WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Defense Secretary Robert Gates' voice cracked with emotion Monday night as he wrapped up a lesson to cadets at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
Gates delivered a lengthy lecture about the complexities of war, underscoring the responsibility of junior officers to challenge their superiors even if it put their careers at risk. A tape of the talk was released by the Department of Defense's Pentagon Channel.
"I encourage you to take on the mantle of fearless, thoughtful, but loyal dissent when the situation calls for it," he urged.
At the end of his talk, the Pentagon chief paused to thank the cadets for their decision to attend the academy in West Point, New York, despite what he said was "the knowledge of almost certain deployment to a distant and dangerous battlefield."
Gates appeared near tears as he choked out the words, "I feel personally responsible for each and every one of you, as if you were my own sons and daughters."
He paused again, composed himself, and continued, "So my only prayer is that you serve with honor and return home safely. And I personally thank you. Good luck and Godspeed." E-mail to a friend