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Obama lauds future leaders at USNA graduation

May. 24, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  

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Obama to Naval grads: We need you: President Obama told U.S. Naval Academy graduates what America needs from them: integrity, character, cooperation. He personally congratulated each graduate during their Annapolis commencement ceremony.
Midshipmen of the class of 2013 are commissioned May 24 during the U.S. Naval Academy graduation ceremony at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Md. (Mike Morones / Staff)

ANNAPOLIS, MD. — While the hats being tossed were round instead of square and no one shuffled a tassel from right to left, the Naval Academy’s Class of 2013 had one thing in common with college grads across the country: excitement — and a few nerves — about what comes next.

“There’s a lot of structure here. You know when you have to wake up, when you have to eat,” said Ensign George Bowman III, a surface warfare officer heading to the cruiser Normandy. “Out there you have a job, but there’s a lot outside that job, too. You have to use time management and all that adult stuff.”

More than 1,000 midshipmen first class took their first step into the fleet during the May 24 graduation and commissioning ceremony at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Md. Of the 1,047 grads, 764 became ensigns in the Navy, with 263 entering the surface warfare community, 130 mids going to submarines (13 are women), and 27 heading into the SEALcommunity. There are also 227 mids who will become Navy pilots and 62 future naval flight officers in the graduating class.

The mids were all excited for different things after graduation – having their own place for the first time, learning to scuba dive and serving in a leadership role, were some popular answers – but they were all looking forward to the same thing during the ceremony itself: shaking President Obama’s hand.

“Soon you will join the fleet, you will lead Marines, and just as you’ve changed in the past four years, so too have the challenges facing our military,” said Obama, who served as this year’s graduation speaker.

In his speech, he repeated his promise that the U.S. war in Afghanistan will be over by the end of next year and said he was committed to continue fighting to secure the “benefits, pay and support that you deserve,” despite budget cuts. He also said to look to other academy grads, such as Lt. Brad Snyder, who won two gold medals in swimming at the London Paralympics after being blinded by an improvised explosive device, for inspiration.

Vice Adm. Michael Miller, the superintendent of the academy, and Navy Secretary Ray Mabus also made remarks at the ceremony. Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jon Greenert was on hand to commission the ensigns, while Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. John Paxton Jr. led the Marine second lieutenants in the oath of office.

In addition to telling future ensigns to take care of their shipmates, another tip from Greenert: Wear sunscreen, even though the sun’s damage “takes 20 years to take effect,” he said.

While many newly minted ensigns expressed some worry about being in charge of a group of people with more real-world experience, Ensign Cotter Walker, a former aviation machinist’s mate third class, has already walked in the shoes of the people he will lead.

“I think I can relate to them better, and I know how they look at officers and what they want to see,” said Walker, who decided to attend the academy because he wanted to become a pilot after working in the aviation community.

Unlike most new ensigns, who will head out to sea or into the air, Ensign Garrett Gray wanted to head into ground-combat duties. He will be in training programs for two more years, including dive school and jump school, learning to be an explosive ordnance disposal technician, one of 14 future EODs in the graduating class.

“I really like the EOD community; it’s really laid back but hard charging,” Gray said.

One of the best parts of graduation for Ensign Tyler Bruton, who service-selected as a SEAL, was getting to meet the families of the friends he’s made during his four years at the academy. His friends got to meet his family as well — all 30 of them, who came to celebrate his graduation.

“We had a big graduation party last night, and we finally get to see where the people we’ve spent the last four years with come from,” Bruton said.

Second Lieutenant Hunter Harrison, one of 264 mids to be commissioned in the Marines this year, said he decided to join the Corps because of the Marine officers he saw when he first got to the academy.

“They were a very high caliber, the way they carry themselves and their leadership,” Harrison said. “Plus the uniforms are really snazzy looking.”

In addition to dressing the part, Harrison said he feels his academy education prepared him for this next step.

“The academy forces you to figure out how to survive,” he said.

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