President Obama addressing the U.S. Naval Academy
President Obama urged a new generation of military leaders Friday to address the problem of sexual assault within their ranks.
"Those who commit sexual assault are not only committing a crime, they threaten the trust and discipline that makes our military strong," Obama said during commencement services at the U.S. Naval Academy.
Obama added that "we have to be determined to stop these crimes because they've got no place in the greatest military on Earth."
Earlier this month, the Pentagon released a report saying that as many as 26,000 servicemembers may have been sexually assaulted in 2012 -- up from about 19,000 the year before.
Obama has ordered the Pentagon to address the problem, as Congress ponders possible changes to the code of military justice.
In his commencement address, Obama told the Navy graduates that the military remains "the most trusted institution in America," but that could change if the sexual assault problem is not addressed.
Speaking on a rainy day at the academy's football stadium, Obama praised the graduates for their commitment to the nation's future.
"You've met the mission of this academy," Obama said. "You've met every test before you."
Upholding honor is important in a country when so many institutions are being questioned, Obama said, telling the graduates that many of them will be leaders in both military and civilian life.
"You will lead this country," he said. "And if we want to restore the trust that the American people deserve to have in their institutions, all of us have to do our part. And those of us in leadership, myself included, have to constantly strive to remain worthy of the public trust."
Presidents address one of the military academies every year at graduation time; this was Obama's second time at Navy.
Obama also followed another commencement tradition, absolving the Midshipmen who had been placed on restrictions for minor conduct offenses.
"As always, Admiral Miller gets to decide what's minor," Obama said. adding with a chuckle. "Some of these guys are laughing a little nervously about that."
David Jackson, USA TODAY