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Good morning. Thank you, President Rondeau, for those kind words, and for your tireless efforts to advance a culture of lifelong learning for the Navy and Marine Corps while leading this great institution.
That culture of lifelong learning is indeed our greatest competitive advantage.
It’s truly an honor to be here in Monterey to address some of the most talented men and women the Navy-Marine Corps team has to offer. I had the great privilege of studying here myself during my career as a Naval Officer, so I know first-hand the quality and criticality of the education you get here.
I have three points I would like to make today. First, I want to underscore why lifelong learning is a strategic imperative for the Department of the Navy.
Second, I want to discuss how we intend to invest in lifelong learning.
And finally, I want to discuss your responsibility in not only being lifelong learners yourselves, but in passing on the value of lifelong learning to the junior officers and enlisted personnel who look up to you.
As you may know, one of my key priorities as Secretary of the Navy is strengthening the maritime dominance of the United States.
Maritime dominance, as part of the Joint Force, is the best deterrent we have against increasingly aggressive competitors. It is how we can keep the sea lanes open, enabling the global trade that has raised living standards for billions of people.
Yet our maritime dominance is no longer the foregone conclusion it once was. We cannot afford to be complacent or assume that we will always have a technological edge on our adversaries.
Our commitment to lifelong learning is how we stay ahead of the curve.
Our pacing threats, most notably China, are rapidly building capacity. The People’s Liberation Army Navy is not only building ships. It is also developing new technologies at a rapid pace.
I graduated from NPS in 1989 with a Master’s degree in Electrical Engineering and a Navy subspecialty in Space Systems Engineering.
The legendary Dr. Rudy Panholzer was my thesis advisor. I had the honor of presenting Dr. Panholzer the Navy Distinguished Civilian Service Award last night.
Dr. Panholzer cared deeply about his students. He had high standards. To say my training at NPS was rigorous is an understatement.
Getting my degree was hard. As it should have been.
The knowledge I gained during my time at NPS was foundational, and it was knowledge I continued to build upon over the course of my career. While technology has changed dramatically since then, the core concepts have remained the same.
Yet that dynamic is precisely why lifelong learning is critical to the strength of the Navy-Marine Corps team.
Given the breakneck speed of technological innovation and the constantly evolving threat environment, it is critical that we prioritize learning modernization, in addition to learning core competencies, so that we can keep current with the changing landscape.
In the last 10 years, autonomous platforms and unmanned systems have gone from emerging technologies to everyday considerations.
The cyber domain has gone from “consistent concern” to perpetual battlefield.
If we do not have people who understand both how these technologies work and why they are so important, we will cede our technological edge to our pacing threats. We need innovators and strategic thinkers who know not only how to fight wars—but how to prevent them from happening in the first place.
As I speak, NPS is conducting the Joint Interagency Field Experimentation exercise to identify better techniques for navigating in GPS-denied environments.
NPS researchers are designing and implementing microgrid solutions to boost energy resilience and limit greenhouse gas emissions.
Under Admiral Rondeau’s leadership, NPS is advancing critical industry partnerships, like the Microsoft CRADA that is now underway.
This September, NPS is running the Warfare Innovation Continuum Workshop to take all sorts of emerging technologies and determine how to apply them to the battlefield.
Mastering these technologies is how we will continue to master the seas.
Across this institution, I see astounding work that will contribute to our maritime dominance for years to come. Yet the value of lifelong learning goes beyond just technology, particularly at NPS.
It extends to relationships and true partnerships. To that end, I would like to draw your attention to the extraordinary international student program at NPS.
I am proud that NPS currently has 179 international students enrolled from 49 countries.
I am asking every student to go out of their way to get to know the international students.
Understand their point of view. Learn what matters to them. While you are on the NPS campus, you are not only students, Navy or Marine Corps officers, or even professors. You are also diplomats.
Given our new environment of great power competition, relationships with foreign partners and interoperability with their navies is the bedrock of our deterrent capability.
