Midshipman Booker, thanks for that introduction, and for your leadership of the Brigade.
To my classmate, Vice Admiral Buck, it’s great to be back here with you - and it was great to see Navy beat UCF last Saturday!
As we approach the 39th anniversary of our graduation, who would have thought we’d return to our beloved Annapolis together as Superintendent and Secretary of the Navy?
Well, they may have seen a future Superintendent in Admiral Buck.
I graduated more towards the lower half of my class – thanks largely to the EE program.
But it was that very difficult academic choice, and my passion to serve, that shaped me for the many challenges I’d face in both my military and private sector careers.
You see, coming to the Naval Academy was my chance to passionately repay the country that took me and my family in as refugees from Cuba in 1962.
And electrical engineering was indeed a passion that motivated me.
I have no regrets for having pursued it.
I hope that’s how you will live your lives as well.
Never take the easy path at the expense of your passions.
You’ve each already accomplished amazing things.
And you’re well positioned for even more extraordinary achievements in the years ahead.
But your service in the Navy or Marine Corps won’t be easy. The world today is dangerous, chaotic, and complicated.
When Admiral Buck and I entered the fleet in 1983, we thought we knew what the world looked like then.
We prepared for war against the Soviet Union.
We knew the Cold War would in some way direct the course of our careers.
But, just six months after we commissioned, a truck bomb in Beirut took the lives of 3 Soldiers, 18 Sailors…and 220 Marines.
For the Corps, it was the worst loss of life in a single day since the Battle of Iwo Jima.
And for our entire force, it was a tragic reminder that we never face just a single potential adversary.
But that didn’t relieve of us of the responsibility to train to fight the Soviet threat.
We had to maintain global deterrence while also confronting terrorism and regional conflicts.
We find ourselves today in a very similar situation.
We have to prepare for both the primary threat, as well as other dangers on the horizon.
But instead of the Soviet Union, the pacing challenge that will define your naval careers, today and tomorrow, is the People’s Republic of China.
I know you’ve been hearing a lot about Beijing’s military buildup, and with good reason.
From cyber capabilities, to anti-satellite missiles, to integrated air defense, to anti-ship ballistic missiles, they are advancing in every domain.
Today, the People’s Liberation Army Navy is the largest fleet in the world, with around 350 ships.
Complementing its fleet of modern surface combatants are hundreds of coast guard and maritime militia vessels.
And with the development of anti-access, area denial capabilities, Beijing now threatens our ability to operate in the international waters of the First Island Chain.
For the first time since the defeat of the Soviet Union, we have a strategic competitor with naval capabilities and capacities that rival, and in some areas, surpass, our own.
But it’s not just ships and weapons that concern me.
It’s what Beijing does as it strives to achieve leverage over its competitors.
It uses every advantage in a coercive, extractive, and dangerously irresponsible manner.
Beijing uses economic leverage like predatory lending to force governments from Asia to Africa to South America to cede critical infrastructure and natural resources.
It uses diplomatic leverage to exact political retribution against other countries and to expand its sphere of influence.
It leverages technology to steal personal information and intellectual property, and subvert the free flow of communication around the world.
And finally, it’s using military leverage to threaten its neighbors, challenge established norms, and attempt to control international waters as its own.
Now let me be very clear. Our hand will always be extended to any nation willing to support and defend the international norms we all depend on.
And the United States will always stand by our allies and partners in defending their right to be free.
Our job is to preserve the peace by making sure the People’s Republic of China doesn’t gain military leverage over the United States, or our allies and partners.
We have to make the right investments today, so that you have the right capabilities tomorrow to deter and defeat any adversary.
We must act with urgency now as we rise to meet these unprecedented challenges.
It’s this sense of urgency that’s the driving force behind the strategic guidance that I am about to release this week for the Department of the Navy.
Priority one of my strategic guidance is Maintaining Maritime Dominance.
Our global economy, and the self-determination of free nations everywhere, especially in the Indo-Pacific, depends on sea power.
That’s the way it’s been since our founding.
