Defense secretary tells Navy graduates they are ready to serve

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told newly commissioned officers at the U.S. Naval Academy on Friday that they are ready to "defend our democracy with honor, courage and commitment.”

Austin, speaking during the ceremony at the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium after President Joe Biden addressed graduates last year and Vice President Kamala Harris delivered remarks in 2021, acknowledged the Navy's role in training allies, helping expand Ukraine’s maritime capabilities in its fight against Russian invasion and bringing relief to international conflict zones.

“Class of 2023, wherever your career takes you, remind the world of what you stand for — and what America stands for: Honor. Courage. And commitment. Democracy. Liberty. And the rule of law," Austin told 1,018 graduates at the academy's commissioning ceremony.

The secretary said naval officers have a special understanding of the power of teamwork, and “we need that spirit for the crucial mission that you’re all here to shoulder.”

Austin said U.S. Marines are training alongside allies in Japan and the Philippines to strengthen deterrence in the Indo-Pacific. He also said the Navy is driving forward the AUKUS partnership with Australia and the U.K.

In Europe, he said, U.S. sailors are operating shoulder-to-shoulder with NATO allies.

He told the graduating class that their leadership will be at the center of American efforts for a more peaceful future.

“Our competitors openly challenge that vision," he said. "They want to replace the hard-won postwar system of rules and rights with a lawless world of autocracy and aggression. But the American flag atop a U.S. Navy ship has long been the symbol of hope for a more free and secure world.”

The secretary noted that the class rose to the challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic in their first year at the academy.

“It separated you from your classmates as you were just starting to feel like a family, but you hung in there,” Austin said. “You took care of each other.”

The class included 751 men and 267 women. There were 744 graduates who were commissioned as Navy ensigns, including 539 men and 205 women. There were 257 commissioned as 2nd lieutenants in the Marine Corps, including 198 men and 59 women. The newly commissioned officers will serve at least five years.