Keynote Address by Captain Thomas G. Kelly, USN (Ret)

MIT ROTC Tri-Service Identical Pass In Review at MIT Berry Field 

26 April 2002

    Yes, it's indeed a celebration…a celebration of what you men and women who are ready to receive commissions in the armed forces have achieved. And an opportunity for all of us especially your fellow soldiers and shipmates, to wish you fair winds and following seas as you depart the tranquility of a college campus and enter a world full of new challenges and a great deal of uncertainty. I look back 42 years to my leaving a college campus, entering a Navy which was composed of Caucasian males for the most part, and most importantly, was part of a world at peace. It was a far less complex time, when authority was unquestioned, when America and her armed might was respected around the world, and young men and women such as yourselves were being reminded to ask not what their country could do for them but what they could do for their country.

    And when you entered college and the ROTC program almost four years ago, little did you or anyone else know what kind of world you would be entering when it came time to receive your commissions. The Cold War was over, our former adversary was now our friend, the economy was booming, and America never looked stronger.  But that was then and this is now.

    We all know the profound effect that September 11 has had on all Americans, how it has removed somewhat the cloak of complacency and superiority we all felt in our relations with the rest of the world. It was a sobering experience. But to me, one of the big wake- up calls that the American people experienced that day and in the weeks that followed, is that the average citizen of this great country suddenly realized just how vulnerable each of us is. And by vulnerable I mean that we are not able to defend ourselves, our way of life, and all that we hold dear, without the protection of a group of warriors whose mission in life is to offer that protection. For much too long, our fellow citizens have taken for granted the service and commitment of men and women such as yourselves, and have even sneered at the notion that wearing a military uniform is a noble profession. But many of them, as I did, in the days following 9/11, looked up and saw F-16s in the skies above Boston and other major cities, saw recalled reservists and national guard on street corners and in airports, and breathed a prayer of relief and thanks that we do indeed have men and women who are there when their country and their fellow Americans need them. And you, my friends, are the warriors we rely upon to protect us. It may not be a title or mantle that you feel comfortable with but it's one that you must get used to. There's something about you that makes you special and sets you apart from all the other men and women who will be graduating from these prestigious universities in the coming weeks. Like you, they may be thrust into positions of authority and responsibility, overseeing large sums of capital, equipment, or resources. But you, unlike them, will hold in your hands, the responsibility for the care and safeguarding of the greatest treasure this great nation has to offer, its sons and daughters. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, having proven yourselves over the past four years of service, this nation has decided that you are indeed worthy to lead, to nurture, to inspire, and to care for the young soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines over whom you are placed. It's not the planes you'll be flying, the tanks you'll be driving, nor the missiles you'll be shooting that makes you special..it's the trust and confidence you have earned from your fellow Americans that allows you to follow in the footsteps of so many warriors over the past 226 years.

    Men like Marine Captain William Barber, who passed away last Friday. As commanding officer of Fox company, second battalion seventh marines in December 1950, Captain Barber refused to obey an order to abandon a hill his company held at the Chosin Reservoir. He believed that retreating would trap about 8,000 nearby marines. After five days and six nights of close combat, although he and his company were outnumbered 5 to 1, nearly 1,000 enemy soldiers lay dead. For this Captain Barber was awarded the Medal of Honor. 

    In a few short months, you will be doing what Captain Barber did 52 years ago. Not facing a numerically superior enemy on a frozen hillside, we pray, but making decisions which affect the lives of the men and women placed in your charge. Decisions which require the same degree of moral courage that influenced what Captain Barber did. Decisions which are not easy to make which is why your country has chosen you to make them. 

    Right now you all have a million things on your mind, as you prepare to step into the real world. All of what I've said about being a leader has been repeated to you over and over again over the past four years. So I don't expect it to remain in your consciousness for very long. But there is one challenge I have which may make your military experience even more memorable, and that is to enjoy every minute of it. Have fun! It means hanging around with your fellow officers and swapping stories, listening to and learning from your non- commissioned officers, and being available to exchange ideas. It means face to face contact as opposed to internet or e-mail contact. It means really getting to know the men and women in your unit as human beings, not as part of a weapons system. These are the men and women who will be relying on you, and you on them, and the deeper the bonds you develop with them, the more memorable will be your military experience.

    I'm tremendously honored to be given the opportunity to share this day with you, and I envy the opportunities you have to serve and to be warriors. God Bless you all, and thank you.

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