Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel called on U.S. Naval Academy cadets Friday to regularly check their “internal compass,” act ethically and lead with compassion as officers, and urged them to take a stand against sexual assault in the ranks.
“We’re all accountable. From new recruits to four-star admirals and generals, from second lieutenants to the secretary of Defense,” Mr. Hagel said at the commencement ceremony at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., The Hill reported.
“We all have to step up and take action when we see something that hurts our people and our values,” he said.
During his tenure, Mr. Hagel has made preventing sexual assault and unethical behavior the military’s top priorities.
The Naval Academy recently attracted unwanted national attention when three male midshipmen were accused of sexually assaulting a female classmate at an off-campus party in 2012. None of the midshipmen were convicted.
The alleged victim was among the 1,068 midshipmen in the Class of 2014 that graduated Friday, receiving commissions as Navy ensigns and Marine Corps second lieutenants after four years in Annapolis.
Mr. Hagel did not mention the sexual assault case specifically. He did, however, allude to other recent controversies that have rocked the military, including cheating scandals in the Air Force and Navy and charges that military officers abused their privileges.
“At times, you’ll be pressured to succeed at any cost. When that happens, it sometimes clouds the internal compass we each have that helps us distinguish right from wrong,” he said. “Some people regularly check that compass. Some do not – resulting in ethical, moral, or professional lapses that stain our force’s honor, damage our institutions’ credibility and harm the nation’s security.”
Touching upon the military’s struggle to deal with suicide, post-traumatic stress syndrome and other mental health issues, Mr. Hagel asked the new officers to lead with compassion.
“When they come to you for help, it doesn’t mean they’re weak. It means they’re strong, because asking for help when you need it takes courage and strength,” he said.