By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON – Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta offered congratulations and a challenge to a group of newly minted Marine Corps officers during a commissioning ceremony today at the National Museum of the Marine Corps, Triangle, Va.
“It is now your turn … to take up this mantle of responsibility as leaders in the Marine Corps – to preserve our military strength [and] to uphold the honor and reputation of your uniform,” Panetta told the 120-plus recent graduates of Marine Corps Officer Candidates School at Quantico, Va. “In wearing the eagle, globe and anchor, always remember that you have set yourself apart. Remember that you are expected to abide by the highest standards, to display the strongest character, and to demonstrate the utmost integrity in all you do.”
The secretary noted eight of the new second lieutenants served as enlisted Marines before completing the 10-week school that admitted them to the officer ranks.
“You’ve already served as enlisted Marines, and some of you have seen combat,” Panetta told them. “So you know first-hand the sacrifice and discipline that the Marine Corps is all about, and I commend you for shouldering the new responsibility [of] a Marine officer.”
He noted the course included the hottest July on record in the United States, and told the new second lieutenants OCS may well have been the longest and most challenging 2 1/2 months of their lives.
“You’ve been up before sunrise; you’ve collapsed exhausted onto your rack after dark,” Panetta said. “I’m sure that each of you had moments – as you were low-crawling through the mud, carrying a heavy pack, or running in boots with blisters on your feet – when you wondered just what the hell you had gotten yourself into.”
Nearly a third of the men and women enrolled in the class didn’t finish, the secretary said.
“But you proved to yourselves, and you proved to others, that you can fight through pain and frustration, and that you can endure what most people cannot,” he said. “You’ll need that self-confidence, you will need that discipline, as you step forward to lead the Fleet Marine Force and our military.”
Panetta told the new officers he has been privileged to work with a number of extraordinary Marine Corps officers: Gen. James F. Amos, 35th commandant of the Marine Corps; Gen. James N. Mattis, commander of U.S. Central Command; Gen. John R. Allen, commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan; and Gen. John F. Kelly, the secretary’s senior military assistant, who will soon assume leadership of U.S. Southern Command.
Those officers, he said, carry on a Marine Corps legacy “of grit and sheer determination, of taking the fight to the enemy on far-flung shores, and of fighting like hell – especially when the odds are long.”
Across generations, Marines have added to that legacy, from Tripoli to the Pacific islands and Korea to Vietnam, Panetta said.
“During this past decade of war, our nation has depended on Marines to confront determined enemies and threats around the world,” he said. “And we’ll never forget – never forget -- the more than 1,400 Marines who’ve paid the ultimate price for our country since 9/11.”
In Iraq and now Afghanistan, Marines have led some of the fiercest fighting over more than a decade of conflict, he said.
“Right now, as we speak, night has fallen in Sangin District of Helmand,” Panetta added. “The enemy may be resting, but you can be damn sure the Marines are not. They’re taking the fight to the Taliban every day, every night; helping their Afghan brothers take the lead for security so that Afghanistan can secure and govern itself and never again become a safe haven for al-Qaida.”
The secretary thanked the families and friends of today’s new officers, and recognized service members and veterans attending the event. Panetta also praised the company and platoon commanders, sergeant instructors and OCS staff who trained the new lieutenants.
“While members of this class may not have fully appreciated it while doing push-ups or marching on the parade field, you have given them lessons that they will call upon for years to come,” the secretary told them.
“Most of all, let me thank this graduating class,” he said. “Thank you for choosing to serve our country. Thank you for your willingness to step forward and … put your lives on the line in order to protect this country and in order to defend your fellow Americans.”