Bush urges Mids to help him modernize military

Naval Academy's 902 graduates enter a `changing world'

May 26, 2001|By David L. Greene and Laura Sullivan | David L. Greene and Laura Sullivan,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

President Bush called yesterday upon graduating midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy to help him build a "21st-century military" that is defined less by size and more by mobility, swiftness and the development of new technology and weaponry.

"We must build forces that draw upon the revolutionary advances in the technology of war that will allow us to keep the peace by redefining war on our terms," Bush told the 902 graduates, who were wearing their dress whites and seated in chairs spread across the field at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.

"Yet building a 21st-century military will require more than new weapons," the president added. "It will also require a renewed spirit of innovation in our officer corps."

The president's speech, though enthusiastically received, broke no new policy ground. For a time it was anticipated that Bush would use the occasion to unveil the conclusions of a sweeping review of the armed forces being carried out by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.

Rumsfeld said Thursday that the results of his review are months away. But apprehension is building among members of Congress and Pentagon officials, who anticipate personnel cutbacks, especially in the Army, and wonder what the review will mean for some weapons.

Steering away from such sensitive topics, Bush was short on detail yesterday, mostly reiterating his broader vision for a more technologically superior and mobile military force and repeating themes from speeches dating to the 2000 campaign. White House officials said the president was aiming to bring an audience of future military leaders in line with his ideas.

The president told the midshipmen that they were entering a "changing world" that demanded a new "forward strategy for freedom." And he said the Navy and the Marine Corps that the graduates were about to join would be vital in finding the best ways to implement his vision.

"We cannot transform our military using old weapons and old plans," Bush said. "Nor can we do it with an old bureaucratic mind-set that frustrates the creativity and entrepreneurship that a 21st-century military will need.

"As president, I am committed to fostering a military culture where intelligent risk-taking and forward thinking are rewarded, not dreaded. And I'm committed to ensuring that visionary leaders who take risks are recognized and promoted."

Standing on stage for more than two hours, Bush shook hands with every last graduate moments before they donned their ensign's shoulder boards or the gold bars of a Marine second lieutenant.

Bush also obliged several dozen graduates who wanted their commander-in-chief to pose with them on stage and wave until parents or friends snapped pictures.

He even received some bear hugs, the most animated coming from Bobby Rashad Jones, 22, who carried the dubious distinction of being the class Anchorman - the graduate with the lowest grade point average. To wild cheers from classmates, Jones scurried on stage, shook the president's hand, then jumped into his arms. A seemingly stunned naval officer pulled him away.

Adm. Vern Clark, chief of naval operations, on hand to swear in midshipmen being commissioned in the Navy, said he thought that many of the presidential greetings looked like "cross body blocks disguised as handshakes."

The afternoon was full of the traditional pomp and circumstance that has accompanied Naval Academy graduations for decades. The midshipmen rose to their feet to be sworn into either the Navy or the Marines, where they must serve a minimum of five years on active duty. They then gave three cheers for the 3,000 underclassmen "we leave behind," then hurled their caps into the air, a symbolic farewell that dates to 1912. Before then, graduates were obligated to serve two years in the Navy as midshipmen and still needed their headgear.

In recent years, the alumni from the class that graduated 50 years earlier have given the new officers a gift. The class of 1951, many of whom were at the ceremony yesterday, bestowed on the graduates gold officer bars inscribed with the Naval Academy motto, "From Knowledge, Sea Power" as they accepted their diplomas.

"No one made you come here," the president told the graduates, among whom 150 of the 902 were women. "No one made you stay. And no one made you subject yourself to a code of honor and a life of discipline. But you did. And your president and your country are so very grateful and proud that you have chosen to serve."

The ceremonies lacked one customary element. The Blue Angels, the Navy's precision flying team, were unable to perform their signature flyover because of low-hanging clouds.

Bush sprinkled his remarks with self-deprecating humor, as he did when he spoke at commencement last week at Yale University, his alma mater.

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