WEST POINT -- Vice President Mike Pence told West Point's Class of 2019 on Saturday they are entering the Army at a dangerous and challenging time, and it is "virtually certain" they will find themselves fighting on a battlefield some day.
Because of their training at West Point, Pence said, "When that day comes, you will fight and you will win."
Pence assured the graduates they will go into battle with America's people and government behind them.
"America will always seek peace, but peace comes from strength," Pence said. "You are now that strength."
Pence told the graduates he brought them "greetings and congratulations from your commander in chief, President Donald Trump."
"Your commander in chief will always have your back," Pence said.
He said Trump proposed "the largest defense budget in history," $750 billion, positioning the United States to once again be "a leader in the free world." America's NATO allies are now contributing more than ever to the efforts of that alliance, thanks to Trump's efforts, Pence said.
And, he noted, "the last inch of territory under the black flag of ISIS was liberated" earlier this year.
The class of 2019 lost three members due to tragic deaths during the last four years. Thomas Surdyke drowned while aiding a swimmer in distress on Long Island in June 2016. Brandon Jackson, a cornerback on the football team, died in a car crash three months later. In February of this year, Peter Zhu died in a skiing accident on West Point's Victor Constant ski area.
Without mentioning their names, Pence paused in his remarks to remember those "three men of honor who did not live to see this day."
"The United States Army, and America, will not forget their service," he said.
As graduates stepped up to the stage to receive their diplomas, some appeared to have large cheering sections in the Michie Stadium stands that almost drowned out the speakers announcing the names.
The graduates themselves only stood and cheered for one graduate: Korian Brady, who was this year's class goat, the one with the lowest grade point average.
The goat receives a dollar from every other graduate, a symbolic thank you for sparing them from that dubious honor.
West Point commissioned 985 cadets as second lieutenants in the Army during Saturday's commencement ceremony.
The class was said to be the most diverse ever at the military academy in terms of both ethnicity and gender. It included 221 women, more than in any class since the first group of female cadets graduated in 1980, and 32 black women, the most in any class in West Point's history. The graduates also included 88 Hispanics, 79 of Asian and Pacific island descent, and seven American Indians.
Pence noted two other milestones: The class included the 5,000th female graduate and the 1,000th Jewish graduate.
This article is written by Michael Randall from The Times Herald-Record, Middletown, N.Y. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.