U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has praised new Army officers for having the courage and patriotism to join the military in a "dangerous new century." Gates gave the commencement address Saturday at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York.
Secretary Gates remarked that the nearly 1,000 graduates were preparing their West Point applications in late 2004, as U.S. forces in Iraq were fighting the second battle of Fallujah. "You made your decision to serve, knowing not only that America was at war, but that this war would be bloody and difficult, of indefinite length and uncertain outcome. In doing so, you showed courage, commitment and patriotism of the highest order," he said.
West Point graduates usually become second lieutenants in the Army, and most will eventually serve in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Gates told the new officers that their service will be an example to others in the fight for freedom. "I believe that only strength, eternal vigilance, and the continuing courage and commitment of warriors like you, and your willingness to serve at all costs, will keep the sacred light of American liberty burning, a beacon to all the world," he said.
Among the class of 2009 are 17 cadets from other countries, including the U.S. Military Academy's first cadet from Afghanistan.