WASHINGTON (NNS) -- In a July visit to the Senior Enlisted Academy in Newport, R.I., Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. Mike Mullen made it clear who he believes really runs the Navy - chief petty officers.
"I believe that the chiefs run the Navy," he said. "You may think I run the Navy, but I assure you the Navy runs because of what you do."
Mullen talked about leadership and the future of the Navy with members of Class 119, which started their six-week curriculum at the Academy July 25. It was the CNO's first trip outside Washington since he relieved Adm. Vern Clark in a change of command ceremony July 22.
"Having the CNO take the time to come up here and visit during his first week in office sent a strong signal to our students and to the fleet about how much he values the chief's mess," said Command Master Chief (SW/AW/SCW) Ralph Rao, director of the Senior Enlisted Academy.
Mullen described the Navy as "the best we've ever had," crediting Sailors across the fleet for embracing change during "very tough and challenging times." He told the students they could expect his "best possible effort and focus," in keeping the Navy strong, and he would never forget what really matters.
CNO also shared his expectations for the senior enlisted ranks, urging them to take a broad view of the Navy and to make leadership their first priority.
"When you put on khakis, you are no longer a Machinist's Mate or Fire Controlman or Culinary Specialist or you pick the rate," he said. "You are a chief, and you are responsible for one thing, and that is leading."
Mullen reviewed some of the challenges he faces as he comes into office, including sustaining current readiness, investing in future force structure and developing a Human Capital Strategy for the 21st century.
"We've got readiness right, and I am going to keep it that way," he said.
But Navy leaders also have to think long term, he noted, building and investing in the Navy of the future.
"We must think about what kind of ships we will need and how many of them, what kind of aircraft we will need and how many of them, what kind of submarines we will need and how many of them, to build the Navy of the future," he said.
People, noted Mullen, were the most important part of that future.
"One of the reasons I stayed in the Navy was because the first time I was on a destroyer, I fell in love with the mission, fell in love with the sea and fell in love with the people. And I still feel that way," he said.
In simple terms, he said the Human Capital Strategy is about making the Navy "a place where people roll out of the rack in the morning and want to come to work."
Before he opened up the floor to questions, Mullen wrapped up with a quick summary of how he sees himself and the role the Navy plays today in national security.
"I am a Sailor, and I love going to sea. That is what we do. We are a warfighting, sea-going service in what I consider to be a demanding time, a very uncertain time," he said.
"We were excited to have him here and glad to hear straight from him what direction he intends to take the Navy," said Rao. "He's a straight shooter."
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