5 Jun 2024

Good morning. Thank you, General Hennigan, for the introduction, and for the invitation to join you today.

Graduates, friends, family, distinguished guests – welcome. Today is a great day, and it is significant for two reasons: First, we get to celebrate the accomplishments of all of our students following a year of hard work. Second, this ceremony is the only thing between most of this room and a PCS move or well-earned leave, so I’ll try and be brief because I know the cars are running in the parking lot.

We are fortunate to be joined today by Secretary Berger, Assistant Inspector General Mr. Michael Mendoza, and a number of Attachés from key Allies and Partners.

Thank you very much for joining us. To all the families in attendance – on behalf of your Marines, thank you. This year wasn’t designed as a breather, and between the reading, writing, and researching, I know that time can come at a premium. The support you gave to your graduates is why they continue to be successful. I hope that despite all the work, you had the opportunity to get some quality family time in.

To the professors and staff of our colleges, thank you for helping mold these officers and broaden their scope. The education you provide is critical to the success of the Marine Corps, and we get better Marines on the back end because they spent a year with you.

I’d also like to thank the officers from the Joint Force, as well as members of our Allied and partner services and the interagency. Thank you for spending a year with our service and for sharing your perspectives and experience. Hopefully you got something valuable in return.

Marines don’t fight alone, and you shouldn’t be surprised when you run into a classmate somewhere very far from Quantico putting into practice the things you learned here. In fact, I need you to make an effort to maintain and to use the connections you made over the last year. These relationships have never been more important.

Last week, I was in France commemorating the 106th anniversary of Belleau Wood, and in Florence where I laid a wreath in memory of those who died in the Italian Campaign of World War II. I was proud to join military leaders from France, Germany, and Italy in solemn remembrance of our actions on the battlefields of Europe.

Similarly, tomorrow, leaders from around the globe will meet again in France to mark the 80th anniversary of the Allied landings on the beaches of Normandy. Both occasions, celebrating Allied victories in two World Wars, have a more somber quality this year as we remain in the shadow of war on the European continent. The illegal and unethical war waged by Russia shows no signs of waning, and the devastating toll on Ukraine continues to mount.

Victory or defeat – both carry strategic challenges that will test Europe for many years to come. But the one point of light in the midst of this brutal conflict is the strength of the NATO alliance. Other nations, who might also seek similar acts of aggression, expected the alliance to fracture or fail. But in the face of hostility, NATO united, it grew stronger, added new members in Sweden and Finland, and recommitted itself to the common defense of democracy. And that common spirit, the dedication to freedom of all nations big or small, is not confined to Europe.

Our network of Allies and Partners sets us apart. And it continues to grow and strengthen in every theater in the face of Russia, China, Iran, North Korea, and all those that seek to undermine the freedom and prosperity of democratic nations.

I’d like to again thank our international students for spending a year on American soil and contributing your time and ideas so that we can all benefit from them. You are truly the best that your nation has to offer, and we are lucky to have you. In my meetings with the leaders of your armed forces, there is one common request – more seats in MCU classrooms for their students.

Because this room, these schools, are where alliances and partnerships evolve into friendships. Its where we build relationships that withstand the test of time, or even the trials of combat. Thank you for the value that you bring to the education of our Marines.

Today is a good day for all of our graduates, but it is a great day for me. Because today is the day that you take those lessons, those relationships and the experience you gained here and bring it back to the fleet, your respective services, agencies, or nations. Don’t let what you learned stay here when you leave.

The joint and combined forces need good ideas to tackle tough problems, from kill webs and contested logistics to training and talent management.

We didn’t just send you here to make you smarter, we sent you here so you can make the people you lead smarter. We need creative solutions now more than ever as we balance the campaigning and crisis response requirements of today with the modernization required for the fight tomorrow. As leaders, commanders, and planners, you need to keep one eye on the current fight – the acute challenges of today – and one eye on the pacing challenge. 

We must modernize for the pacing threat and be ready for the acute ones. But we cannot expect the world to give us a breather, or to allow us to sequester ourselves from current events so we can take a knee and modernize. We are expeditionary by nature, and we must continue to meet the obligations that come with being our Nation’s 911 force.

That means maintaining a high state of readiness, it means campaigning to deter our adversaries and responding to regional crises when they occur. It means consistent deployments of our Marine Expeditionary Units so that Americans can count on their Marines to be first to fight if called.

But at the same time, we must embrace and implement the technologies and concepts, at speed, that will allow us to win the peer fight. We must carry out the righteous vision of Force Design and update it as we go through experimentation and our Campaign of Learning. The investments we have made over the last five years are bearing fruit, and the fleet you are returning to needs the ideas you are bringing with you after graduation.

I need you to continue to refine our concepts and the employment of our modernized capabilities – and feed your findings back into the system to make it better. Long-Range Missile Batteries, the Medium Range Intercept Capability, our G/ATOR radars, Organic Precision Fires, and even the new kit on our individual Marines – They will be out there in the fleet waiting for you, we are fielding them as we speak.

But no platform, no matter how modernized, is a substitute for new ideas. We have to maintain momentum behind Force Design, because I am a firm believer that our core assumptions are correct.

But the most important reason we can’t take our foot of the gas is that Force Design, at its heart, stripping away the platforms and equipment, is the desire to adapt. It’s the acknowledgement that we must continually do everything in our power to prepare for the next fight, not the last one.

It starts with how we train and educate our Marines, and in the next few weeks we will roll out our Training and Education Annual Report, highlighting our work in that critical aspect of Force Design. It is the perfect example that, despite being five years into this journey, we must continue at speed. Our adversaries are not slowing down, and the biggest thing that sets us apart are the people in this room.

The most important domain we must build advantage in, is the domain of ideas – And you are the ones who will get us there. The good news is that I know you are ready.

In my experience, but whether it is Command and Staff, MCWAR, or SAW, you often don’t fully appreciate this year until long after you’ve walked out those doors. But I am confident that this education and this experience is something that you will be able to fall back on in the many years ahead of you.

And no matter where you go next, do not rest. This year was solely to prepare you for what comes next. Some of you will go right back to the fleet, some to planning tours or the pentagon. Some of you will be leading battalions or squadrons after you leave. But all of you will be moving on backed up by everyone you shared these classrooms with. Use the connections you’ve made here to help you when you are stuck. Call each other, call your instructors, keep in touch. Odds are, they have dealt with the same challenge you are trying to overcome.

Thank you for inviting me to speak today. And thank you for giving me your best while you were here. I am proud of you, and I look forward to everything that you will accomplish next.

Semper Fidelis.