Good evening everyone. It's so great to be here, to have the opportunity to come talk to the Class of 2012. It took me 36 years to say that, by the way.

Secretary of the Army, John McHugh: honored to have you join us, and honored to have you here with the great leadership of the future. Thank you. Somewhere out there is the Commander of Forces Command, GEN David Rodriguez and his wife Ginny. Thank you for the great work you do, for our Army and our Country. GEN(R) Eduardo and Ivette Mendoza from El Salvador - thank you for being here as well. GEN(R) Fred and Denise Franks, Class of 1959 - it's a pleasure to have you here. He was my Corps Commander in Desert Storm. Stand up wherever you are. Thank you. Thanks Dave Huntoon for the introduction. You and your faculty have done an incredible job developing our Army's future leaders, and it's clearly evident with this class. Thank you for your commitment to helping these young men and women and -- by extension -- investing in the future of our country.

Welcome to all distinguished guests, families, fiancés, and friends of the graduates. I was having this conversation with my table. I was telling them I graduated from West Point on June 2nd, and married my wife Linda on June 26th. We didn't want to procrastinate. I see the West Point Chapel still gets booked up early, so there is still that tradition of getting married shortly after graduation. Linda and I have been married 36 years now, and are part of the 5% Club. We wish you all the best.

We have here tonight multiple generations and 80 legacy families with roots at West Point. I'd like anyone who is a past graduate of West Point to please stand. Thank you for your service as part of the Long Gray Line. I know, as parents, you are proud of these soon-to-be officers of the United States Army. Thank you - for the role you've played in shaping your sons and daughters; the strong foundation of values and ideals that you've instilled in them; as well as the support that you have provided them during their cadet years. Your positive influence will continue to serve them well as they leave the gates of West Point and become key members of America's Army. I'd like all parents to please stand. Thank you.

I feel I have a close bond with the Graduating Class of 2012. To me, it seems like just yesterday when I addressed you at your 500th Night celebration. Your '499 and a butt' countdown to tonight may have seemed like 5,000 nights away at the time, but here we are. You made it. Tomorrow is it. Tomorrow is the day you have been counting down to since you were plebes. Did you ever believe this day would come when you stood under the clock to recite the days until graduation for the Class of 2009? I'm sure Graduation back then seemed only like a dream. But here you are, having endured mental and physical challenges, overcome many obstacles, and developed your leadership skills, while building lifelong relationships with your classmates. And I believe you are ready.

As the newest second lieutenants in the Army, you will be the future torchbears of liberty and freedom coming from the Long Gray Line. 36 years ago, I was sitting where you are, on the eve of my graduation -- anxious, apprehensive, but excited. Sometimes, West Point never leaves you.

Now 36 years later, seeing me off to work and every day are the portraits of the past 37 Army Chiefs of Staff in Quarters 1, where Linda and I live in on Ft. Myer. 25 of these are West Point Grads. All have lived in Quarters 1, the official residence of the Army Chief of Staff. The ubiquitous and omnipotent gaze that pervades from the portraits of these military legends is daunting and humbling. In a sense, it's like being a plebe back at West Point, having my uniform inspected in my home by the likes of GEN Pershing, GEN Marshall, GEN Eisenhower, GEN Bradley, GEN Westmoreland and GEN Shinseki. So even as the Chief of Staff, I'm not exempt from SAMIs inspections every morning!

On a more serious note, I want to talk to you tonight about destiny. When I last spoke to your class in October, I spoke with you about what I expect of you as leaders. Today, I want to talk about the future - by revisiting the past. Your destiny is not fixed; it is not written in stone. You will decide your destiny slowly… carefully… every day of your life. Every so often, a generation from West Point goes on to change history. Tonight, I want to focus on three generations of West Point graduates whose destinies, in my mind, have been anything but predetermined: first, the class of 1915; then the class of 1976; and then the class of 2012.

One of the first things we were taught as plebes is about the renowned Class of 1915, the "Class the Stars Fell On." 36% of that class became General Officers. General of the Army Eisenhower and General of the Army Bradley were two of only five in the Army to ever earn the prestigious fith-star. Upon receiving their commission in 1915, they entered the military one year into the First World War. The world was changing quickly around them. The Great War was defining a new world order. Industrialization was modernizing warfare. Trade was imperiled, yet economic demands still surged. This required tremendous support and sacrifices from every American during the mobilization and war efforts. Women served as nurses on the front lines, yet were still denied the right to vote.

