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SECDEF charges academy grads with stamping out sex assault

May. 23, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  

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Midshipmen celebrate following the commencement and commissioning of the Class of 2014 at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md.. (Mike Morones/Staff)

ANNAPOLIS, MD. — More than a thousand new officers entered the fleet Friday as the Naval Academy’s graduating class hurled their midshipman covers into the air while a packed stadium roared with cheers and applause.

Tens of thousands of friends, family, mentors and loved ones packed into Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium on a breezy, sun-drenched day for the academy’s 164thgraduation ceremony, watching their mids accept their commissions as officers in the Navy and Marine Corps.

Their journey is over, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said in his remarks, a journey that “started the day you turned down your acceptance to West Point.”

Keynote speaker Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, a former Army sergeant during the Vietnam War, ceremoniously granted mids with minor conduct offenses amnesty.

Hagel called on the new ensigns and second lieutenants to lead the next generation of sailors and Marines as the U.S. withdraws from the war in Afghanistan and to eliminate the scourge of sexual harassment and assault.

“Take this knowledge and do whatever you can to make sure everyone is treated with the dignity and respect they deserve,” he said.

The academy graduated 1,068 midshipmen and commissioned 1,061 officers, of 1,274 who started four years before. The day also marked the last commissioning ceremony for Vice Adm. Michael Miller, academy superintendent.

The class produced 784 Navy ensigns and 265 Marine Corps second lieutenants in all, about 20 percent of whom were women. Additionally, the academy graduated 12 foreign midshipmen from countries as diverse as Lebanon, Taiwan, Panama, Lithuania, the Maldives, Brunei, Ecuador, Georgia and Jamaica.

Ensign Jim McDaniel, a Navy SEAL-select from Tyler, Texas, said it felt great to finally graduate, but he was even more focused on his next step: surviving the legendary Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training in Coronado, California.

“Of course I’m a little bit nervous, but I’m also really excited,” McDaniel said. “I’m ready to just get after it and go with the guys that I’ve become just best friends with.”

Another classmate, newly minted surface warfare officer Ensign Thomas Schofer, said he’s excited to hit the fleet and also to get back home.

His first orders are to the amphibious transport dock New Orleans, homeported in San Diego, where Schofer grew up in a Navy family, his father a former naval flight officer.

He’s excited to finish up at the academy and head west, he said, but also a little nervous about “Day 1, just checking into my ship.” For now, he’s taking it day by day.

“I have a lot of people in my family who said — a bunch stayed in for 30 years, when they planned on staying for five,” he said. “And a bunch who said they wanted to be in for 30 years and got out in five. So I’m not going to read too much into it.”

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