Trump calls for West Point cadets to be 'part of one team and one family, proudly serving one American nation,' during commencement address in veiled reference to George Floyd unrest
* Donald Trump arrived at West Point to address the graduating class at the U.S. Military Academy Saturday
* He said the class of 2020 come 'from every race, religion, color, and creed' but must be 'one team'
* He said the US is not 'the policeman of the world' but if 'threatened, we will never hesitate to act'
* Direct mention of Floyd or the ongoing protests across America were notably absent from his speech
* Yet he congratulated the US army for helping win the battle against 'the evil of slavery' and in the battle for civil rights
- despite some West Point graduates fighting for the Confederacy in the Civil War
* Trump made a dig at China over the 'invisible enemy' of the coronavirus pandemic from the 'distant land'
* Tensions between the White House and the military have escalated amid protests over Floyd's death
* Trump has clashed with several top military officials, including Defense Secretary Mark Esper who publicly opposed * Trump's call to use active-duty troops to crack down on the demonstrations
* Gen. Mark Milley, the Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, said Thursday it had been 'a mistake' for him to join Trump at the
infamous St. John's Church photo op where protesters were teargassed from their paths
* The West Point ceremony was also mired in controversy after 15 West Point cadets tested positive for coronavirus
after they were summoned to return so Trump could go ahead with the ceremony
* Hundreds of West Point alumni sent a letter to the graduates blasting Trump's politicization of the military
Donald Trump called for the 1,100 West Point graduates to be 'part of one team, and one family, proudly serving one American nation' during his commencement address, in what appeared to be a veiled reference to the nationwide George Floyd protests and amid his own tensions with the Pentagon over his infamous photo op in Washington DC.
The class of 2020 come 'from every race, religion, color, and creed' but must be 'one team' as they graduate into a 'crucial time in American history', Trump said.
'When times are turbulent, when the road is rough what matters most is that which is permanent, timeless, enduring and eternal.'
The president arrived to give the Commencement Address at the historic Parade Field at the US Military Academy in New York Saturday morning, regaling an impassioned speech where he skipped over any direct reference to Floyd or the ongoing civil unrest, vowed the US military will not be the 'policeman of the world' and launched a fresh attack on China over the coronavirus pandemic.
His hotly-anticipated address to the future members of the armed forces comes during a fraught week for relations between him and top military officials.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley sought to distance himself from Trump this week and issued an apology for his decision to accompany Trump to St. John's Church to hold up a Bible for a staged photo - which involved tear gassing peaceful protesters out of the president's path.
Tensions have also mounted between Trump and Mark Esper after the defense secretary publicly opposed Trump's call to use active-duty troops to crack down on the demonstrations over Floyd's death.
Saturday's ceremony itself has also been mired in controversy after 15 West Point cadets tested positive for coronavirus after they were summoned to return to the campus in the virus epicenter New York because Trump wanted to plow ahead with the ceremony irregardless of the pandemic.
Just hours before his arrival, a group of several hundred West Point alumni then sent a letter to the 2020 graduating class blasting Trump's politicization of the military.
Trump touched down at West Point at around 10a.m. and was met by military officials as he descended the steps of Marine One.
He was then welcomed to the ceremony with a 21-gun salute, before making his way to the stage alongside United States Military Academy Lt. Gen. Darryl Williams - stopping on route to admire a military helicopter.
He and Williams saluted the cadets while the national anthem was sang. Everyone on stage with Trump was tested beforehand for COVID-19.
'There is no place on earth on I would rather be than right here with you,' he told the crowds as he took the podium to muted clapping.
'We are here to celebrate your achievements, and great achievements they are.'
Direct mention of Floyd or the ongoing protests demanding police reform and an end to systemic racism across America were notably absent from his speech, though he made a number of thinly veiled references to the ongoing civil unrest ravaging America as he spoke of the 'turbulent' time in US history that the cadets are graduating into.
He also congratulated the US army for helping to win the battle against 'the evil of slavery' and its role in the battle for civil rights - something that is widely disputed given some West Point graduates fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War.
He then went on to specifically name the National Guard in his show of thanks to the US military: 'I want to thank the men and women of the National Guard who respond with precision to so many recent challenges from hurricanes and natural disasters to ensuring peace, safety and continued rule of law on our streets.'
The president has come under fire for sending in the National Guard to tackle largely peaceful protesters in DC - in particular the clearing out of demonstrators with pepper *bleep* and tear gas so he could carry out his PR stunt in front of the damaged church on June 1.