On the warfront, trench warfare was a challenging, sobering new reality. The Germans introduced poison gas and submarine warfare with their U-boats, horses were being replaced by tanks and trucks, and airplanes were armed for the first time. Warfare was changing!
Neither GEN Bradley nor GEN Eisenhower saw any combat action during WW I. But they continued to learn and evolve during the intra war years broadening their own horizons, developing and learning the art of warfare. Their leadership and professional skills evolved. They had prepared themselves. As the world changed, they again changed with it. When given the opportunity, they cherished and exploited it with steadfast commitment to their profession, preparing them for the leadership opportunities of WW II.

This is when GEN Bradley -- known as the "Soldiers General" -- went on to command the largest formation of American Soldiers ever to serve under a U.S. field commander. He also served as Chief of Staff of the Army and carried out two terms as the first Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

His West Point classmate, General Dwight D. Eisenhower -- who despite being a major for 16 years -- went on to serve as Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe and was our Nation's 34th President. He gave the order to execute Operation Overlord, the now famous D-Day invasion that led to victory in WWII. And he is also credited for establishing the New Look Policy of nuclear deterrence, and scripting the Eisenhower Doctrine for the Middle East.
I would argue that in changing their destinies, these two men rewrote history. 97 years ago, it was them sitting right where you are today.

61 years later, I was sitting in your seats. There were 855 cadets in my West Point Class. 33 have come to become General Officers. You may recognize the names of a few of our classmates -- Rodriguez, McCrystal, Caldwell, Helmick, Walker, Barno, Swan and Melcher -- as well as many others who have changed our Army as well.

When we were commissioned, the U.S. had been in a heightened state of nuclear crisis in the Cold War for several decades. Vietnam had just ended in 1975. Military priorities diminished as our economy was recovering. Anti-war and anti-military public sentiment was a reality. Disciplinary issues, substance abuse, and low morale permeated our ranks and threatened the Profession of Arms. We moved from a Draft Army to an All-Volunteer Army, but diminutive public support made this an extremely difficult endeavor. Every facet of the military had been questioned for many years, especially the role of the Army. These were troubling times, as you can imagine, especially when compared to the high regard our Army is held in today.

Suffice it to say, the world continued to change during this time. We had to change with it. We fielded the big 5 weapon programs: M1 Abrams Tank, M2 Bradley Vehicle, AH-64 Apache Attack Helicopter, Patriot Air Defense System and the Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS). We developed the new AirLand Battle doctrine and reinvigorated our collective training by standing up the combat training centers. It took a series of successful operations to rebuild the faith and trust of the American people in the Army's abilities -- Operation Urgent Fury in Grenada, Operation Just Cause in Panama, and Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm in Kuwait and Iraq. The Class of 1976 led the All-Volunteer Army through these conflicts -- Soldiers that willingly raised their right hand to fight for their Country instead of being told to do so.

But then September 11, 2001 changed our world forever. While we increased security measures here at home, we went after a transnational terror network across the globe that was committed to destroying our freedom, and attacking our liberties and our American way of life.
And we did this with a dedicated group of patriots who pledged their allegiance to our Army and the Nation.They believed in what we were doing. Selflessly, they wanted to keep America safe. In Afghanistan, we quickly interdicted terror training camps, toppled the Taliban, and put al-Qaida on the run. In Iraq, we eliminated a brutal dictator and destructive regime. We helped a population raise out of over 30 years of societal devastation by fighting an insurgency, containing a civil war instigated by extremist groups like al-Qaida who was intent on establishing a caliphate centered in Iraq. The leaders of our generation, specifically, were instrumental in achieving these successes.

Facing an operational environment of asymmetric warfare applied by an unpredictable enemy required constant adaptation. Game-changers, to include networked forces, biometrics, cutting edge intelligence, surveillance and reconnaisance, precision High Value Targeting and new models of partnerships were developed, introduced and proved pivotal against an enemy that did not respect human life, national borders, or liberty.

In both Iraq and Afghanistan, we removed oppressive regimes, provided hope for the future, and denied safe havens for those who threatened our Nation's security. I believe the classes of 1915 and 1976 changed their destinies. They pushed the parameters of what had been accepted as standard, and surpassed all expectations. Which leads me to the Class of 2012…

On average, most of your class was about ten years old on 9/11, when the last vestige of our national innocence was taken from us in an instant. But each of you stepped forward to serve our Nation during a time of war, where less than 1% of our population serves in the military, and that takes uncommon courage and steadfast commitment. As brand new 2LTs, you are going to be entering a complex and uncertain strategic environment. And yes, you can expect it to change. The impact of the global economic crisis is still unknown. The Arab Spring has yet to run its course. Iran and North Korea continue their pursuit of nuclear weapons. And the power dynamics in Asia are changing.

