PRESIDENT OBAMA: Thank you. Thank you so much. Thank you. Thank you, General Caslen, for that introduction. General Trainor, General Clarke, faculty and staff at West Point, you have been outstanding stewards of this proud institution and outstanding mentors for the newest officers in the United States Army.
I’d like to acknowledge the Army’s leadership -- General McHugh -- Secretary McHugh, General Odierno, as well as Senator Jack Reed who is here and a proud graduate of West Point himself. To the class of 2014, I congratulate you on taking your place on the Long Gray Line.
Among you is the first all-female command team: Erin Mauldin and Austen Boroff. In Calla Glavin, you have a Rhodes Scholar, and Josh Herbeck proves that West Point accuracy extends beyond the three point line. (Laughter.)
To the entire class, let me reassure you in these final hours at West Point, as commander in chief, I hereby absolve all cadets who are on restriction for minor conduct offenses. (Laughter, applause.)
Let me just say that nobody ever did that for me when I was in school.
I know you join me in extending a word of thanks to your families. Joe DeMoss, whose son James is graduating, spoke for a whole lot of parents when he wrote me a letter about the sacrifices you’ve made. “Deep inside,” he wrote, “we want to explode with pride at what they are committing to do in the service of our country.” Like several graduates, James is a combat veteran, and I would ask all of us here today to stand and pay tribute not only to the veterans among us, but to the more than 2.5 million Americans who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as their families. (Applause.)
It is a particularly useful time for America to reflect on those who’ve sacrificed so much for our freedom, a few days after Memorial Day. You are the first class to graduate since 9/11 who may not be sent into combat in Iraq or Afghanistan. (Cheers, applause.)
When I first spoke at West Point in 2009, we still had more than 100,000 troops in Iraq. We were preparing to surge in Afghanistan. Our counterterrorism efforts were focused on al-Qaida’s core leadership -- those who had carried out the 9/11 attacks. And our nation was just beginning a long climb out of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.
Four and a half years later, as you graduate, the landscape has changed. We have removed our troops from Iraq. We are winding down our war in Afghanistan. Al-Qaida’s leadership on the border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan has been decimated, and Osama bin Laden is no more. (Cheers, applause.) And through it all, we’ve refocused our investments in what has always been a key source of American strength: a growing economy that can provide opportunity for everybody who’s willing to work hard and take responsibility here at home.
In fact, by most measures America has rarely been stronger relative to the rest of the world. Those who argue otherwise -- who suggest that America is in decline or has seen its global leadership slip away -- are either misreading history or engaged in partisan politics.