our sea power. The carrier USS Kitty Hawk deployed for Operation Enduring Freedom, without most of her air wing, to serve as a staging platform for British and American special forces - thus creating a base invulnerable to the asymmetric threats posed by terrorists or by terror regimes. At the same time, sea power allows us to protect our interests overseas to provide a stabilizing presence and on short notice to deliver humanitarian relief. In your careers, Naval operations will be every bit as important, if not more so, than they were in the last century.

You are the first class in more than a generation to leave this Academy in a time of war. As all Americans now understand, this struggle is proceeding on different fronts, engaging the economic, diplomatic, intelligence, and military resources of the United States. There will be times of full and sustained action, as in Afghanistan. There will be quieter times, when success comes without need of military force. But at all times, at every turn, we will press on, because the stakes could not be greater. Deliverable weapons of mass destruction in the hands of terrorists would expose this nation and the civilized world to the worst of horrors. And we will not allow it. We will not live at the mercy of terrorists or terror regimes.

Every service assignment you have chosen - from Submarine Warfare to Marine Infantry - has been needed in this conflict, and will be needed again. Remember the words of Admiral King that you have passed by every day in your time here: "The way to victory is long. The going will be hard We will win through in time." I am certain that each of you will carry that confident spirit with you throughout your career. And you can be certain that wherever you are sent, you will have from your commander in chief consistent orders, clear direction, and every ounce of support required for the missions ahead.

In the careers that await you, the United States of America will count on your knowledge, your energy, and your great professional skill. Above all, we will rely on your character, tested and shaped in your four years together by the bay. Your country has high expectations for you. And you will be equal to them - because you are the ones who have marched along Stribling Walk and stood watch in Bancroft Hall and now direct your lives by the traditions of Leahy, Lejeune, Nimitz, Dewey, and Halsey.

You leave here today with your two commissions - to God and to country. You leave rightfully proud and well prepared. And I leave here today knowing that you will bring credit to your uniform, to this great Academy, and to the nation we are all privileged to serve. To each man and woman in the class of 2002: Good luck and Godspeed.

Thank you very much.

Richard B. Cheney, The Vice President's Remarks at the United States Naval Academy Commencement Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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