Today’s ROTC graduates are more prepared to use the technologies the U.S. is developing and employing than ever before, Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen H. Hicks told the National Capital Region’s graduating ROTC class today.
That’s great news for the military because such preparation will be crucial in meeting the challenges the U.S. faces today, Hicks said during the commencement at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall in Virginia. “You have meaningfully distinguished yourself and made all Americans proud.”
“This is a distinct group,” Hicks said. “You’ve displayed exemplary leadership in the field and at the detachment level, pushing each other and those under your charge. Impressively, four of you are graduating today as distinguished military graduates, which places you in the top 20% of all cadets nationally. For 13 of you, your parents were members of our Joint Force, and, for 35 you, you’re the first in your family to serve. And five of our cadets are first-generation American. Nine of our 87 are “Green to Gold” cadets [who] served previously [in the] armed services.”
Soon, some graduates will enter active-duty military service, some will go into the reserves, and others will report to their state’s National Guard, Hicks said. “No matter where you are headed, you’ll be working side-by-side with military and civilian personnel across the globe — all of whom are dedicated to the defense of our nation.” Today’s class is the first to graduate since Sept. 11, 2001, that will not see combat in Afghanistan, she added.
“[The] United States faces myriad challenges. First and foremost, the people of Ukraine are on our minds. Russia’s war and brutal tactics shows that it continues to pose an acute threat to the international system,” the deputy secretary said.
But even as the U.S. confronts Russia’s malign activities, China is the military’s most consequential competitor and the pacing challenge for the Defense Department. It has the military, economic and technological capability to both challenge the international system and U.S. interests in it, Hicks said.
DOD also continues to face persistent, regional threats from North Korea, Iran and violent extremist organizations. It must also confront transboundary challenges – such as climate change – that impact its operations and missions, she noted.
“First, the cornerstone of our 2022 National Defense Strategy is ‘integrated deterrence.’ At its core, integrated deterrence requires integrating our military ‘across domains and across the spectrum of conflict,'” she said.
But, more than that, it includes new concepts of operation, such as the elimination of stovepipes between services and their capabilities and coordinated operations on land, in the air, on the sea, in space, and in cyberspace, Hicks pointed out.
“That means you have got to know and rely on your teammates from the start,” she said. “I know that this past year your ROTC detachment commanders have been deliberate in ensuring you have all been exposed to and learn about each other’s branches. You haven’t remained siloed in just your service,” she said.
A second approach to meet the challenges the U.S. faces is evident in its commitment to invest more deeply in advanced systems and technologies critical to defense, the deputy secretary emphasized.
“One of America’s greatest comparative advantages is our ingenuity and inventiveness,” she said. “That is why [President Joe Biden’s] 2023 budget request looks to make investments in advanced systems, like missile defeat and missile defense; long-range fires, including hypersonic weapons, space and space-based systems; cyber activities, and DOD’s own digital modernization.”
Hicks said DOD asked Congress for more than $130 billion for research, development, test and evaluation to help develop the critical 5G and artificial intelligence technologies needed for the future.
“For many of you, your relationship with technology is fundamentally stronger than that of prior generations. As digital natives, you are at home imagining how advanced devices and digital applications can deliver advantage. You adapt quickly and seamlessly when presented with new software and more data,” she noted.
“We are asking you to support and defend the Constitution of the United States,” the deputy secretary said before administering the oath of office to each of them.
“The oath attests your dedication to public service, your willingness to put others’ needs before your own, and your commitment to upholding the values we hold dear. And because of your solemn pledge today, I know that the United States and our democratic way of life is safer, because our national security is now in your capable hands,” Hicks said. “I and everyone who has come here to support you today deeply respect and honor your selflessness and willingness to serve our country.”