By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
May 28, 2010 - Vice President Joe Biden praised the U.S. Naval Academy's graduating class today for stepping forward to serve something bigger than themselves and challenged them to make their mark as leaders who inspire others. Biden welcomed the Class of 2010's 1,028 members to the "most powerful, best equipped and best prepared Navy and Marine Corps the world has ever seen," emphasizing that his characterization "is not hyperbole."
He conceded they're joining the force at a time of tremendous challenge, including two wars, the threat of weapons of mass destruction in the hands of stateless terrorists and the spread of radical fundamentalism.
"These challenges are real," Biden told the graduates, who were about to accept their commissions as Navy ensigns and Marine Corps lieutenants, and in one case, as an Army officer. "But every generation has faced challenges. And just like those who came before you, you will prevail."
Biden called on the graduates to draw on the lessons they've learned at Annapolis as they become military leaders. "You've been trained by the very best, and you'll leave here with an outstanding capacity to lead," he told them. "You are not only warriors. You are intellectually prepared in a way you have to be in order for us to be able to lead the world."
Those capabilities will be critical as the new officers enter "a global force for good with missions more diverse than ever before," Biden said.
He noted 2,000 Marines serving in Afghanistan, 13,000 sailors ashore in Iraq and Afghanistan and 9,000 more afloat in the region's waters. In addition, he cited sailors fighting pirates in the Horn of Africa and drug traffickers in the waters around South America, helping to preserve stability on the Korean peninsula, protecting commerce by projecting power around the world and saving lives as they respond to natural disasters.
Biden also paid special tribute to 11 graduates who will be among the first women to serve on submarines.
"You are not only making history, but like the 55 women who first graduated from this academy 30 years ago," he said, "you 11 submariners will inspire our daughters and granddaughters to serve their country in ways they never thought they could do."
Biden praised the entire graduating class for demonstrating character and integrity and a willingness to serve their country at a critical time in its history. As they write the next chapter in the Naval Academy's history, he urged them to maintain the legacy of a long line of distinguished graduates, including many greats in naval history.
"Who among you will be mentioned by the graduating speaker of 2050 and 2070?" he asked the class. "Some among you will. You will be -- those of you who excel beyond all others, who continue to be the inspiration for future generations."
In closing, the vice president expressed optimism about the future and urged the graduates to be an important part of it. "I know with absolutely certainty ... our country will remain strong for generations to come," he said. "Your future is literally America's future. Make it bright."
As the graduates assembled awaiting today's ceremonies, they reflected on their shared experiences at the Naval Academy and excitement about beginning their military careers.
Ross Pospisil, defensive captain of the Navy football team that has won the Commander in Chief's Trophy for seven consecutive years, was looking forward to his next challenges: the Marine Officer Basic School at Quantico, Va., then flight school in Pensacola, Fla.
With his superb athletic abilities, Pospisil could have attended just about any university he wanted. But, he said, he always wanted to serve in the military, and felt the opportunities at the Naval Academy were "unparalleled by any other institution."
"I felt a little calling," he said. "I felt like I owed something."
Pospisil said he recognizes he'll be leading his Marines into tough situations, but added that he is counting on his academy foundation and strong faith to succeed. He said he's committed to living up to the Marine Corps' credo, "My brother before me" and becoming a leader his people can trust. "My hope and my prayer is to continue that," he said.
Aubrey Manes, a Kansas native now headed to Navy flight school, said she'll take with her the strong bonds she and her fellow midshipmen formed at Annapolis.
"It's not just an education and it's not just a good time," she said. "There's an unspoken goal in mind here, that someday we will all serve the country."
Natasha and Marquette Ried, identical twins from Fort Collins, Colo., followed the same dream to the Naval Academy, but they are now launching separate careers in the Navy. Natasha is headed to flight school, and Marquette will become one of the Navy's first female submarine officers.
Marquette said her decision to join the submarine force had nothing to do with wanting to be a trailblazer or pioneer. "I was really looking for small-unit leadership right out of the academy," she said. But the sub force is "a real close-knit community, and I'm excited about being a part of it," she said.
As the midshipmen began lining up for today's ceremony, Marquette reflected on the magnitude of the moment she and her classmates have spent the past four years preparing for.
"It's all surreal," she said. "I'm excited about moving on. ... I'm really excited about getting started and finally getting to do what I set out to do."