China understands that in any conflict we will work hand-in-hand with our allies and partners to bring enormous capacity to any fight.
That is why the human connections international students build here with us matter just as much as the capabilities we learn together.
I was just at RIMPAC, where NPS experts applied 3D printing technologies at sea aboard USS ESSEX.
NPS, in the context of this massive international exercise, is pushing the bounds of technology further and further, enabling more complex repairs at sea--and doing it side-by-side with our partners.
With each NPS innovation like that, our ships can spend less time in maintenance and more time doing the vital work of protecting our interests around the globe.
Now, our most senior leadership, from the Commander-in-Chief to the Secretary of Defense and, of course, the entire Department of the Navy, understands that advanced training is not free.
NPS is a vital institution, but it needs much capital improvement. It needs reconstruction and repair. It requires a sustaining investment.
Updating the technology on campus, while also expanding capacity to deliver distance learning and remote collaboration, makes NPS more effective in accomplishing its mission.
NPS provides us all an extraordinary return on investment. Yet we can only reap maximum returns if we make the necessary investments and I am committed to that cause.
We are currently in the process of developing the next year’s budget, and I have asked our team to do everything they can to shift more investment in the near-term towards education. As we plan for future years, this is going to be a significant area of focus for me.
Earlier this year, I established a Task Force to take a hard look at the state of naval education, and we as a department are in the process of reviewing their observations and recommendations as we speak.
The entire Department of Defense has made it clear that investments in lifelong learning are essential to the strength of the Joint Force.
The Department of the Navy is completely aligned with this effort.
Indeed, we have positioned lifelong learning as a major factor in how we determine who will lead our force now and into the future.
For example, we have mandated that all future Unrestricted Line Flag and General Officers have strategically-focused Masters Degrees because we want our officers to be well-trained and well-prepared to succeed at any task they undertake.
But this commitment to lifelong learning applies to all of our uniform members, regardless of rank, as well as our civilian personnel.
As a group, you can do more to foster lifelong education as core value than I could with a thousand memos and speeches.
You control the future of the U.S. Navy’s culture.
Culture grows out of the thousands of interactions, big and small, that you have each and every day with the enlisted personnel and junior officers who look to you for guidance.
Every time you demonstrate how your advanced degree better equipped you to accomplish your mission, you advance our culture.
Every time you challenge your direct reports to push themselves to acquire more advanced degrees and take more difficult classes, you advance our culture.
Every time you remind someone struggling with a task that the U.S. Navy offers training resources to help them overcome a challenge, you advance our culture.
Every time you lead, you create the culture we need.
You control whether our people remain a competitive advantage.
You control whether our maritime dominance will continue into the next decade and beyond.
As you complete your degrees and move on to your next assignments, you will have a host of urgent demands upon your time and expertise.
Nevertheless, it is critical you make time to lead and mentor. That is your responsibility to the next generation.
My NPS education opened countless doors for me. Without my NPS education in Space Systems Engineering, I might not be your Secretary of the Navy today.
Yet what I enjoy about coming back to NPS extends beyond warm memories of the past.
Rather, I enjoy coming back to NPS because, as President Biden said, America will always “own the finish line.”
NPS is how America owns the finish line.
This institution, and the technologies it helps us develop and master, is providing America with a decisive edge over our adversaries.
This institution, and the relationships it fosters, will bring the United States ever-closer with our allies and partners.
This institution, and the leaders it molds, will help us foster a culture of lifelong learning for the Navy-Marine Corps team that will persist long after everyone in this room has retired.
With your leadership, we can meet any challenge the future throws at us. There is no doubt in my mind that this Navy-Marine Corps team will remain ahead of our pacing threats.
Whether the threat be an aggressive China, a warming climate, or the sheer speed of technological change, I am certain that we can overcome any challenge.
My certainty stems from the extraordinary talent of the people in this room.
In closing, I thank you all and your families for your commitment to this institution, our nations, and our alliance, and am now happy to take your questions.
Carlos Del Toro
18 August 2022
19 August 2022
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