ANNAPOLIS, Md. — President Barack Obama used a commencement speech before Naval Academy graduates Friday to urge them to follow their "inner compass" and to warn that rising numbers of sexual assaults in the military threatened to erode America's faith in the armed forces.
The president praised the military as the nation's "most trusted institution" but took note of the recent cases in which service members have been charged with sexual assault. He said those people "threaten the trust and discipline which makes our military strong."
"We need your honor, that inner compass that guides you," the president said, essentially using the platform at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium to scold those who have strayed from that direction recently. "Even more than physical courage, we need your moral courage — the strength to do what's right, even when it's unpopular."
In his four years in office, Obama has presided over a military that has often convulsed with change. He pushed for the end to "don't ask, don't tell" so that gay men and lesbians could serve openly. He has sought to bring an end to both major overseas wars. And he has watched as the armed forces have grown more diverse. Of the 1,047 graduates Friday, 206 were women — the most in the history of the academy.
It was the second time Obama had addressed the graduates of the academy, most of whom will receive commissions in the Navy, the Marine Corps or the Air Force, and he was welcomed with enthusiastic cheers as he congratulated them on becoming the military's latest officers. He echoed his remarks from a day earlier, telling the graduates that they enter the services at a time of transition in the war against terrorism.
Every spring, the president has spoken at the graduation of one of the service academies, as well as other colleges or universities. He addressed the Naval Academy in 2009, West Point in 2010, the Coast Guard Academy in 2011 and the Air Force Academy in 2012.