WEST POINT, N.Y. — Warned by President Barack Obama that they face a long, dangerous road, U.S. Military Academy graduates said they were undaunted and ready to deploy.
Obama told 1,002 West Point graduates Saturday that he was humbled that many of them "will soon be serving in harm's way." Noting the he visited West Point in December to outline his Afghanistan military policy, Obama told cadets that now many of them will be called upon to enact that strategy.
"Cadets, a long and hard road awaits you," Obama said. "You go abroad because your service is fundamental to our security back home."
Almost all the graduating cadets became second lieutenants in the U.S. Army, and most expect to eventually serve in Afghanistan or Iraq. Despite the president's warning, the new officers celebrating with friends and family after the ceremonial hat toss said they were ready to serve.
"I need to do this for myself and my country," said Kyle Bates of Springfield, Va.
"I think I'm ready," said Preston Pham of Plano, Texas. "I know what I signed up for."
Annie Odom of Ware Shoals, S.C. said her father was deployed to Iraq in 2003, and now it was her turn.
"I want to serve. I want to go overseas. My father did it ... and I want to do my service for my country," Odom said. "When that day comes, when I have to go to combat, I'll be ready and God will be on my side. That's all I have to know."
The Class of 2010 entered West Point four years ago, well after the start of the military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan. West Point officials say 78 graduates have died in the global war on terror since Sept. 11, 2001. Combat deaths of West Point graduates are routinely announced in the mess hall along with a moment of silence.
"When you take that moment of silence, it definitely hits hard in your heart when you realize that could be you someday. You just don't know," said Bryson Carl of Albequerque, N.M. But he added that all the cadets knew what they were getting into.
Obama also noted that two female cadets earned top West Point honors for the first time ever. Alexandra Rosenberg of New York City was class valedictorian. Elizabeth Betterbed of Fox Island, Wash., earned the highest Cadet Performance Score based on her combined academic, physical and military performance.