By Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
American Forces Press Service
May 17, 2007 – The nation's leaders gathered today to recognize a group of young people taking the first step toward leading America's soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates commissioned 55 ROTC cadets and midshipmen today at the White House in a ceremony attended by President Bush and other political and military leaders.
The new officers represent all 50 states, four territories and the District of Columbia. This is the first time a joint ROTC commissioning ceremony has been held, and the first time a defense secretary has administered the oath of commissioning. Previously, the law required a commissioned military officer to administer the oath, but a change in the 2007 National Defense Authorization Act allows the president, vice president or secretary of defense to administer the oath of commission or enlistment.
Family members of the ROTC participants gathered in the East Room as Gates led them in their oath to "support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic."
"We gather at a solemn moment for this country," Bush said before the officers took their oath. "Many of you were still in high school when terrorists brought death and destruction to our streets on September the 11th, 2001. You were high school students. And yet, some of you understood that the cause of freedom would soon depend on your generation's willingness to step forward to defend it. And when it came time to be counted, each of you volunteered, knowing full well the risks involved during a time of war. As your commander in chief, I salute your decision to serve, and I congratulate you on a fine achievement."
The ROTC program is rooted deep in American history as a way to prepare men and women of leadership and ability to lead the armed forces, Bush noted. The program teaches young people about honor, courage and the expectations of military officers, he said. The scholarship funds for ROTC are provided willingly by the American people, Bush said, "and in return they ask one thing: when their sons and daughters are put in harm's way, they will be led by officers of character and integrity."
Bush thanked the young officers for the sacrifices they made to earn their commissions, noting that some of the students went to schools that didn't have ROTC programs. These students had to endure long commutes and received little recognition for their training and achievements, he said.
"Your university may not honor your military service, but the United States of America does," Bush said. "And in this, the people's house, we will always make a place for those who wear the uniform of our country."
Bush told the officers that soon they may have the lives of young troops in their hands and reminded them to keep their heads held high and be proud of their service.
"Bring honor to the uniform. Set high standards for yourself. Do not ask of those under your command anything that you would not ask of yourselves," Bush told the officers. "If you do all these things, your career will take care of itself, your service will be a source of pride, and you will help build a safer and more hopeful world for your fellow citizens."
After the officers took their oath, Gates pinned their new military rank on each one. The new officers, 16 of them women, hail from all ethnic backgrounds and areas of the country. There were also officers representing Guam, American Samoa, Puerto Rico, Panama and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The commissioning was part of continued activities in May recognizing National Military Appreciation Month.
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