Friday, May 23, 2014

Defense secretary, Blue Angels highlight Naval Academy graduation: 1,068 midshipmen to start journey in Navy, Marines

ANNAPOLIS, Md. —More than 1,000 U.S. Naval Academy students threw up their caps during a graduation ceremony Friday, a culmination of four hard years of work to become military leaders.

The graduation ceremony begin at 10 a.m. Friday at Navy-Marine Corps Stadium with a flyover by the Blue Angels, who took a three-year hiatus due to scheduling, safety and sequester issues.

Graduates were lining up around the building before 6 a.m. Many of the students will be commissioned as Navy ensigns, and others will be commissioned as 2nd lieutenants in the Marine Corps.

Laurie Shade was the first in line to see her daughter graduate.

"I'm very excited," she told 11 News reporter Jennifer Franciotti. "I wanted to get a good seat so I could get a good shot to watch her graduate. I'm very proud of her."

Her daughter, Amanda Shade, said the day felt surreal.

"I'm feeling really excited. It's been a long time coming building up to this point, and now it's finally here. I can't believe I'm graduating finally," said Amanda, who will be stationed on a ship in Virginia as a surface warfare officer.

Another graduate, Alfredo Bouchot, reminisced with Franciotti on how a news crew showed up on his first day as a plebe four years ago when he was getting his head shaved.

"I was laughing because I'd never had my head shaved before, and the barber said, 'You're not going to be laughing pretty soon,'" said Bouchot, who had family coming in from Austin, Texas, and Mexico City for Friday's ceremony.

"When I first came in that day, I was asking myself, 'Is this really what I want to do?' I'm not asking myself that today," said Bouchot, who will be heading to Quantico, Va., and Pensacola, Fla., for training to be a Marine pilot.

Others said they pledged their commitment for very personal reasons.

"I chose to come to the Naval Academy because I lost my uncle in 9/11. He was in the South Tower, and he was really my motivation for service to our country," said graduate Ben Berkey. "Also, my football coach, who was a Marine. He was truly inspirational in wanting me to come here. I found tremendous pride in doing this. I've always felt that I've kind of been the one out in front, even in high school, and this was truly the next progression for me."

As the graduates celebrate, those who taught them said they're proud.

"We're really happy for them," said Cmdr. John Schofield. "It's really a once-in-a-lifetime experience for them. They've forged bonds together through four years of hard work. We've prepared them mentally, physically and morally for the next stage, and that starts today. They'll be a part of defending freedom, which is what they signed up for."

Hagel talks military sex assaults, mental health issues

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel spoke to the 1,068 midshipmen who were commissioned as officers in the Navy or the Marines.

Hagel was the first enlisted combat veteran to lead the Department of Defense when he was sworn in last year. Before becoming the secretary of defense, he served as co-chairman of President Barack Obama's intelligence advisory board.

During his speech Friday, Hagel said new officers need to lead the fight against sexual assault and help people in the military facing mental health issues.

Hagel told the graduating class that students have seen how sexual assault can destroy trust and confidence at the heart of the military. He told them to use their experience to make sure everyone is treated respectfully.

In the past year, the academy has seen the prosecution of three academy football players accused of sexually assaulting a classmate. Charges against two were dropped, while the third was acquitted.

Hagel also told graduates they will lead people struggling with mental health issues as the nation concludes 13 years of war. He said those people must be embraced, not stigmatized.

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