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Good morning Naval War College! Is there a more beautiful view on earth?
President Chatfield, thank you for your leadership of this magnificent institution – our beloved Naval War College.
I have great memories of studying here as a young naval officer, in my small closet office under the stairs at 134 Jones Street, while my wife Betty cared for our four small children.
I couldn’t have done it without her, and I thank her from afar.
To this day, we both look on that Naval War College degree on the wall as a shared accomplishment.
And I hope that is true for every family here.
So to all of the spouses, parents, children, and loved ones here today, thank you for your support and encouragement of these distinguished graduates!
And now, I want to congratulate the Naval War College Class of 20, 21, and 22!
The intellectual acumen and personal drive you’ve demonstrated marks you as a leader, capable of the analytic, and more importantly strategic, problem solving that our world requires.
My challenge to you is this: Use the strong grounding you’ve received from this institution to deter and prevent conflicts, not just win them.
Sixty years ago, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev began preparations to place nuclear missiles on the island of my birth, Cuba.
It precipitated what is now known as the Cuban Missile Crisis.
President Kennedy’s team worked around the clock to take the world back from the brink of nuclear war.
They challenged multiple aspects of warfighting doctrine, from first strike timelines, to the minimum effective range of a naval blockade.
They considered the lessons of history, including the escalations of World War I that haunted President Kennedy as he read from Barbara Tuckman’s The Guns of August.
They made the best decisions they could with incomplete information.
Above all, they focused on the big picture, the strategy, finding a way to deter a malign adversary while at the same time maintaining the communication that provided the Soviet Union with a peaceful way out.
You must be able to do the same. You have been given the tools to make tough decisions when knowledge is incomplete and the risks are high.
Alfred Thayer Mahan – who sat in that corner office - said that “The study of history lies at the foundation of all sound military conclusions and practice.”
But as you have learned at this institution, you cannot study passively.
History must be interrogated, examined, and challenged in order to apply it successfully to the lessons of today.
The 19th Century French writer Pierre Marc Gaston said that we should be judged by our questions, not our answers.
And indeed as Secretary, I’ve found that one of the most important aspects of my job is asking the right questions.
You should all do the same.
Because more than anything else, a healthy curiosity about what lies over the horizon will give you the space and time to adjust course.
We need you to go beyond the ideas of this time, and better prepare our world for the future.
This week marks the 80th Anniversary of the Battle of Midway.
The carriers that won that battle were constructed before the war because of the foresight of naval thinkers willing to challenge battleship orthodoxy.
The intelligence that pinpointed the enemy’s location was achieved because of technology, creative thinking, and strategic analysis.
And the success of our front line pilots was enhanced by the tactics and formations developed through years of preparation and wargaming in the then new domain of maritime aviation.
But there were setbacks as well.
For example, torpedoes failed to perform as expected, due to flawed and unchallenged assumptions in pre-war manufacturing and testing.
And the actions of commanders on both sides contributed to significant missed opportunities, as aviation warfare disrupted old concepts of distance, force concentration, and the culminating point.
As we enter the age of hypersonic missiles, fifth generation fighters, and renewed strategic competition, you must consider the lessons of the past through a lens of the present.
Don’t ever stop posing hard questions, challenging assumptions, and solving problems with creativity and drive.
I assure you, you will never have all the money you want.
When he founded this institution, Rear Admiral Stephen B. Luce said the Naval War College would be, "a place of original research on all questions of war and on statesmanship for the prevention of war.”
These words are etched on glass at the entrance to the College to remind us all of the basis of the College’s success and its purpose.
There are many war colleges and staff colleges around the world, but there few that have such a distinguished faculty or history.
Their research and writing stand at the forefront of the broadest and most difficult security issues that nations and navies face.
These issues include the very nature and character of naval power - its uses and limitations - in both war and peace.
The education that you receive here is designed to provide you with the analytical tools and methods to navigate the unknown.
So as you go back to your daily responsibilities, be sure to maintain a continuous learning habit based on your experience here.
Keep reimagining, reinventing, and reengineering to meet the relentless demand for innovation.
Because that’s the only way we can we stay ahead of a rapidly changing world.
One of my top priorities as Secretary of the Navy is to empower our people through a culture of warfighting excellence.
The most important aspect of that is education.
That is why I have formed a task force to examine our approach to professional military education, from teaching methods and curriculum, to institutional investments.
Later this year I will release an education strategy based on those findings, to ensure we are advancing the effective, relevant, and adaptive education required to maintain the advantage over our adversaries.
Our mission demands leaders like yourselves who possess the highest intellectual and warfighting capabilities to confront the many dangers of a complex world.
Our naval education institutions must develop leaders, like yourselves, with the warfighting rigor, intellectual capacity, and innovation, to hold our strategic advantage against our competitors.
The Naval War College is central to that effort. Its many departments and programs have a direct impact on our operations and strategic planning.
Our senior uniformed leaders and I have taken part in many exercises here at the war gaming department, using the results to directly inform our operational practices.
The Center for Naval Warfare Studies provides vital analytical tools for leaders across the Department.
The Charles H. Stockton Center for the Study of International Law is foundational to our understanding and application of the Law of Naval Warfare.
The Institutes for China and Russia Maritime Studies bring linguistic and cultural understanding to the areas which will define the strategic environment for decades to come.
Other important centers here focus on critical areas such as cyber and future naval warfare, and the central aspects of leadership and ethics.
