Obama Addresses Naval Academy Grads

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In his commencement address to the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., on Friday, President Barack Obama told graduating midshipmen that, as their commander in chief, he will send them into harm's way only "when it is absolutely necessary."

MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

And I'm Michele Norris. When President Obama addressed graduates of the U.S. Naval Academy today, he echoed the main themes we heard yesterday. The president's speech on Thursday was a lengthy defense of his national security policies and his controversial decision to close the Guantanamo prison. Today, Mr. Obama repeated that the U.S. must adhere to its core values, even in times of war.

But as NPR's Don Gonyea reports, this time, the president avoided any direct criticism of the Bush administration.

DON GONYEA: It was a picture-perfect day at the stadium where Navy plays its football games, and where graduates paraded onto the field and took their seats in row after row of white chairs.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC, "THE WASHINGTON POST MARCH")

GONYEA: President Obama arrived moments later to a standing ovation. This was his first commencement address at one the nation's service academies. And he began with a nod to a longstanding tradition for a commander-in-chief on such an occasion.

P: Now, I know it's customary at graduation for guests to bring a gift, and I have. All midshipmen on restriction for minor conduct offenses are hereby officially absolved.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

GONYEA: The president said he came to honor the choice made by these new officers, urging all Americans to look closely at these 800 men and 200 women, and to consider what they exemplify.

P: Here are the values that we cherish, here are the ideals that endure. In an era when too few citizens answer the call to service, to community or to country, these Americans choose to serve. They did so in a time of war, knowing they might be called upon to make the ultimate sacrifice.

GONYEA: And the new head of the armed services promised to use diplomacy and U.S. economic might so that the military doesn't have to bear the full burden of national security. Then, in a line that may be read as a rebuke of the previous administration, he added this.

P: And today, this is the promise I make to you. It's a promise that as long as I am your commander-in-chief, I will only send you into harm's way when it is absolutely necessary and with a strategy, with well-defined goals, the equipment and the support that you need to get the job done.

GONYEA: The president also spoke of the many different roles America's military needs to fill today.

P: We need you to defeat the insurgent and the extremist, but we also need you to work with the tribal sheikh and local leaders, from Anbar to Khandhar, who want to build a better future for their people.

GONYEA: And he revisited the main point of his speech at the National Archives yesterday: that the U.S. must always live up to the ideals spelled out in its Constitution, and that it need not choose between its national values and its national security. Among the graduates today was John S. McCain IV, the son of Senator John McCain, another academy grad who was also in attendance. The president did not single them out, honoring the wishes of the McCain family. The three-hour-long ceremony came to an end with one more tradition, one final cheer.

U: Hip, hip.

U: Hurray.

U: Hip, hip.

U: Hurray.

U: Hip, hip.

U: Hurray.

GONYEA: And with that, the new officers all tossed their white hats against the brilliant blue sky to the cheers of the packed stadium.

Don Gonyea, NPR News, Annapolis.

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