NEW LONDON, Conn. — Vice President Dick Cheney told newly minted Coast Guard officers Wednesday that the war on terrorism would be won on their watch and dismissed fears that fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan would drag on indefinitely.
Cheney, sporting a 10-gallon hat, said the troop surge in Iraq "has succeeded brilliantly."
"The war on terror is a lengthy enterprise, but it does not have to go on forever," he told more than 200 graduating cadets during the 127th commencement at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy.
"The only way to lose this fight is to quit. That would be irresponsible," Cheney said. "More than that, quitting would be an act of betrayal and dishonor."
The commencement address was Cheney's second in four years at the academy. He was joined by Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff. President Bush addressed graduates last year.
Cheney noted that the cadets entered the academy during the Iraq war and that it continues as they graduate.
"I am absolutely convinced that we will succeed in the war on terror, and I'm also convinced that it will happen on your watch," he said.
The ceremony, held overlooking the Thames River, was rich in tradition and precision. The vice president was greeted with a thunderous 19-gun salute. A jet and helicopter flew over as cadets tossed their hats in the air.
Cheney told graduates that they will lead a branch of service that is more capable and agile than at any time in its 217-year history.
"From this day forward, you will be America's lifesavers and guardians of the seas," Cheney said. "You'll be there to provide security and to defend our American sovereignty and to enforce this nation's laws against drugs and human smuggling."
He told the cadets they have been given "an immense set of duties" that will cover some 95,000 miles of U.S. coastline. He praised the Coast Guard for rescuing people, including more than 33,000 people trapped by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
"Every night a lot of people are thanking God for the United States Coast Guard," he said.
The vice president's visit was both cheered and jeered by demonstrators who arrived early outside the main gates.
Ted Bakacs said he drove down from Boston to join about two dozen war supporters, members of a group dubbed Gathering of Eagles. They waved American flags and toted signs saying "Proud to be an American" and "Support our Troops."
"We're proud of our government," said Bakacs, an Air Force veteran. "We're proud to be American."
Their message was countered by the more than 100 war protesters, who gathered in the center of this waterfront city and marched silently to the sounds of a slow drum beat to the academy gates. They carried placards that said, "War is Death" and "Dick Cheney: War Criminal."
Jason Ortiz, a 24-year-old University of Connecticut student, arrived early dressed as the grim reaper.
"I'm against people getting slaughtered so other people can make this money off of it," Ortiz said.