Trump then went on to insist the US is not 'the policeman of the world' but that if 'our people are threatened, we will never hesitate to act', before reeling off a self-congratulatory list of investments and measures his administration has channeled in to the military over the last four years.
He praised his own administration's support of the army during his time in office, patting himself on the back for what he called a 'colossal rebuilding of the armed forces'.
'After years of budget cuts and the military being depleted by endless wars we have invested $2 trillion - that's with a "t" - in the most powerful fighting force by far on the planet,' he said.
'It is not the duty of US troops to solve ancient conflicts in faraway lands that many people have not heard of - we are not the policemen of the world.'
He added: 'If our people are threatened we will never ever hesitate to act and when we fight from now on we will only fight to win.'
Trump could not resist using the stage to make another dig at China over the 'invisible enemy' of the coronavirus pandemic that he said came from the 'distant land'.
'I want to take the opportunity to thank all members of American armed forces... who stepped forward to battle the invisible enemy - the new virus that came to our shores from a distant land called China,' he said.
'We will vanquish the virus, we will extinguish this plague.'
The president also reeled off a dramatic list of battles in American history as he told them to 'remember the soldiers before you'.
He likened American soldiers to 'titans who strode through cannon blasts' to face enemies that embodied 'sadistic monsters [in] the gates of hell' and told them that 'no evil force on earth can match the righteous power and glory of the American soldier'.
'The survival of America depends on men and women just like you and people who love their country with all their heart and soul,' Trump said.
'It depends on citizens who build, sustain and nurture institutions like this one - that is how society is made.'
Trump ended his address by saying that 'America will always prevail'.
The event, which was the only service academy where Trump had not yet taken to the stage, was vastly different to the usual annual occasion as steps were put in place to limit the risk of attendees catching and spreading coronavirus.
The class of 2020 were seen wearing white face masks as they marched to their socially distanced seats on 'The Plain' ahead of Trump's arrival.
They were able to then remove the masks once seated but there was no handshaking with the president as would typically occur during the annual ceremony.
Esper, who has locked horns with the president in recent weeks, did not accompany Trump to the ceremony but delivered a congratulatory speech over videotape.
'Take inspiration from the brave soldiers who serve before you,' he told them.
Senator Chuck Schumer, Senator Jack Reed and several West Cadet alumni members also spoke via videotaped messages to the cadets.
Williams addressed the crowds ahead of Trump, addressing the fact that the ceremony looked different this year to the usual annual event - with family and friends unable to join the graduates at the event.
He paid homage to Christopher 'C J' Morgan, a cadet who died in a training accident at the academy last year, while an empty chair was seen with his photo on in his honor.
Williams then calling on the graduates to: 'Be the officer worth following and take care of your soldiers'.
Trump's commencement speech to the 1,100 graduating cadets was delivered as arguments continue to rage over his threat to use American troops on domestic soil to quell the ongoing protests across the nation.
Tensions between the White House and the military have escalated following the death of Floyd, a black man who was killed when a white cop knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes while he begged for his life saying 'I can't breathe'.
In the past two weeks, Trump yelled at Defense Secretary Mark Esper for publicly opposing Trump's call to use active-duty troops to crack down on the demonstrations.
Trump then shut down Esper's attempt to open a public debate on removing the names of Confederate Army officers from military bases.
Gen. Mark Milley, the Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, further risked Trump's ire Thursday by declaring it had been 'a mistake' for him to accompany Trump on a June 1 walk through Lafayette Square.
It also emerged the general was considering resigning over the incident which has outraged the nation.
The trip - which involved clearing peaceful protesters out of the way - ended with the president holding up a Bible and posing for the news media outside St. John's Church, which was damaged by fire during the unrest.
Milley's comments amounted to an extraordinary expression of regret by Trump's chief military adviser, who said his appearance led to the perception of the military becoming embroiled in politics, which in his view - one shared by Esper - is a threat to democracy.
The events have stirred debate within the military and among retired officers.
More than 500 West Point graduates from classes spanning six decades signed an open letter this week reminding the class of 2020 of its commitment to avoid partisan politics.
The letter, published on Medium, also alluded to the problems Esper and Milley encountered at the White House after Floyd's death.
'Sadly, the government has threatened to use the Army in which you serve as a weapon against fellow Americans engaging in these legitimate protests,' they wrote.
