Commandant, Officer Cadets and staff of the Royal Military Academy, Your Highnesses, Excellencies, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, it is a great honour and privilege for me to represent Her Majesty The Queen at this Sovereign’s Parade.
Let me begin by congratulating the Officer Cadets on today’s excellent parade.You have achieved the highest standards in your turnout, drill and bearing.
I know that all of you, whether commissioning today or not, will have spent many hours preparing for this morning.
The meticulousness of your turnout and the precision of your performance reflects great credit upon you; and also great credit on your instructors.
I congratulate the staff of the academy on their commitment and attention to detail. The young men and women standing before me could not have achieved such high standards without your leadership.
Those of you being commissioned today can take great pride in completing an extremely demanding course.
Over the past 44 weeks, or longer for some, you will no doubt have learnt a great deal about yourselves, your strengths and weaknesses, and about your fellow cadets.
The first intake of cadets here in 1812 included some of those who defeated Napoleon at Waterloo.
For 200 years, the Royal Military Academy and its forbears has taken cadets like you and turned them into first class officers…
As you pass out today, the last cohort to do so in this 200th Anniversary year, in front of the family and friends who have supported you, you are following in the footsteps of officers who have served with great courage and distinction around the world…
From Waterloo to the Crimea, the Western Front to the liberation of Europe from Hitler’s tyranny and, more recently, the conflicts in Korea, the South Atlantic, Iraq and Afghanistan.
The history, tradition and reputation of Sandhurst, combined with the quality of the course and the demanding nature of the training you have undergone, should give you great confidence as you go to join your regiments and corps.
As Defence Secretary, I am well placed to appreciate what a unique military leadership institution Sandhurst is.
The qualities it instils in its young commanders are universally recognised.
It is a measure of the pre-eminence of the Sandhurst “brand” that whenever I meet my counterparts around the world, the question of places here for their cadets is invariably on the agenda.
It is no coincidence that in Afghanistan, when attention focussed on establishing an Officer Academy for the Afghan Army, they looked instinctively to Sandhurst as their model, and to the British Army for help in developing the training programme, character and ethos for the Afghan National Army Officer Academy.
Here, today, there are 70 overseas cadets on parade from 34 different countries.
From Kazakhstan to Southern Sudan, and from China to Nigeria…
…including the first officer to pass out from Bosnia and Herzegovina… and, indeed, a number of cadets from Afghanistan.
I am delighted that you have come here for your training.
For all of you, it will have been a tough and character-forming experience; not only the course itself, but having to get to grips in many cases with the English language, the English weather and English food.
When you leave here and return to your home countries, you will hold a special status as Sandhurst commissioned officers.
The friendships and bonds that you develop here with your fellow cadets…
…will, as you rise up your respective chains of command, help to form the crucial defence relationships of tomorrow.
You will also take with you an understanding of what it is that allows us here in Britain to recruit some of the very best people our country can provide to preserve the unique attributes of our armed forces.
As a civilian, I can say that the “moral component” of defence, that which instills the “will to fight” and the ability to endure and overcome hardship, is not widely understood outside the military.
It is something that I have come to appreciate over the last year or so.
Indeed, it is easy to forget in this time of rapid technological development that delivering military effect is not just about having the most advanced kit and equipment, important though that is.
It remains, as it has always been, fundamentally about people, the quality of them, the discipline they display and the doctrine that dictates how we employ them.
That is what gives us here in Britain our qualitative edge over other countries.
Many of which will have larger armed forces than us.
Some of which will have similar equipment to us.
But very, very few of which can come close to matching our military capabilities.
And that is because of the calibre of the people in our armed forces, the training they receive, the doctrine that guides them and the esprit de corps that binds them together.
And those qualities will become ever more vital in the years to come.
UK defence is shifting its posture from campaigns to contingency, moving from supporting long-standing, fairly predictable, largely land based operations, to providing high readiness, highly capable contingent forces, able to respond to the unexpected.
The British Army of the future will be smaller than today.
But it will also be more flexible, highly deployable and better equipped.
Managing these changes while maintaining the army’s battle-winning edge will require the right people with the right training.
The education you have received and the skills you have acquired here at Sandhurst will be essential to delivering the future army.
As officers in that army, the challenges you encounter and the demands placed on you will be less predictable than for some of your predecessors.
I can’t tell you what the next major operations will be. I can’t tell you where you will be deployed.
But I do know that Sandhurst has prepared you to deal with the challenges you will face, in whatever form they come… and from whatever quarter.
Today’s ceremony is a mark of the trust the nation, through its Sovereign, now bestows on you.
You can be proud of what you have achieved…
Proud of the traditions and values of the army you are joining…
And proud of the commitment you are making to the service of your Queen and your country.
And in return for that commitment, as Secretary of State for Defence, I will do everything I can to support you and your families…
To strengthen the military covenant that is the embodiment of the pact between our society and those who defend it through military service.
And to uphold the principle that the first duty of government is defence of the nation.
But today is your day.
As army officers, you are about to embark on one of the most rewarding careers to be found anywhere.
Where the courage, self-discipline and leadership you display will be met with loyalty and respect by those you will command.
I congratulate you on your achievement.
I commend to you the hard work and commitment ahead.
And I wish you all the very best of luck for the future.