WEST POINT, N.Y. (AP) — Vice President Mike Pence told the most diverse graduating class in the history of the U.S. Military Academy on Saturday that the world is “a dangerous place” and they should expect to see combat.
“Some of you will join the fight against radical Islamic terrorists in Afghanistan and Iraq,” he said.
Pence congratulated the West Point graduates on behalf of President Donald Trump, and told them, “As you accept the mantle of leadership I promise you, your commander in chief will always have your back. President Donald Trump is the best friend the men and women of our armed forces will ever have.”
More than 980 cadets became U.S. Army second lieutenants in the ceremony at West Point’s football stadium.
Pence noted that Trump has proposed a $750 billion defense budget for 2020 and said the United States “is once again embracing our role as the leader of the free world.”
“It is a virtual certainty that you will fight on a battlefield for America at some point in your life,” Pence said. “You will lead soldiers in combat. It will happen. Some of you may even be called upon to serve in this hemisphere.”
Pence spoke as the U.S. plans to send another 1,500 troops to the Middle East to counter what the Trump administration describes as threats from Iran; as the longest war in U.S. history churns on in Afghanistan; and as Washington considers its options amid political upheaval in Venezuela. The administration is also depending more heavily on the military to deter migrants from crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.
The class was the most diverse in West Point’s history, and Pence said he wanted to acknowledge “the historic milestones that we’re marking today.”
The 2019 cadets included 34 black women and 223 women, both all-time highs since the first female cadets graduated in 1980. The academy graduated its 5,000th woman Saturday.
The 110 African Americans who graduated were double the number from 2013.
Pence said the graduates also included the academy’s 1,000th Jewish cadet.
Pence did not serve in the military but noted that his late father served with the Army in the Korean War.
“And as I stand before you today here at West Point I can’t help but think that First Lt. Edward J. Pence, looking down from glory, is finally impressed with his third son,” Pence said. “So thank you for the honor.”
The ceremony was Pence’s second visit to West Point and his first as commencement speaker.