In a speech dominated by the tragedy of Sept. 11, Vice President Dick Cheney (search) told graduating cadets at the Air Force Academy on Wednesday that they will help lead the nation to victory in the war against "freedom's enemies."

Interrupted by cheers from the 906 graduates, Cheney noted that they were the last freshman class to enroll before the deadly attacks on New York and Washington.

"Four years ago, when you arrived at the Air Force Academy (search), some believed our nation had entered a long period of relative quiet with few real threats to our security and little reason to expect serious danger," he said. "All of you remember that Tuesday morning in 2001."

A handful of protesters rallied outside the school to protest the speech and criticize the Bush administration.

"I strongly believe that what our current administration is doing, especially in Iraq, is wrong and they've ruined our economy," said Patty Pettus, who was carrying a sign that said "Emperor Cheney of the dark side."

The speech came at a tumultuous time for the academy, which is under a Pentagon investigation because of complaints that evangelical Christians have harassed cadets who do not share their faith.