Maya Sweedler

For the first time since the 1970s, 14 Yale College graduates were commissioned Monday afternoon after completing the University’s Navy and Air Force Reserve Officer’s Training Corps.

Yale’s ROTC programs returned in 2012 after a 40-year hiatus precipitated by the Vietnam War. When the program reemerged following the repeal of the U.S. military’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which barred gay and lesbian soldiers from openly serving, the Navy established a Yale-only program and the Air Force formed a partnership with several New Haven schools.

Students who entered the returned program for its first year in 2012 closed out their college careers this weekend. These Yale graduates were joined by four students from the University of New Haven and Quinnipiac University. Of the 18 students, 10 were recognized as Navy Ensigns and eight were recognized as Air Force Second Lieutenants in a Joint Military Commissioning Ceremony.

Before an audience of more than 200 in Battell Chapel, U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter ’76 delivered a Commissioning Address, sharing the four commitments that have guided his own service.

“As you step forward into a complex and changing world, our nation is counting on you: on your constant professionalism, your constant innovation and most of all, your principled leadership,” Carter said.

Carter called the commission of the first class an “important homecoming for the nation.” He added that he is pleased to serve in office in an era when society is supportive of defense efforts, and recalled a different time when this support did not exist.

He commended the 18 students for accepting what he called the “noblest mission” a young person can undertake — providing security for the American people. The Secretary of Defense also emphasized the importance of security in his address.

“Security is like oxygen: when you have it, you don’t think of it,” Carter said. “When you don’t have it, it’s all you think about.”

Carter also highlighted five specific international challenges in the strategic landscape the new officers will inhabit. These “immediate, evolving” challenges, he said, include confronting Russian aggression, managing change in the Asian Pacific, preventing the rise of North Korea, checking Iranian influence and accelerating “the certain defeat” of ISIS.

But he stressed the unpredictability of the future and pointed out that the students will not have the luxury of choosing among the five challenges and instead must address each of them.

While doing so, Carter said, students must bear in mind that protecting U.S. citizens and serving American interests is the core mission of the Department of Defense. Adding that people, not an individual, give the American military its strength, Carter said the nation’s defense rests on the military’s ability to find solutions to “seemingly intractable” problems.

“Have the courage to accept risk, to solve problems when they come up, and the wisdom to know when a risk becomes a gamble,” he advised the cadets and midshipmen.

Finally, he spoke of the importance of being a leader of character. Quoting the first President of the United States George Washington, Carter said it is an officer’s action, not his commission, that defines him.

After Carter spoke, he led the cadets and midshipmen in the oath of office. Following the oath, the newly commissioned officers’ families pinned their rank insignia, and University administrators — including University President Peter Salovey and Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway — presented the group with commissioning certificates.

“Cadets and midshipmen, like your parents and family, [Acting Commander of the Yale Air Force ROTC Lieutenant Colonel Holly Hermes] and I are extremely proud of you,” said Captain Vernon Kemper, commanding officer of the Yale NROTC. “We’re proud of you because all of you had many other options, but you chose to serve your country in uniform when you could have lived a more comfortable life on the sidelines. We applaud you for your deep, thoughtful patriotism.”

Other attendees included University Chaplain Sharon Kugler, who delivered an invocation, the U.S. Naval Band, which played both the national anthem and service songs, and Gov. Dannel Malloy.