There’s a reason the Constitution authorizes Congress to temporarily raise an Army, and permanently maintain a Navy.
Our young nation built USS CONSTITUTION and five other frigates because we were getting attacked by Barbary pirates in the Mediterranean.
Those warships later proved vital in the War of 1812, against a global power challenging our shoreline.
The United States survived these ordeals because we made the right naval investments to deter both stateless terrorists, and global powers.
We must do the same thing now. Our security and prosperity depends on it.
So we’re building on Secretary of Defense Austin’s vision of integrated deterrence, with an agile and ready force.
We’re building on General Berger’s Force Design 2030 to modernize the expeditionary posture of the Marine Corps.
And we’re implementing Admiral Gilday’s Navigation Plan to expand our fleet capabilities for distributed operations.
We’re making tough decisions today, to make sure future officers like you in this room have the right combination and number of platforms and weapons for the full spectrum of threats tomorrow.
But platforms and weapons are only worthwhile if they’re ready when you need them.
So we’re investing in shipyards and maintenance facilities, to keep ships and aircraft in the fight instead of in the shop.
We’re investing in technology that directly leads to amphibious maneuverability, dominance at sea, and resilient information superiority.
Artificial intelligence. Cybersecurity. Unmanned platforms. Directed energy. Hypersonic weapons. Distributed power.
These are the frontiers that will define your advantage against the People’s Republic of China, and it’s crucial that we field them expeditiously.
We owe leaders like Grace Hopper and Hyman Rickover continued praise for our edge in information science and nuclear propulsion.
But now I ask, which one of you will envision the next breakthrough idea that supports our maritime dominance?
We need you to be thought leaders and innovators, working alongside our partners and allies as global problem solvers.
Indeed, the individual relationships you form with partners and allies are one of our greatest advantages over authoritarian regimes in Beijing, Moscow, Tehran and Pyongyang.
So the next priority of my guidance I want to discuss is the importance of Strengthening these very Strategic Partnerships.
I was just in Newport participating in the International Seapower Symposium. Naval leaders from every part of the globe were present.
We had direct conversations, and didn’t agree on everything. But we all agreed on the importance of working together to defend the rules-based international order.
Unlike China and Russia, we don’t treat allies like client states or satellites. We treat them as the partners they are.
Each nation brings to the fight, their own experiences, capabilities, and warfighting skills that help protect our mutual interests.
You will have the opportunity to train and serve alongside leaders from other nations throughout your career.
In fact you are already doing so right here.
And I want to take this opportunity to salute the international students here today.
Please stand and be recognized.
I treasure the experiences I had studying and serving alongside naval officers of other nations.
Those are the friendships that still hold true today.
There is no substitute for the shared experiences of allies working together to deter our adversaries.
Because it’s not just the United States or our Navy and Marine Corps that are under threat from Beijing and Moscow.
It’s the entire framework for peaceful coexistence. And we cannot leave that challenge unanswered and undeterred.
Through Maritime Dominance and Strengthened Partnerships we will strengthen the fabric of our international rules based order.
But as I said before, there is the primary threat as well as other dangers on the horizon.
Climate change is one of those dangers - and a priority that our strategy addresses.
Our entire world is under growing pressure from receding shorelines, extreme weather and natural resource constraints that could increase conflicts amongst nations.
In the Arctic, new sea lanes are opening, with new opportunities for commerce, and unfortunately, new potential for conflict.
The People’s Republic of China is seeking to assert its influence in the Arctic as well, referring to themselves as a “near Arctic state.”
China a near Arctic state? That’s like calling Annapolis a near Caribbean city.
Speaking of Annapolis, did you ever think you’d see a tornado on West Street?
Climate change is leading to bigger storms and greater disasters, right here at home as well as where we operate globally.
We need you to pilot our fleet through rougher seas, bigger storms, rising seas, and changing shore lines.
We need your leadership as the world contends with greater disasters, water scarcity, food scarcity, and more aggressive competition for resources.