And the John B. Hattendorf Center for Maritime Historical Research brings new and original insights to history that help us understand current and future issues.
It was my privilege to study under the tutelage of Professor Hattendorf, who is joining us today through zoom. I wish him a speedy recovery!
I don’t know if he ever imagined that his student would be SECNAV, but I’m proud to be his student.
The lessons I learned from him about Mahan and Sun Tzu served me well throughout my career as a Surface Warfare Officer, from the Cold War, to the Gulf War, to the Global War on Terror.
These lessons inform as Secretary of the Navy, as the world transforms again, with hostile aggression from Moscow, the pacing threat of Beijing, and the accelerating reality of climate change.
Mahan’s emphasis on sea control has never been more relevant, as nearly 90 percent of the world’s trade travels on the ocean, with one third of that passing through the South China Sea.
But the definition of sea control must be expanded, to encompass the many domains that were not exploited as warfighting theaters in Mahan’s time – air, undersea, cyberspace, and more.
Our National and economic security depends on a modern vision of sea control, through distributed maritime operations and other warfighting concepts.
Most of all, it depends on strong, principled, and cooperative naval forces, backed by sound strategy.
Each of you has an important role to play in that effort.
Those of you returning to the fleet and force must take from this campus a deep understanding of how our warfighting concepts contribute to our overall integrated deterrence efforts.
We look to those who work on Capitol Hill to ensure that policies and appropriations align with the strategic needs of our Nation.
We look to our civilians, industry, and academic leaders to keep challenging assumptions, and innovating new solutions to our global challenges.
Staying ahead of cyber security, hypersonic weapons, logistics, and acquisitions takes the best minds of the entire Joint Force.
Addressing global challenges like climate change requires the principled cooperation and best ideas of our entire world.
And we look to the many international students here today to continue working, exercising, thinking, and above all communicating with us for years to come.
Earlier this week I was at the Swedish Embassy, celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Royal Swedish Navy.
I was proud to note that our first international graduate, way back in 1894, was from Sweden.
But I was even more proud to note there are Swedish graduates in this class today!
All told, there are 120 international Officers from 78 countries in the class of 2022!
Civilians from ten different agencies, plus Congressional staff. Sailors, Marines, Soldiers, Airmen, Coast Guardsmen.
I look to your class as a model of cooperation and excellence, and I urge you to stay in touch and keep working together.
While I learned much from my Naval War College professors, the most valuable lessons were the ones we learned from each other.
Those are the friendships that still hold true today.
There is no substitute for the shared experiences of our allies and partners working together to deter our adversaries and protect our world.
Last month I visited USS THE SULLIVANS, a Destroyer like the one I used to command.
Last year, her crew completed a historic seven month deployment in the combined strike group of HMS QUEEN ELIZABETH, the UK’s new flagship carrier.
Along the way they operated alongside allies and partners including Australia, France, Israel, Italy, New Zealand, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, and many others.
Just two months after that deployment, USS THE SULLIVANS joined NATO allies in deterring Russian aggression with forward presence in the Danish Straits and the Baltic Sea.
That is a level of allied unity and strength neither China nor Russia could ever hope to achieve.
Because unlike Moscow and Beijing, we don’t treat allies like client states or satellites. We respect them as partners, leaders, and friends.
We may not agree on everything, but we will agree that cooperation and principles must always stand above aggression and isolation.
You must continue and build on that spirit as you move forward.
Each of you is a diplomat, a problem solver, and a futurist for our world.
Let the lessons of this beloved institution inform every aspect of your career. And don’t ever lose sight of the tremendous network you have right here.
So go back to your services, but keep coordinating across the Joint Force.
Go back to the Hill, but keep working across party lines.
Go back to your agencies, but keep sharing your best ideas.
And go back to your nations, but keep building the bonds of friendship and support.
Never forget what you’ve accomplished together here, and how it can help build a better world.
Let that spirit fuel the innovation we need to stay ahead and preserve the hard won freedom of the seas.
I would like to close by highlighting one particular leader and innovator who helped win and protect that freedom.
He was an Engineering Officer and Navigator aboard Landing Craft Support 53, a ship which saw action at Iwo Jima, Okinawa, and Formosa.
As our 62nd Secretary of the Navy, he championed personally the OHIO class submarines and the Aegis weapon system, both of which still defend our nation today.
And as Ambassador to the Netherlands, Permanent Representative to the Organization of American States, and U.S. Representative to the European Community, he helped forge the ironclad alliances and partnerships that knit our world together today.
He epitomizes the enduring service and commitment that every one of you can bring to this world.
That is why I am so honored that he is here with us today.
Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in honoring the service of Ambassador Bill Middendorf!
And I want to take this opportunity for a little surprise.
It is now my pleasure to announce that I am naming one of our newest Destroyers, DDG-138, n his honor, as the future USS J. William Middendorf!
The men and women who will sail that vessel for years to come will be strengthened by the legacy of their distinguished namesake.
And their service will be impacted in countless ways by the actions and decisions of today’s graduates.
So go forth, class of 2022, with the inspiration of those who came before you, like Ambassador Middendorf, and those who depend on you, like all who will sail in his namesake destroyer.
Once again I thank you, and your families, for your efforts to secure this marvelous education.
Thank you for your commitment to public service, global security, and the enduring cause of peace throughout the world. Congratulations, and May God bless you all.
Carlos Del Toro
10 June 2022
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