The following are Under Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly’s remarks for the U.S. Naval Academy Class of 2018’s graduation and commissioning ceremony in Annapolis, Md., May 25.
To the parents, families, and friends of the great Class of 2018 – thank you for being here to honor and celebrate this tremendous accomplishment, but more importantly, for putting your faith, hope and prayers behind these young Navy and Marine Corps officers.
Soon they will depart from this place to assume positions of massive responsibility, defending our nation and contributing their intellect, passion and skill to sustaining the greatest, most powerful and lethal maritime force the world has ever known—and will ever know.
Parents, thank you for raising such outstanding citizens. And to our sponsor families from the Annapolis area, thanks for picking up where those parents left off, and opening your homes and providing comfort and support to this class over the last four years.
Finally, to the awesome Class of 2018 – congratulations! And relax!
No more panic attacks when you hear the 10 minute chow calls, no more worrying about the quality of your tuck at restriction musters, no more sitting at your desks in a class A uniform during room tours, no more cramming for final exams, no more alpha room inspections. And at least for you new ensigns, no more parade practices, parades or platoon drill! Let’s hear it for that!
Sorry, Marines, the joy of marching in parades that you all came to love in your four years here at the academy will continue for you for many more years – but I guarantee that your future parades will have a level of precision that you probably didn’t experience here!
Class of 2018, you will soon discover that life away from the academy will be very different. Just imagine, you can now learn what it is like to actually sleep under your covers, instead of on top of them.
You can also expand on the passionate love of the ballet and opera that you developed during the Distinguished Artist Series at Alumni Hall.
And, perhaps most importantly, you will finally have the time and independence to prepare some of your favorite meals from King Hall in your own homes.
Just think, culinary expressions like Mystery Meatballs, King Hall Meatloaf and Kale Wraps don’t have to be distant fond memories. Contact the supply officer for more information on this, but please, no more death threats about the Kale Wraps!
But on to more serious matters, it was 35 years ago on this very day that I was sitting where you are, and I walked across this very stage and received my diploma from the Secretary of the Navy, the Honorable John Lehman. It was at a time in history not unlike the one we are facing today.
After years of neglect and insufficient defense budgets, our Navy was just beginning to receive the huge shot in the arm it required to face down the growing Soviet threat. The national resolve inspired and embodied by President Reagan at the time of my commissioning rebuilt our military, and most importantly, our Navy, so that the Soviet Union had no choice but to retreat and eventually collapse into the annals of its own inglorious past.
In its wake came the liberation of millions of people in nations who suffered under Communist oppression behind the Iron Curtain. One of those nations was Hungary, a place where my own father escaped in the late 1940s to flee Soviet-imposed tyranny.
I recall this point of history to you today not because it is personal for me, but because of its relevance for you. Just as I was fortunate to serve under President Reagan, you should recognize how fortunate you are to be serving today under a commander in chief who believes what President Reagan believed – that our national security should be guided by the clearest of principles. That principle is “Peace Through Strength.”
This is not a political tag line. It is a geo-political truth. It is particularly true for a nation such as the United States, with our broad global interests, important friendships, and our fundamental desire to see our people and the people of the world prosper under the guiding lights of individual liberty and human dignity.
Weakness in pursuit of such aspirations invites aggression – and it always will.
As you are commissioned today, be grateful that the American people through their elected representatives in Washington, from the president to the Congress, recognize this fact and have committed the resources to give you what you need to deter our adversaries – or to dominate and defeat them, if necessary. I can assure you that not every nation in the world stands up for its principles in this way – nor do they invest the resources to make it so.
Second, just as I and my classmates never saw the demise of the Soviet Union coming, you may also be surprised at the good that can accrue to the world through what you will be doing every single day you serve.
You may not recognize this fully in the routine of your daily jobs, but as long as you lead and inspire a strong Navy and Marine Corps team – one that is prepared for any adversary, I guarantee that some significant and world-altering good will come of it over time.
In fact, I am certain that as you look back on your own careers, 35 years from now – just as I am doing nostalgically today – you will find that some symbol of oppression, not unlike the now extinct Soviet Red Star, will have been relegated to the dust bin of history because of what you did to sustain the strength and lethality of the United States Navy and Marine Corps.
It will happen because, as we have learned, tyranny and oppression cannot survive contact for long against a powerful military force – one that is anchored by a people, and an officer corps, of high moral character: officers, who in addition to their courage, also maintain a passion for peace and prosperity for all citizens of the world. That is who you are, and the world you are entering today as officers in the United States military is going to be a better place for it.
In closing, let me say that although this is truly a great day in your lives, it is unlikely to be even in the 10 of your greatest days in uniform. Rather, you will find those greatest days in the moments when you see the people you have lead, trained, educated, mentored, tutored, commanded – and yes, even reprimanded, perform well beyond your expectations.
As officers in the United States military, you are given tremendous responsibility to respect and protect those who are placed under your command. The American people entrust you with their sons and daughters, and they place their security and the security of the nation, in your hands. Do not expect to be loved by everyone for this – even though it may happen, on occasion.
As Secretary Mattis is fond of saying to those of us who are honored now to serve in the Pentagon, “Your job is to protect the nation,” so I commend to you the following advice to make this important, and often difficult job, far easier on yourselves.
That advice is this: Don’t ever worry about being loved for what you do. Rather, love the country you are asked to defend. Love the Constitution you just pledged your lives to protect. And most importantly, love the people you have the privilege to lead.
Make sure they eat before you do. Care about their families, as much as you do your own. Be vested in their successes, more than your own individual accomplishments. Nurture their careers, more than you pursue your own advancement. And value their lives, to the point that you will always consider their safety and security in every decision you make – and you will do this best by making sure they know how to fight and win.
It is only through this level of servant leadership that you will maximize and empower those you will lead to meet the demands they will face in this dynamic century. It will also accrue tremendous personal satisfaction to you during your time of service. It will foster truly great moments that will make the elation you are feeling today seem almost trivial.
This is the kind of job satisfaction that only service in the Armed Forces of the United States of America can provide, so prepare yourselves to experience it over and over and over and to treasure it every single time.
Newly commissioned officers of the Class of 2018, you are about to embark on the journey of your lives. Your service is noble. Your service is just. Your service will make this country and the world a better place.
Today, we thank you in advance for your leadership, and for the sacrifices each of you will make to keep us safe and free!
And today, be assured – we love you!
Class of 2018: Go Navy!