The climate crisis is a destabilizing global force.
We must plan and prepare for its impact alongside our allies and partners.
We need your analytical skill and operational foresight to ensure our warfighting capability and ability to adapt.
We need you to build resilient infrastructure, and better logistics webs.
And we need your creativity to extend our sustainability – with more efficient fuels, better batteries, and smarter conservation.
We’re counting on your spirit of innovation, and ability to draw out the problem solving capacity in the Sailors and Marines that you will lead.
So the Final Priority I wish to discuss this evening is that of Empowering Our People.
Our Navy and Marine Corps Team demands leaders with the highest intellectual, ethical, and warfighting capabilities.
From the moment you set foot in your first command, you’ll be immediately responsible for others: Sailors, Marines – and their families.
Conduct yourself in a manner worthy of the trust placed in you by your nation at all times.
Act with integrity in all that you do, even when others are not watching.
Be bold. Take action. Decisions you make will impact the lives entrusted to your leadership. Decisions you make will deter our adversaries.
You will make mistakes. Learn from them.
Your course of study here is just the beginning of your responsibility to be lifelong students.
While in uniform, I studied national security at the Naval War College, space systems engineering at the Naval Postgraduate School, and legislative affairs at George Washington University.
Every one of those experiences helped me become a better leader, and a more effective problem solver.
I even got better grades!
But the greatest education I received while in service was from my Sailors, especially the Chief’s Mess.
So while we invest in great institutions like the Academy, we’re also advancing ready, relevant education for all of our personnel.
This year we established the U.S. Naval Community College to expand access for our Sailors and Marines to learn while they serve.
Always push those you lead to seize every learning opportunity, challenge assumptions, and take risks.
Remember to always look out for your troops, and their families.
Look out for their physical health, as we finish the fight against COVID and other challenges.
Check in on their mental health, and encourage them to seek care when they need it.
Always prepare them to be better warriors while also being empathetic towards others.
Set the example among your peers with the dignity and respect you extend to every one of your classmates.
Every one of them. No matter where they come from, how they look, how they speak, how they worship, or who they love.
Throughout our history, we’ve only grown stronger when we’ve expanded opportunities for all to serve.
So our strategy will invest in recruiting, retaining, and promoting the best America has to offer to build the strongest possible warfighting team.
It is my expectation that you will inspire and lead this effort at every level of command – starting here at the Academy.
The way you conduct yourself on the Yard will directly translate to how you lead in the fleet.
That’s especially true in the fight against the scourge of sexual harassment and assault within our force.
As a leader you are expected to set the standard, and hold others accountable regardless of rank or position.
A command culture that tolerates harassment, increases the danger of assault.
The data proves it. Deep down, you already know it.
So it’s on you to model respect.
Your Sailors, Marines, and civilian employees will follow the example you set.
Because yours is an example worth following.
Respecting people empowers them – and the collective power of our people is our ultimate advantage over authoritarian regimes.
I know, because I was born under a communist dictatorship.
My father was jailed twice for challenging assumptions and questioning authority.
We came here for a different life, and we found it.
The genius of the American experiment has always been the creativity and drive of a free people.
To ensure these liberties, we must ensure our national security.
For the Department of the Navy, our mission is simple:
Deliver combat ready naval forces to campaign, deter and as necessary, win conflicts and wars.
So our course is clear, to overcome the threats and achieve this mission we must Maintain Maritime Dominance.
We will do so by Strengthening our Strategic Partnerships and Empowering Our incredible People.
I am honored to be your Secretary of the Navy and serve by your side.
Remember what I said at the beginning: Never take the easy path at the expense of your passions.
And the fact that you’ve chosen to pursue your passions on the banks of the Severn tells me all I need to know about you.
Thank you for your commitment to this great nation.
I am confident that the leadership our Navy and Marine Corps require to answer every challenge is right here in this room.
May God bless each of you, and your families.
Midshipman Booker, I’d appreciate it if you could help direct questions.
Carlos Del Toro
05 October 2021
06 October 2021
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