Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Mike M. Gilday
It’s great to be back in Annapolis. Vice Admiral Buck, thank you for having me!
I’m incredibly grateful to be here with you. After all, I couldn’t pass up this invitation to meet the Class of 85 + 39!
[Crowd shouts: 24]
One thing’s for sure, the math is not getting any easier.
Well, I had to meet this class because the Supe tells me you have something special. So I have to ask, Class of ‘24, what have you got?
[Crowd shouts: Stamina, Discipline, Grit]
You can do better than that. Let them hear you at West Point!
Class of 24, what have you got?
[Crowd shouts: Stamina! Discipline! Grit!]
Like most graduates, whenever I return to these grounds after the voyages of my life, I am overcome by memories. Some are happy, some not so much, but with the benefit of time, all leave me with a sense of pride of being part of the greatest maritime force the world has even known; The U.S. Navy and Marine Corps. And some memories seem so vivid. I can remember sitting in your chair just beginning this journey of naval service, sweaty and stuffy and stinking, chronically fatigued legs. The smell of white works that never completely dry in this Annapolis humidity. Dozing between consciousness and wondering if I was measuring up to a standard I did not fully comprehend.
During my years at the Academy I also thought about those who came before me. My classmates and I would pass their monuments as we marched across the Yard, or took quiet moments of reflection in Memorial Hall, or listened intently to the Medal of Honor Citations read at Taps.
I wondered if I had what it took to be that type of officer, full of physical and moral courage and relentless dedication to my Country, to speak the truth no matter what the cost. I’m sure you think about that too, whether or not you will measure up. But I’m here to talk about that a little and tell you that if you stay the course you will.
And you are off to a great start! Used to say the last real Plebe Summer happened in ‘81, but I was wrong! Just look at what you’ve done.
Many of you missed your last semester of high school, to include final sports seasons, productions, graduations and celebrations, and in some cases saying good bye to friends. You arrived in Annapolis without the traditional I-Day fanfare and were put into ROM. Not an easy 2 weeks, but you pushed through! And finally, you kicked things off during the hottest heat wave on record in 150 years! And you’re attacking all the physical challenges of plebe summer in 4 weeks instead of 6! You should be proud of yourselves. I know I am!
Plebe Summer is tough enough without a pandemic! One week to go. You’ve got this! Well I am glad you are here, because you fit right in. Our Navy runs on grit, discipline, and determination. Let me take a few minutes to tell you about the team you just joined.
Our Navy team is getting after it every day, 24/ 7/ 365. We’ve been doing it for 244 years and we aren’t slowing down. Just like you, we had to pivot with COVID-19 and re-adjust some of the ways we did business, but our Sailors never took a knee. We never took our eyes off the mission.
Whether its dual-aircraft carrier operations in the Western Pacific, no-notice submarine surges and our SSBN’s on their quiet deterrent patrols, International exercise with our allies and partners in the Bay of Bengal and Black Sea, Maritime Security Ops in the Middle East, Destroyers and our Littoral Combat Ships interdicting drugs in the Caribbean - USS PINCKNEY seized 3,000 pounds of cocaine with our Coast Guard teammates and the vessel was spotted by our P-8 from Maritime Patrol Squadron 26 - Emergency Medical Response teams deployed to fight COVID-19, or our EP-3s and P-8s flying non-stop across the globe, our Navy Sailors are getting after it, adapting and overcoming huge challenges to keep us safe and secure at home.
One of those challenges occurred in San Diego a few weeks back when one of our amphibious assault ships, USS BONHOMME RICHARD, caught fire. The worst fire in a generation. Federal firefighters and industry experts said they have never seen anything like it… 1200 deg heat, zero visibility, and explosions - one in particular heard 13 miles away.
Our Sailors met this terrible ordeal head on. A group I met on the final day of the fire was heading back into the ship, some for their 8th time. Despite inferno-like heat, dark smoke that obscured their teammates, and a minefield of explosions, they were going back in, unflinching, smiling, but dead serious.
Hundreds of Sailors from across San Diego took part. Many without being told to. Many had to be ordered and reordered to go home and rest. This included the air crews of HSC-3’s aerial bucket brigade who dropped 700k gallons on the blaze, both day and night - awe-inspiring, humbling and reassuring. How fortunate are we to serve with these Sailors?
Now your job is to get ready to lead them. It’s what you signed up for.
Look, this race you’re in, it’s a marathon and you are on mile 1, but when you run a marathon, you need to do a couple things. The first is keep your eye on the prize. Remember why you signed up for this race in the first place.
