Vice President Mike Pence warned West Point graduates on Saturday to expect combat at some point during their service in a “dangerous” world.
In a commencement speech, he said grads might have to fight against forces aligned with North Korea or China, or in Afghanistan or Iraq, as well as possibly face an unidentified foe in “this hemisphere.”
“It is a virtual certainty that you will fight on a battlefield for America at some point in your life. You will lead soldiers in combat. It will happen,” Pence said.
“Some of you will join the fight against radical Islamic terrorists in Afghanistan and Iraq. Some of you will join the fight on the Korean Peninsula and in the Indo-Pacific where North Korea continues to threaten the peace, and an increasingly militarized China challenges our presence in the region.”
He warned: “Some of you may even be called upon to serve in this hemisphere ... When that day comes, I know you will move to the sound of the guns.”
Pence’s words were particularly ominous amid rising tensions in U.S. relations with some other nations. President Donald Trump has vowed to back a coup in Venezuela. He has adopted a more bellicose tone toward Iran and announced the deployment of an additional 1,500 troops to the Mideast. Ignoring objections from some lawmakers, he’s also bypassing congressional review and allowing the sale of billions of dollars of arms to Saudi Arabia.
The U.S. military remains in Afghanistan in the longest war in U.S. history, and 4,400 troops are now stationed at the border with Mexico.
Trump has tried to broker a nuclear disarmament deal with North Korea ― bending over backward to praise that nation’s brutal dictator, Kim Jing Un ― but so far the president has little to show for his efforts.
Pence in his speech touted increases in defense spending under Trump and aid the U.S. “is once again embracing our role as the leader of the free world.”
He also called Trump the “best friend the men and women of our armed forces will ever have.” That praise came as the president has been slammed in recent days by former top military leaders for reportedly planning to pardon several service members accused of war crimes.
The 980 cadets who became second lieutenants upon their graduation included 223 women, of whom 34 are black ― both all-time highs for the once all-male academy. The number of black men and women in the class totaled 110 ― double the number from as recently as 2013, according to The Guardian.
Pence ― like Trump ― did not serve in the military. But in his speech the vice president paid tribute to his father, Edward J. Pence, who served in the Korean War.