- The Washington Times - Friday, May 27, 2005

ANNAPOLIS — President Bush yesterday urged Naval Academy graduates to challenge the status quo in the same way he is challenging congressional Democrats to enact his conservative agenda.

“This advice comes with a warning: If you challenge established ways of thinking, you will face opposition,” Mr. Bush said in his commencement speech at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. “Believe me, I know — I’ve lived in Washington for four years.

“The opponents of change are many, and its champions are few, but the champions of change are the ones who make history,” he told 976 uniformed graduates. “Pursue the possibilities others tell you do not exist.”

It was the first time Mr. Bush has delivered the commencement speech at the Naval Academy since the spring of 2001, just months before the terrorist attacks of September 11.

“When I spoke to the class of 2001, none of us imagined that a few months later we would suffer a devastating surprise attack on our homeland, or that our nation would be plunged into a global war unlike any we had known before,” the president said.

“The midshipmen I addressed here four years ago are now serving bravely in this struggle,” he added. “The new officers who sat in the chairs where you now sit could not have known that their strength and character would be tested so soon.”

Mr. Bush rattled off a list of 2001 graduates who went on to serve in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, including Edward Slavis, whose battalion helped pull down the statue of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad. The president quoted the graduate as calling the invasion of Iraq “America’s golden moment.”

Another 2001 graduate became a Navy SEAL who captured dozens of Taliban terrorists in raids throughout Afghanistan. The man went on to guard first lady Laura Bush when she visited Afghanistan, so the president kept his name secret.

“If he’s out there listening, I’ve got a message for that courageous Navy frogman: Thanks for defending America,” Mr. Bush said. “And thanks for taking such good care of my bride.”

The president also used yesterday’s speech to defend the Pentagon’s recommendation to close 33 military bases and downsize 29 others.

“We have more bases than we need,” he said. “Supporting these facilities wastes billions of taxpayer dollars, money that can be better spent on giving you the tools to fight terrorists and confront 21st-century threats.”

Yet Mr. Bush made clear the list of base closings is subject to change. The list was presented two weeks ago to the Base Realignment and Closure Commission, which has not made a final recommendation.

“This is only the beginning of the process,” the president said. “Commission members will now visit all the sites that the military has recommended for closure, and communities will have the opportunity to make their case directly to the commission.”

Mr. Bush empathized with military communities that will be financially hurt by base closings. He was governor of Texas during the last round of base closings, which included Austin, Laredo and Lubbock.

“I know firsthand how hard base closings can be on local communities,” he said. “We’ll do everything possible to help affected communities make the transition as smoothly as possible, by providing economic development aid, job training and assistance with redevelopment plans for affected bases.”

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