Obama: Sexual Assault Has No Place In The Military

President Obama delivered the commencement address at Annapolis on Friday, challenging the U.S. Naval Academy graduates to help redefine national defense in the 21st century.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

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

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel. One day after a wide-ranging speech about the war on terror, President Obama spoke to graduating seniors at the U.S. Naval Academy. He addressed the problem of sexual assault in the military, and he said he is determined to confront the problem. As NPR's Scott Horsley reports, the president urged the newly commissioned officers to follow their moral compass, saying leaders of all stripes must be worthy of the public's trust.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: President Obama noted the Class of 2013 is the most diverse in Naval Academy history; with 206 women, 13 of whom will soon be serving aboard submarines. With that diversity comes challenges, though. Earlier this month, a Pentagon survey estimated some 26,000 service members were sexually assaulted last year, more than six times the number officially reported. The president says such misconduct can have wide-ranging ripple effects.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Those who commit sexual assault are not only committing a crime; they threaten the trust and discipline that makes our military strong. That's why we have to be determined to stop these crimes because they've got no place in the greatest military on earth.

HORSLEY: The president told graduates on a cool and rainy morning that a relatively few bad actors in the military can tarnish the whole institution. He tried to draw a parallel to the IRS, which has come under fire after agents in the Cincinnati office gave extra scrutiny to Tea Party groups seeking tax-exempt status.

OBAMA: As we've seen again in recent days, it only takes the misconduct of a few to further erode the people's trust in their government. And that's unacceptable to me, and I know it's unacceptable to you.

HORSLEY: The president's Naval Academy speech comes one day after he declared it's time for the nation to scale back the war on terror, begun in 2001. Even so, Obama says the military must continue to deal with emerging threats.

OBAMA: We have the best trained, best led, best equipped military in history; and I am determined to keep it that way, and Congress should be, too.

HORSLEY: Obama urged Congress to undo spending cuts now hitting many parts of the government, including the Pentagon. One effect of those cuts is the grounding of the Blue Angels, who did not perform at today's Naval Academy graduation.

Scott Horsley, NPR News, the White House.

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