I want to share some stories of some Sailors who were in your shoes not so long ago.
LT Kyle Haith, Class of 2011, dreamed of flying airplanes as a boy. His dad took him to airshows to inspire him. Now he trains the best fighter pilots in the world as a TOPGUN Instructor. Like all our Naval Aviators, he’s not in the business of “good enough,” but he’s humble, credible, and works to be the best every day.
LTJG Madeline Swegle, Class of 2017, pinned on her wings last week. Our first Black female TACAIR pilot now taking her skill, dedication and drive to Whidbey Island, WA to fly our advanced electronic attack jets, the EA-18G.
LT Sean Ridinger, Class of 2016, just completed a deployment to East Africa with SEAL TEAM TWO. Now he runs a team that is helping African nations counter violent extremist groups, making the world safer for everyone.
LCDR Ashley Carline, Class of 2007, went to the Academy not knowing what to expect. Fell in love with the place. Patrolled off Korea as an Ensign, modernized two Navy warships as the Chief Engineer on JOHN P MURTHA and PREBLE - made the team more lethal. Now she wrangles the Chief of Naval Operations as my flag aide.
LT Kayla Barron, Class of 2010, One of the first 11 women commissioned into the submarine program, ran three nuclear deterrent patrols on USS MAINE and is now sighted on the Moon and maybe Mars as a NASA astronaut.
LT Jeb Sightler, tireless and battle hardened Junior Officer. Loves to drive ships. He was just a LTJG when his ship, USS MASON, came under attack from cruise missiles fired from the coast of Yemen in October 2016. Over the last several months he has run surface and anti-submarine missions for DESRON 28 on the HARRY S TRUMAN.
LT Cosby Washington started flying at 15 before he could drive. Joined the Tuskegee Airman Program which helped him get started. Flew SH-60R’s with the Raptors of HSM-71, hunting submarines from the skies. Now he’s working with our submarine force as an Air Operations Officer. He’s helping the whole team track and neutralize enemy submarines.
LCDR Joanne So, Class of 2008, Division Head for internal medicine at Naval Medical Center San Diego when the pandemic started. She worked as an attending on the COVID-19 critical care ward, then she praised her nurses and respiratory therapists for their work because she isn’t just a doctor, she is a leader.
LCDR Tyson Meadors, Class of 2008, English major, happens to be fluent in Mandarin, ran the first cyber live fire demonstration on a warship. Recently was the Director for Cybersecurity Policy for the National Security Council. Now he is a Navy Cyber Warfare Engineer protecting our networks and doing amazing things that I can’t talk about.
LT Iris Wood enlisted in the Navy out of high school. Liked it so much she sought a commission. Deployed on DEWEY and sailed across the Pacific and into the Middle East. Ran main propulsion and coms divisions. Now works at Navy Space Command to make sure we always have the high ground..
They are you! The names and faces are different, but this is where you’re headed! This is the type of stuff you will be doing. This and so much more.
At this place, you’ll hear it said, “the days take forever, but the weeks fly by.”
I know that right now, the days really take forever, but before you know it that will be you and then before you know it, you’ll walk off the Yard and into the Fleet. So, I want to lay it out there and tell you what the nation expects of us as officers.
First is Professional Competence. America expects us to be the very best at what we do! No room for second place in combat, especially at sea. Winner’s sail away. Losers sink to the bottom.
Being the best takes Discipline. It requires years of focused study and hard work. So evident in the stories of all the Junior Officers we just talked about, driving ships, running nuclear reactors, and flying jets takes years of focus to be the very best at your craft.
Being the best takes Initiative. Get after problems within your span of control. You’re learning that right now. One of your five basic responses… “Sir, I’ll find out sir…”
Being the best takes Grit. You are going to make mistakes. You are going to fail, and no matter what people tell you, failing is hard, but it is necessary. Take failure as data. Learn and move forward. We need you to bounce back and share what you learned.
The Junior Officers I just talked about exude professional competence, but what they also have is rock-solid character. Let’s talk about that for a moment. America expects us to act with a high moral standards. Bring our values into combat. They are what set us apart from our adversaries... Naval operations built upon a foundation of trust and confidence. It’s not enough to be a rock-star ship driver, fighter pilot, or Marine. You need to have rock-solid character.
That character comes from upholding the highest degree of integrity in your life. It’s as simple as telling the truth and doing what’s right. At times it will seem hard, and in the moment it might feel like it will hurt, but it is so liberating.
