Charles Dharapak, Associated Press
NEW LONDON, Conn. — President Barack Obama told U.S. Coast Guard graduates Wednesday to prepare for years filled with vital but dangerous tasks, tempering congratulations and praise with words of caution about a world full of threats.
Speaking at the Coast Guard academy's graduation ceremony, Obama told the 229 cadets of the class of 2011 that the Coast Guard has become one of the nation's first responders, leading the evacuation of lower Manhattan after 9/11 and helping after last year's devastating Haiti earthquake and the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
More recently, Coast Guard officers helped whisk Americans to higher ground against a surging Mississippi River.
"We know that the complex missions asked of our Coast Guard have never been more important," Obama said — ranging from protecting Persian Gulf shipping lanes and combatting piracy off the horn of Africa to protecting America's shores and preventing would-be terrorist smugglers from infiltrating the nation's ports.
"None of these missions will be easy and none are without risk," Obama told the 162 men and 67 women. He said that's the "life and the risk" they have chosen to accept and that, as commander in chief, he would do everything possible to help them succeed.
Obama was cheered by the cadets in their crisp white uniforms when he alluded to the killing this month of terrorist Osama bin Laden by Navy SEALS. "But the hard work of protecting our country, the hard work goes on," he told them.
After the speech, the president remained on stage to hand out diplomas as the cadets were commissioned as ensigns. The first assignment for most of the graduates — 197 of them — will be to report to Coast Guard cutters.
For Obama, it was his final commencement address of the season. The president traditionally delivers a commencement address every year to one of the service academies. The Coast Guard Academy is the smallest of the five. Obama addressed the U.S. Military Academy Class of 2010 at West Point last year.
The ceremony, the 130th Coast Guard Academy commencement, was forced indoors due to inclement weather.
After the pomp and circumstance, Obama flew to Massachusetts, a Democratic stronghold, to rally supporters at campaign fundraisers in Boston. Obama spoke first at a reception for about 900 people at the Cyclorama at the Boston Center for the Arts in the South End neighborhood, followed by a dinner for 130 at the Brookline, Mass., home of Jack Connors, a former advertising executive and philanthropist.
Reviewing his administration's accomplishments on the economy and other areas is a standard part of Obama's campaign speech, but he's added a new item: bin Laden, including a mention of him by name.
"Because of the bravery of our men and women in uniform, Osama bin Laden will never again threaten the United States of America," Obama said to thunderous applause at the reception, the second time he's mentioned the one-time al-Qaida leader at a fundraiser since bin Laden's May 1 death in a U.S. military raid in Pakistan.
He also took a crack at a potential Republican presidential challenger, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
As governor, Romney enacted a health care law similar to what Obama signed last year, requiring most people to get health care coverage. But Republicans dislike the federal law and Romney, as a result, has been trying to draw distinctions between the state and federal versions as he prepares to enter the presidential race.
"With a little assist from the former governor of Massachusetts, we said that health care should no longer be a privilege in this country. It should be affordable and available for every American," Obama said. "We said that in the United States of America, just like here in Massachusetts, you should never go broke because you get sick."
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