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Obama Warns Naval Academy Grads that Sexual Assaults Threaten Trust in Military

President Obama used his address at the commencement services at the U.S. Naval Academy to confront the issue of sexual assaults in the military, telling the graduates that the perpetrators of sexual assault threaten the public’s trust in the military.

“We need your honor, that inner compass that guides you,” the president said at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, where the Navy plays football. “Even more than physical courage, we need your moral courage — the strength to do what’s right, even when it’s unpopular.”

While the military remains “the most trusted institution in America,” the president said that could change if the sexual assault problem is not addressed.

According to a recent report by the Pentagon, an estimated 26,000 members of the military were sexually assaulted in unreported incidents last year, which was 35 percent more than in 2010.

“The bottom line is, I have no tolerance for this,” the president said when asked about the report. “If we find out somebody’s engaging in this stuff, they’ve got to be held accountable, prosecuted, stripped of their positions, court-martialed, fired, dishonorably discharged. Period.”

Obama said that he had ordered Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel “to step up our game exponentially” to prevent sex crimes, and said he wanted the victims to know “I’ve got their backs.”

Speaking to the graduates yesterday, the president told them they will be leaders in both military and civilian life.

“You will lead this country,” he said. “And if we want to restore the trust that the American people deserve to have in their institutions, all of us have to do our part. And those of us in leadership, myself included, have to constantly strive to remain worthy of the public trust.”

Obama added that “we have to be determined to stop these crimes because they’ve got no place in the greatest military on Earth.”

The president also made a veiled reference to the IRS scandal when he said, “As we’ve seen again in recent days, it only takes the misconduct of a few to further erode the people’s trust in their government.”

The Internal Revenue Service has been under attack after it was revealed that employees in the Cincinnati office singled out conservative groups like the Tea Party for further scrutiny on their applications for tax-exempt status.

Since presidents address graduates of at least one of the military academies every year, this was Obama’s second time at Navy.

Obama also followed another commencement tradition by absolving the midshipmen who had been placed on restrictions for minor conduct offenses.

“As always, Admiral Miller gets to decide what’s minor,” Obama said with a chuckle. “Some of these guys are laughing a little nervously about that.”


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