'Worse, military leaders, who took the same oath you take today, have participated in politically charged events. The principle of civilian control is central to the military profession. But that principle does not imply blind obedience.'
They added: 'We are concerned that fellow graduates serving in senior-level, public positions are failing to uphold their oath of office and their commitment to duty, honor, country. Their actions threaten the credibility of an apolitical military.'
Trump has also been slammed for forcing Saturday's ceremony go ahead while many other ceremonies have been canceled across the nation over fears of renewed spikes in coronavirus cases.
Fifteen West Point cadets tested positive for coronavirus as the class of 1,106 were summoned back to campus at the end of May ahead of Trump's speech.
The US Army confirmed last week that 15 cadets had contracted the deadly virus, saying they were diagnosed when all cadets were tested as soon as they arrived on campus and were immediately isolated so the virus did not spread to any other cadets.
The US Military Academy said it had taken a number of measures to bring the cadets back safely for their graduation, after Trump announced it would be business as usual for the event.
'The Army and West Point have done meticulous planning to ensure the health and safety of the returning cadets of the US Military Academy's class of 2020,' the US Army said in a statement last week.
'There is mandatory screening for all, and we've had a small number - about 1.5 percent - test positive. This was anticipated. None were symptomatic, and no cadet has contracted through person-to-person contact while under the Army's care. Those who test positive are isolated, and receive appropriate care and attention, while we continue an orderly reintegration of our cadets.'
Back in April, Trump shocked everyone when he announced he would be speaking at the event as planned.
According to the New York Times, the news even came as a surprise to West Point officials.
The cadets for the military academy had all been sent home in early March as the coronavirus outbreak spread across the US and they had not returned to campus since.
Officials had been looking at various options for the graduation including delaying the presidential commencement speech.
But it seems Trump did not want to pass up the opportunity of speaking at the only service academy where he has not yet taken to the stage.
Before any decision was reached by West Point officials, Trump announced in a press conference on April 17 that he would be going ahead with the event at the campus based in New York - which was the virus epicenter of the world at the time.
His announcement came just one day before Vice President Mike Pence gave a commencement speech at the Air Force Academy graduation ceremony in Colorado Springs.
At this commencement, the underclassmen were sent home and cadets marched six feet apart and sat eight feet apart.
But the president brushed off the possibility of a socially distanced ceremony at West Point saying he wanted the 'look' of it to be 'nice and tight'.
Trump came under fire following his announcement, with Senator Tammy Duckworth branding it 'reckless' and an excuse for 'photo ops'.
'Trump's reckless decision to gather 1,000 Cadets at West Point for a speech puts our future military leaders at increased risk - all to stroke his own ego,' she said back in April.
'Our troops need stable, consistent leadership during volatile times like these, not a commander-in-chief who values his own photo ops and TV ratings over their health and safety.'
Other academies had taken a more cautious approach given the risk of sparking fresh outbreaks of the virus among the nation's servicemen and women.
The Naval Academy decided against bringing back its nearly 1,000 graduating midshipmen to its base in Annapolis, Maryland, for its commencement this year.
A group called Veterans For Peace announced a protest outside West Point's main gate Saturday against what it called 'Trump´s dangerous narcissistic Photo-Op Stunt at the West Point Graduation.'
But the White House defended the move with White House spokesman Judd Deere this week saying: 'Saturday's graduation is about these incredible cadets and their amazing accomplishments, and as the commander in chief, President Trump wants to celebrate that and thank them for their service to our country.'
Army officials also defended the move, saying the cadets would have had to brave the health risks of traveling back to campus anyway for their final medical checks, equipment and training.
Historic West Point is located 40 miles (65 kilometers) up the Hudson River from New York City, the epicenter of the US coronavirus outbreak.
Some cadets said they welcomed the chance to see their classmates again.
'We're going to be scattered all across the world, and it might be years, or tens of years, until we get to see some of our classmates again,' said 2nd Lt. Daine Van de Wall, of West Friendship, Maryland. 'And so coming back and getting to have closure for our West Point experience, I think, is extremely important.'
Cheryl Connors, a 1983 West Point alum whose son Cameron graduates Saturday, said the moment is 'bittersweet.'
Her three older children graduated from the academy, too.
'I'm super proud of him and his classmates. It´s a great accomplishment,' she said. 'And it´s heartbreaking at the same time to not be able to be there and celebrate with him.'https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-8416719/Trump-addresses-West-Point-grads-amid-tension-military.html