The have names like Anderson, Gorshe, Kuo, Mallari, Caddo, Howe, Riley, Howell, Weiss and Edwards.
They are young men and young women.
They have skin of every color.
They come from every imaginable background.
Some from comfortable middle-class lives and others from tough-scrabble ones where each day demands a courage many of us will never know.
They arrive on a late Friday afternoon to a place they have chosen to come. Unsure about what they will face.
They are surrounded by others from across the land.
Twenty-six different states.
Some with the same names.
Some who look, act and talk like nobody they have ever met before.
Row up on row of them. Their belongings in a bag thrown over their shoulder, or sitting at their feet, eyeing one another.
A furtive smile. A knowing nod of the head.
Then, they find themselves put in a line. Shuffled slowly forward. A handful of papers in their hand to show to someone who appears before them and acts as they know what they are doing.
Yet, they do not yet know what they are doing.
They find the pit in their stomach sooner than they expected and it is deeper than they imagined.
Afraid. Anxious. Fearful. Uncertain. Excited.
Perhaps most of all, hopeful.
In what seems like a matter of seconds these 10 children of the United States Naval Sea Cadets Twin Cities Squadron are transformed to young women and men.
For the next 10 days they will be Recruit Trainees subjected to the rigorous training of the United States Navy, modified to accommodate the reality of young men and women of the United States Naval Sea Cadets.
They will learn to make their bed. Get up early. Shower fast. Eat quickly.
Salute. Wear a uniform correctly. Stand fast with military bearing. Execute as a team.
Grow as a person.
For many of them this will be the first time they are away from home without a parent.
Without a smartphone. Or, any other way to connect with an adult who they have come to depend on for their day-to-day life.
Some of them arrived wishing they stayed home. Some came wondering if this will be their future home. Others are not sure of why they are here except they now are and what they do for the next day 10 days may well define for them the rest of their lives.
The adults who are entrusted with their care back home look anxiously each day for news of their progress on the social media page that mercifully provides tidbits of information but excruciatingly not enough to assuage anxiety.
The adults who are entrusted with their care at the United States Naval Training Center seize upon their anxious Recruits with the ardor of a drill sergeant.
But, they know what each of us know who have an Anderson, Gorshe, Kuo, Mallari, Caddo, Howe, Riley, Howell, Weiss and Edwards or any other name of any other young man and woman we have seen grow through the years of our lives.
These are not just our children.
They are the best of America.
They are America.
They are America then.
They are American now.
They are America in the future.
Today, watching from the rows of bleachers at the United States Naval Training Center, as a volunteer Instructor for the NSCC Twin Cities Squadron – as a Dad of a Sea Cadet – I saw America’s future as our 10 recruits graduated to become Cadets.
I saw around them 30 times that number who will join them in the legion of other young men and women who have built, sustained, defended, secured and renewed America.
What they have accomplished in their time here is shown in their faces. Their bearing.
The beaming pride they have standing next to their fellow Cadet.
What they have done they did.
Nobody else did this work for them.
It was their bravery and tenacity that brought them to the doors of this place.
It was honor, courage and commitment that brought them to the floor of this drill to accept the accolades earned from the gathering of their admirers.
This graduation isn’t about a future in the military. For some, it may be. For most, it will not be.
For those who will seek someday to serve in our armed forces, they will have been trained by some of the best America has in our arsenal of democracy.
They will know that should they choose this path in their life, for their career, they will never want for knowing that they stand among America’s finest young men and women in history.
For those who do not, and, instead, choose to serve America in other ways throughout their lives, this too will be a galvanizing moment.
America needs them to defend her values and hold fast to her beliefs in no less passionate ways as their peers will do as members of our military here, at home, and across the world.
We need them as doctors, cashiers, teachers, nurses, engineers, dock workers, electricians, computer programmers, barbers and every other job that makes America the strongest, most prosperous and powerful nation on Earth.
I have had the privilege of serving with others who have done much to prepare these young men and women for this moment.
Those with names like Barnes, Grandell, Smith, Ricci, Seifert, Michael, Howell, Brew, Uhlig, Seck, Hallstrom, Hill, Portner, Jirik, Mische, Doyal, Church, LeClaire-Sura, Gorshe, McCormack and on and on and on.
Many have done more, much more, than I.
Today, I am honored to be their colleague.
I am also grateful for what they have done to prepare my own Cadet, Airman Mische, for his graduation today from the Petty Officer Leadership Academy.
I was once here like the parents and family of the 10 young men and women who graduated from Recruit Training.
I, too, saw in my own young adult the pride of an accomplishment without the helpful hands, encouraging words and exasperated pleas of a parent.
I aw a young man who experienced the toughest thing he had ever done and realized he was tough, too.
He stood alongside his fellow Squadron Members today.
No less proud of their accomplishments than his own.
Perhaps more so of theirs as he remembers having been in their shoes not so long ago
Today, three days from our nation’s celebration of independence, I am once again reminded of the nature of our freedom and liberty.
It was not won at the end of the barrel of a gun, or the wings of a plane or even the bow of a ship.
It was won with the heart of America’s finest young men and women.
It has been preserved with the beating hearts of generation upon generation of American youth who overcame the fear of the unknown and stepped forward into the darkness and lit the fire of democracy.
That fire burns brightly in each of our Squadron’s young men and women who graduated from their respective program this day.
I had the honor and privilege to shake the hand of many of our Squadron’s graduates today. Looking straight in their eyes I could see pride in what they had accomplished.
Anderson, Gorshe, Kuo, Mallari, Caddo, Howe, Riley, Howell, Weiss, Edwards and Mische.
They are the names of America’s past, present and her future.
They are our sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, friends and neighbors.
They are the arsenal of America’s democracy.
They are freedom and liberty’s last, best hope for the world.
They are United States Naval Sea Cadets.