You know. You know what the right thing to do is. Just do it. The outcome is always better, for you and your shipmates.
Take responsibility for your actions – own them. This is why we teach you… “No excuse, sir.” If you make a mistake, own it, learn from it, and grow. And hold others accountable as well. This means calling out your shipmates and friends for inappropriate behaviors. It doesn’t have to be public. Take them aside and talk to them. Fix it and make the team stronger. This is tough, one of the toughest things you can do, but you aren’t doing them or our Navy any favors by tolerating inappropriate behavior.
And finally put the Team and mission first. On a ship, every single person matters. No one sits the bench. Your attitude, your actions, especially as an officer has a dramatic impact on your team. Again, so liberating to put the team first. It brings clarity to all your decisions.
Naval Academy Honor Concept is such a gift. Built by Midshipmen for Midshipmen. It sets the standard. Challenges you to live up to it. Helps you choose the harder right over the easier wrong. One of its founders, Vice Admiral William P. Lawrence lived it out. Skipper of VF-143 when his F-4 was shut down over North Vietnam, he lived as a POW for 5 ½ years. He inspired his fellow prisoners to resist. John McCain called him “the greatest man I’ve ever known.” He eventually became the Superintendent of this great institution.
Simple, clear, powerful. ”Midshipmen are persons of integrity. They stand for that which is right.” Let it power you just like it did Vice Admiral Lawrence.
I challenge you right now as a class to own your Honor Concept and collective character - your class’s culture.
Maintain your flawless record and be the first class to graduate with Zero Honor violations. Zero acts of cheating or plagiarism. Zero acts of sexual harassment or assault. These are acts of character, personal choices that are within your control. You will all be tested in some way, in a moment of fatigue and stress, or when your judgment is impaired. So you need to rely on each other. Look out for each other. You are stronger together.
This is what America expects of you. This is what your Sailors expect of you.
Last one. You are expected to treat everyone with dignity and respect. You’re not going to like everyone you work with, but you will respect them. They will save your life.
The foundation of trust in your ship is built on mutual respect. To build a great team, you need to go beyond it. You need to learn your shipmates’ stories. Every Sailor has a story.
“People don’t care how much you kno, until they know how much you care.” Teddy Roosevelt.
I want to show you a quick video of our Sailors going through their last exercise at boot camp.
It’s a tough test where they have to save their ship from fire and flood by working as a team. They enter this test as recruits, but if they pass, they come out U.S. Navy Sailors.
Look at that image. Sailors from all 50 states, some foreign nationals, diverse in gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, all united on one team, proud to wear the ball cap of a U.S. Navy Sailor.
This is your team. Strong in its diversity, bringing the best of America together by and for all Americans. United to serve and proud to be U.S. Navy Sailors!
So let’s pull it back to mile one. You’ve got a ways to go. Right now you are just worried about making it to dinner, then taps.
That is the second thing about running a marathon. You have to take it one mile at a time.
Well, believe it or not, everything you are doing has a purpose. It’s all tied back to what we just talked about, building competence and character. Let me provide some clarity. Let’s start with all the rates. All about building Competence.
Solid wisdom packed into that book, Reef Points. Many you’ll never forget! Beyond the text, the process of rote memorization will serve you well with aircraft emergency procedures or standing orders on a ship. Trust me, this sets you up for success for years to come.
All the artificial stress put on you by your detailer cadre has a purpose, teaching you to dig deep and learn how to focus under pressure like our Sailors fighting that fire on BHR. It builds both Character and Competence.
All the small little details; military bearing and posture, uniform appearance, room standards. The drum beat of attention-to-detail builds discipline and focus. Starting with small stuff before we get you driving ships, running nuclear reactors, or flying jets - where small mistakes will cost you your life.
Finally, submitting humbly to all the rules and regulations under the charge of your seniors. There’s a very good reason for this. You’ll walk off this yard and onto a ship where you’ll be expected to lead. You can’t lead Sailors well until you have learned to follow. This is your chance to learn what it takes to motivate a follower. You’ll learn empathy and that will make you a better division officer down the road. Don’t waste the year. This is your chance. Learn how to follow.
I’d like to close with this. It’s worth it!!! Keep your eyes on the prize. You joined the finest Navy in history. The greatest maritime force the world has ever known. Finish this summer, this year, and then the academy. It will fill you with so much pride, I promise. And do it by taking one day, one hour one moment at a time!
You’ve got this Class of 2024…Welcome to the Team!
Adm. Mike Gilday
07 August 2020
10 August 2020
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