ANNAPOLIS, Md. — U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel encouraged the newest group of Navy and Marine Corps officers to form personal relationships with members of their units and stay humble as they serve in a time of transition for the military.
Speaking at the Naval Academy graduation and commissioning ceremony at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis on Friday, Hagel addressed the Class of 2014 for about 19 minutes, emphasizing the importance of their leadership to the fleet.
As the military comes out of 13 years of war — the longest in history, Hagel said — the new officers will shape the military’s future, he said.
In order to be successful leaders, Hagel offered three pieces of advice: forge bonds with the people you lead, understand people with different perspectives and practice humility as you lead.
“By virtue of your unique experiences here at the Naval Academy, you have much to be proud of and confident about, but if confidence gives way to arrogance, both your superiors and subordinates will respond,” Hagel said, and it won’t turn out well.
Hagel said the new officers must remember that the first principle of leadership is accountability.
“Your actions will define you in the eyes of everyone around you. It’s not just what you do, but how you do it,” he said.
The new officers will be counted on to continue the military’s efforts to stamp out sexual assault in its ranks, Hagel said.
Hagel said the graduates know how sexual assaults “tear people apart.”
The academy drew national attention over the past year as three male midshipmen were accused of sexually assaulting a female classmate at an off-campus party in 2012, though none of them were convicted. The alleged victim graduated with the Class of 2014 Friday.
Hagel didn’t mention the case, but said the graduates must make sure all people must be treated with dignity. “We all have to step up and take action when we see something that hurts our people and our values,” he said.
About 30,000 people attended the ceremony to celebrate the graduation of 1,068 midshipmen, who were commissioned as Navy ensigns and Marine Corps second lieutenants after four years in Annapolis.