Naval Academy graduates toss their covers into the air during the 2015 Naval Academy graduation and commissioning ceremony.

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told U.S. Naval Academy graduates Friday that they will be leading future sailors and Marines “through tension and uncertainty,” noting how two graduates from last year were just aboard the USS Carney in the Red Sea, where they helped shoot down missiles and drones.

The Navy has stationed multiple ships[1] in the Red Sea since the start of the Israel-Hamas war on Oct. 7, which has heightened tensions in the region. The secretary said the two ensigns, who only just graduated last year, were aboard the Navy destroyer and “helped defend the freedom of navigation in the Red Sea."

“They helped those in distress at sea,” Austin said. “They helped degrade the capabilities of the Iranian-backed Houthi militia.”

The Carney, an Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer, has shot down[2] multiple rockets the Houthis have fired toward Israel during that nation’s war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

“In fact, the Carney conducted 51 engagements in six months, which is the most direct Navy engagement with a foe since World War II,” Austin said.

The Red Sea, stretching from Egypt’s Suez Canal to the narrow Bab el-Mandeb Strait separating the Arabian Peninsula from Africa, is a key trade route for global shipping and energy supplies.

The secretary said the two graduates from last year asked him to tell the newly minted Navy and Marine Corps officers that they were ready to serve, because the academy is “the ultimate team-building exercise.”

“And what comes next is not a drill," Austin said. "You will lead sailors and Marines through tension and uncertainty. Your teammates will look to you for leadership.”

There are a total of 1,040 graduates in the class of 2024 — 725 men and 315 women. Of them, 760 were commissioned as Navy ensigns, including 520 men and 240 women. There were 258 commissioned as second lieutenants in the Marine Corps, including 188 men and 70 women.

The newly commissioned officers will serve at least five years.

It was the second straight year Austin gave the commissioning speech at the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. Graduation speakers, including the president, vice president and defense secretary, generally rotate between service academies each year.

“I’m just happy that you were so eager to bring back an old West Point guy,” said Austin, a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy. "And for anyone who thinks that the second installment can’t be as good as the first — hey, just think of “Top Gun: Maverick.”

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