By Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael J. Carden
American Forces Press Service
June 22, 2010 - The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff praised the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy's Class of 2010 yesterday, urging the 198 graduating mariners to live their institution's motto, "Acta Non Verba," or "Deeds, not words."
Navy Adm. Mike Mullen spoke at the academy's commencement exercises in Kings Point, N.Y.
"Five decades in uniform has taught me it's not what people say, it's what they do," Mullen said. "And by choosing to serve, you already began a life with purpose and consequences, not just at Kings Point, but around the world.
"Soon, most of you will be commissioned as ensigns in the naval reserve," he continued, "many serving in the Merchant Marine -- a vital resource upon which our nation has long depended in peace time and in war."
The chairman cited examples from U.S. military history and security and peace contributions of recent academy graduates. He noted the 142 merchant mariners killed in World War II, as well as academy graduates who gave their lives serving with other military branches in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"A big part of the heritage of this institution is remembering those who have been tested the most when it mattered most," Mullen said. "All of those on the roll of honor died for us, and I pray that they rest content."
Merchant Marine Academy graduates support military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, the chairman noted, and they help to conduct humanitarian missions such as this year's earthquake-relief operations in Haiti. "Our military, our nation, and even the world owe the United States Merchant Marine a huge debt of gratitude," he added.
Upon receiving their commissions, the graduating midshipmen became part of the more than 2 million people who make up the U.S. armed forces, the greatest military in the history of the world, Mullen said.
Sixty-five graduates accepted active-duty commissions in the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force and Coast Guard. Five will serve in the Army National Guard, while the rest will serve in the Navy Reserve. The class also included seven graduates from Panama.
All of the graduates earned a bachelor of science degree while undergoing rigorous sea training, which included more than 400 days of work study at sea with various Navy and Coast Guard vessels. Nine graduates served aboard ships in support of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"I'm grateful for each and every service and each and every one of you raising your right hand to serve ... our military," Mullen said. "[Today's military] and their families are the best I've ever seen. Not a day goes by when I'm not proud of the sacrifices they continue to make. And we are entrusting their safety, their welfare, and, quite literally, their lives to your leadership."
Despite the obstacles the graduates overcame over the past four years, many more challenges lie ahead, the chairman said. "There are many more tests to come, and next time it won't be in the classroom," he told them.
Mullen's advice for the graduates was to stay engaged in all aspects of their service and lives to keep pace and lead within the sea services' ever-changing mission. America's maritime mission has been tested and is trusted, "but times have changed," he said.
"Who would have predicted our missile defense system of choice would come not from land-based sites, but from destroyers and cruisers?" he asked. "Who would have predicted that some of our counterpiracy solutions would not come from the sea, but from aid workers and counterinsurgency experts in villages, helping locals to meet basic needs, finding meaningful, nonviolent employment for young men?"
The chairman underscored those changes, noting one thing that's remained consistent among the sea services and military: "We are here to help," he said.
"The global partnerships we keep, those we work so hard to process through our deeds, drive our nation's security strategy, and they provide the kind of presence and support essential to confronting challenges before they lead to conflict," he said. "I offer to you that we gain more, become collectively stronger, culturally richer and infinitely wiser by what we learn from others."
Mullen cited the importance of maintaining and building international partnerships. Whether talking about Afghanistan, Africa or inlet seas, he said, no service or country can be successful alone.
"As you head out in the world to sail, fly, fight and build partnerships on the leading edge of change, I know that you will remember deeds, not words, matter most," he said. "Hold fast to your parents' values and your mariner traditions. Embrace your life's next test, and remember that we cannot control or capture hearts and minds. We must engage them -- we must listen to them one heart and one mind at a time, over time."
The U.S. Merchant Marine Academy is funded by the Transportation Department's Maritime Administration. The academy's midshipmen study marine engineering, navigation, ship administration, maritime law and other areas important to managing a large ship.