The country’s second-highest-ranking military leader emphasized the weight of service in a world marred with conflict to more than two dozen officers joining the Navy and Marine Corps on Friday.
“Our nation needs you now," James Winnefeld, Jr., vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the 27 Naval Reserve Office Training Corps graduates before they were commissioned as military officers.
“You join a long line of warriors who have worn the cloth of our nation and are regarded with a very special kind of respect, who are held to a higher standard than most other elements of our society and who are proud of that fact and are determined to live up to it,” Winnefeld said.
The graduates walked to the stage, with introductions by name, hometown, university and major, against the backdrop of the Iwo Jima Memorial in Arlington. Nineteen officers hailed from GW, with the rest coming from neighboring schools including Georgetown University and University of Maryland at College Park, which participate in GW’s NROTC program.
Capt. Sterling Gilliam, commanding officer of the University’s NROTC, said the memorial portraying Marine corpsmen raising a flag during World War II symbolized the valor and courage expected of officers commissioned during the ceremony.
“No monument in this country speaks more to our core values of honor, courage and commitment than the mass of bronze behind me,” he said. “I’m happy to report that the 27 men and women before you today are equally invested in these core values.”
The University commissioned eight officers as second lieutenants, a bump from last year’s class of one officer who earned the rank. The other 11 officers will enter the naval fleet as ensigns.
Following the formal presentation of the colors and a national anthem performance by NROTC cadets, one of the graduates gave the religious invocation.
Mary Guiffre, who graduated from the University of Maryland with a bachelor’s degree in romance languages, thanked graduates’ families and friends for support and guidance over the last four years.
“It has not been an easy journey, but with your help, we have been able to overcome the obstacles,” Guiffre said.
After each graduate’s commission was announced, parents were invited to change their sons' or daughters’ pins to reflect a higher rank – a sentimental military tradition usually performed by an individual close to the officer.
One mother, Janice Hedish, shed tears while switching pins for her daughter Lauren Hedish, an ensign commissioned to be a surface warfare officer in the Navy.
“This is a bittersweet experience, but she will serve this country very well and it adheres exactly to what she wants and needs in life,” Hedish said.
Kristi Huckabone, who majored in geography at GW, was commissioned as an ensign and will travel to Pensacola, Fla. for flight school as a student naval flight officer.
She said felt inspired after pledging her oath to defend her country.
“When you’re saying that you get tingles and you believe it," Huckabone said. "You know that everything you do – whether it’s picking up the trash or something – you know you are doing it in the efforts of protecting this country.”