And this is where your class ties in. My theme has been how certain generations of West Point leaders have changed history. Through an unforeseeable mix of history, talent, and drive, you could be the next generation to make history. You are the next cohort of leaders to step up and embrace the transition that our Army will be going through, and lead combat-experienced Soldiers.

Someone here tonight could be the next Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. You may be the future Chief of Staff of the Army who has to build and lead the Army of 2050. You may be the first commander to lead future cyber-warfare.

The opportunities are unknown but I guarantee they are endless. The challenges will be many. Our Nation is counting on you. I know that the Class of 2012 will leave its footprint -- not only here at West Point, but in this great Country and I know you will impact our future.

I am extremely impressed with your many noteworthy accomplishments. You are prominently represented in academics, notably 8 Rotary Award winners, a Fulbright Finalist, a National Science Foundation graduate research fellowship winner, and a team of mechanical engineers who designed a device to assist workers with disabilities, winning a national competition. And your class has tremendous athletic talent in its ranks. Your men's baseball, women's soccer and women's tennis teams earned Patriot League titles. You have the nationally-recognized Sullivan Award and Campbell Trophy winner; the Tewaaraton Award for the top college lacrosse player in the Nation; the Patriot League Athletes of the Year in baseball, and track and field; the 2012 National Rifle Association All-American in small-bore and air rifle. Your class also has garnered many other national and Patriot League accolades in several other intercollegiate and club sports, such as cross country, swimming and diving, rugby, boxing, and team handball

You are getting ready to make your mark. You are the ones who will shape the Army of the future. You are getting ready to lead our Nation's sons and daughters, and they are going to depend on all 1,032 of you. In the annual Harris Poll released earlier this week, the military tops the list for the fifth straight year for confidence that the American people have in leaders of major institutions. This is based on ethics, discipline, and integrity. Each serve as our foundation and solidify that trust with the American people. The Army is about people, and relationships are critical to our profession. Tomorrow when you raise your right hand and take the Oath of Service, you will willingly become a part of something greater than just yourselves. Your class motto -- "more than ourselves" -- says it best, and it epitomizes your future of selfless service.

With this entry into the Profession of Arms comes an expected higher standard of moral and ethical behavior. We are different from any other profession. We are entrusted with greater responsibility, and with that comes greater accountability. As a professional organization, we must reinforce the ethics centered around trust and respect. The foundation of our Profession of Arms is centered around trust: Trust between Soldiers, Trust between Soldiers and Leaders, Trust between Soldiers, their Families and their Army, and Trust between the Army and the American people.

Soldiers, like everyone else, want to be part of a high performing, successful organization. They want and expect high standards. They will look to you to inspire excellence. As a class, you've forged a bond amongst yourselves, very tangible. Our very democracy depends on people like you, who are willing to step forward and defend this country, and yes, to fight for it if needed. You will give each of us a chance to pursue the American Dream, giving our children and your future children, a better life.

Tomorrow as you receive your coveted diploma, you will be handed the keys to your future. Walking across the stage is your transition from the life you have known for the past four years into the next chapter of your new life. Each of you has the ability to take charge of your own destiny and your future. But do not be in such haste to jump start your military career as to forget the important lessons and education you received here at West Point.

The Long Gray Line has produced 2 American Presidents, 4 Heads of State, 18 astronauts, 75 Medal of Honor recipients, and 70 Rhodes Scholars. History has issued its call to your generation, the Class of 2012.

Douglas MacArthur stated 50 years ago as he stood right here talking to the Corps of Cadets upon acceptance of the Thayer Award. He talked about "Duty. Honor. Country. Those three hallowed words reverently dictate what you ought to be, what you can be, what you will be. They are your rallying points to build courage when courage seems to fail, to regain faith when there seems to be little cause for faith, to create hope when hope becomes forlorn."

As you bid farewell to Cadet Gray and don the Army Blue tomorrow, the spirit and ideals of Duty, Honor and Country will go with you. Be steadfast in your commitment to the Profession of Arms. I am confident in your leadership. Your time starts now. You are going to become a part of the Long Gray Line, strengthening the ranks of our Army. The strength of our Nation is our Army, The strength of our Army is our Soldiers, The strength of our Soldiers is our Families. And that is what makes us Army Strong! May God bess all of you. Thank you so much for attending.

Page last updated Tue May 29th, 2012 at 10:43