Mids applaud Bush's remarks

Designated seniors back his response to critics during Naval Academy speech


In President Bush's second visit in six months to the U.S. Naval Academy, one brief section near the end of his 45-minute speech stood out for senior midshipmen, many of whom will be deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan shortly after their May graduation.

Bush read sections from a letter written by Marine Corps Corporal Jeffrey Starr and found after he was killed in Ramadi, Iraq, in May.

"It may seem confusing why we're in Iraq; it's not to me," the letter, as read by the president, said. "I'm here helping these people so they can live the way we live, not to have to worry about tyrants or vicious dictators. Others have died for freedom; now this is my mark."

And then Bush said: "There's only one way to honor the sacrifice of Cpl. Starr and his fallen comrades. And that is to take up their mantle, carry on the fight and complete their mission."

This comment was met by extended applause from the Mids, among the loudest and longest of the speech. Several midshipmen, who had been selected by the academy as "midshipmen public affairs officers," spoke of this moment and a few others as pivotal.

"That was inspiring," said Sam Fromille, a senior from Fallston who will be a submariner after he graduates in May. "He did give some benchmark answers to his critics and to the American people about the progress we've been making and what we're doing over there."

Bush's remarks were met with criticism yesterday from Democrats and antiwar groups who had been calling for specific benchmarks on troop withdrawals. Bush said debate was healthy in a democracy, but he equated immediate troop drawdowns with losing.

"And setting an artificial deadline to withdraw would vindicate the terrorist tactics of beheadings and suicide bombings and mass murder and invite new attacks on America," he said. "To all who wear the uniform, I make you this pledge: America will not run in the face of car bombers and assassins so long as I am your commander in chief."

Christy Higgins, a senior who wants to serve on a destroyer after she graduates, said she was thankful Bush reaffirmed the country's commitment behind the troops when he promised not to withdraw.

"He reinforced a lot of the ideals that we hold dear about our service to the country," she said.

Bill Knips, a senior from New City, N.Y., who will train to be a Navy SEAL after he graduates, said he appreciated learning the details about progress being made with Iraqi security forces.

"The ultimate goal is to have Iraq sustain itself, and it looks like we're getting closer to that," Knips said. "A year ago, that wasn't the case. It's good to hear about the transition being made so that Iraq can sustain itself."

Knips and others said they looked forward to hearing the rest of Bush's speeches, as Wednesday was the first in a series of four speeches he will give in the next two weeks. Other seniors appreciated Bush's deference to commanders on the ground, who he said would make decisions about troop pullbacks, rather than his critics.

"Our commander in chief is still very committed to letting us do our job," said Jake Womble, a senior from Tulsa, Okla., who will be a Marine Corps ground officer when he graduates. "For the Marines, a lot of those guys have been out there for quite a while now. Some have even been there twice. But I know that if they were asked to go again, they would. We know what our job is. We didn't come here to make people happy. We truly believe we're doing the right thing over there. We know what we're fighting for."


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