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Biden delivers West Point commencement address amid recruitment shortages

(NewsNation) — President Joe Biden on Saturday told graduates of the U.S. Military Academy that their class is being called upon to tackle threats across the globe and preserve the country’s ideals at home “like none before.”

“He’s trying to encourage these new lieutenants that they are part of the best and brightest, and I believe they are. They’re extraordinary young men and women at all of our service academies, but it’s a very difficult time,” retired Lt. Gen. Richard Newton told NewsNation.

Newton joined “NewsNation Live” to discuss Biden’s address as the military faces significant recruitment shortages, saying a lack of “influencers” in young people’s lives is a big part of the problem.

“It could be a mom and a dad or grandparent, it could be a coach and so forth. They look at some of the challenges that we’ve gone through the last several years, coming out of constant conflict, either in Iraq or Afghanistan, or, as we mentioned earlier in our discussion, that debacle of withdrawal in Afghanistan compels influencers, perhaps not to be so positive about mentoring and recommending military service to these young men and women. But this is a national security challenge we have here,” Newton said.

“Really reaching into the youth and particularly in social media is becoming more and more important, and very difficult,” Newton added.

Biden said the phrase, the class motto, was apt for the sorts of challenges they will take as newly minted Army second lieutenants, from supporting Ukraine’s defense against Russia’s invasion to facilitating humanitarian assistance into Gaza and defending Israel from attacks by Iran.

“Ideas need defenders to make them real,” Biden said. “That’s what you are all about. You must keep us free at this time like none before.”

Speaking at sun-swept West Point, Biden reaffirmed that he will not allow American service members on the battlefield in Ukraine, but said their work to equip and train Ukrainian forces has “stepped up and stopped” Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “brazen vision” for Europe.

Biden praised U.S. forces for helping Israel repel a massive drone and ballistic missile attack last month from Iran and working to de-escalate the conflict.

Speaking before the graduating cadets took the their commissioning oaths, Biden reminded them that they were swearing fidelity not to a person or political party, but to the Constitution. As other speakers alluded to partisan rancor and political division across the nation, Biden said, “Hold fast to your values that you learned here at West Point.”

The president stood for more than an hour returning a salute from and shaking the hands of each graduate. Biden, as is customary, also absolved cadets of minor offenses committed during their time at the academy, adding with a laugh, “the superintendent can clarify what minor means.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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