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Before I begin my formal comments, let me just say it is very special to be back in Columbia. As a young child growing up on 42nd street, one of the things my mother would do is put me in a stroller and walk me around Columbia.
She thought it was a great institution back then, and I know what a great institution it is now. So thank you for welcoming me home.
Grayson, thank you for that introduction, and for your own service in the United States Marine Corps.
From the Philippines, to South Korea, to Mongolia, you served with honor and distinction, and your continued service to our fellow veterans is testament to the adage, “Once a Marine, Always a Marine.”
I’ll be reporting back to the Commandant that we have a proud Marine here.
Thank you for everything you do for all the veterans attending this great university - there are more veterans attending Columbia today than at all the other Ivy League schools combined!
Dean Rosen-Metsch, cabinet members, student leaders, and honored guests, I thank you for inviting me to speak and for your hospitality during this amazing day here on this historic campus.
To the midshipmen here today, thank you for answering the call to serve your country.
The fleet and force you will join are as formidable as they have ever been, and I am determined to make them even more so.
As our Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said this weekend at the Reagan National Defense Forum, “American power, innovation, and values make the U.S. military the strongest fighting force in human history.”
I am truly honored to stand before you in one of the world’s most prestigious centers of learning, in the heart of a city that has no peer, to share with you why our Navy and our Marine Corps are indispensable to securing our nation’s future.
We are a maritime nation, and American naval primacy is essential to meeting the challenges we face today.
It is no accident that I have chosen this day, this city, and this institution to deliver this speech.
New York is America’s foremost maritime city, its center of commerce and trade.
And New York is where I first came to live as a refugee from Cuba. I grew up here with my wife Betty.
Our naval career took us far away, but we took every opportunity to come home to family and friends.
So when I was selected to command America’s then-newest warship, the USS BULKELEY, I pushed hard, as only a New Yorker can, to have her commissioning ceremony take place here, in the world’s greatest city.
And I was glad I did, because the commissioning would come to mean more to this city and nation than I ever could have imagined at the time.
I was on the West Side concluding our last commissioning committee planning meeting aboard the USS INTREPID, on September 11, 2001.
We received word that a plane had struck the North Tower of the World Trade Center.
When I stepped off INTREPID to call Betty from a payphone on the West Side Highway, I saw the second plane hit the South Tower.
I found my way to lower Manhattan and spent the next few days helping every way I could, before returning to the shipyard in Pascagoula, Mississippi where the ship was being built.
Due to security concerns, for weeks following the attacks, it was an open question whether the commissioning ceremony of our ship, the USS BULKELEY, would move forward.
But I was determined that this city, our Navy, and our country would not be deterred by terrorism.
I pushed hard for the ceremony to take place as planned.
So twenty-one years ago today, on December 8, 2001, at Pier 88, my crew and I commissioned USS BULKELEY, in one of the first major public events to take place in New York City following the attacks.
I am honored to briefly recall this very special and emotional day with all of you here at Columbia.
Because this institution has had an extraordinary role in shaping our greatest naval strategists -- our most articulate and influential advocates for the strongest Navy the world has ever known.
Their wisdom offers us timeless principles to help guide our actions even today.
From Alexander Hamilton’s advocacy for a Navy, to Alfred Thayer Mahan’s “The Influence of Sea Power Upon History,” to Teddy Roosevelt’s “The Naval War of 1812,” Columbia-educated thinkers revolutionized the way we view naval power.
They proved, once and for all, that both our prosperity as a nation and our security are dependent upon unfettered access to the seas.
Twenty-five years after graduating from Columbia, President Teddy Roosevelt would send the Great White Fleet around the world to demonstrate his maxim: “A good Navy is not a provocation to war. It is the surest guaranty of peace.” A portrait of his flagship, the Olympia, is displayed in my office.
Three decades later, fellow Columbia Law alum Franklin Delano Roosevelt, whose picture adorns my office, led the country on the greatest naval mobilization the world has ever seen.
Through the Naval Acts of 1936, 1938, and 1940, America made early, timely investments in preparing our Navy for World War II.
President Roosevelt would ensure that Columbia itself would serve as a primary naval officer training center, sending over 21,000 officers to the fleet that would win the greatest naval conflict in our history.
Hamilton, Mahan, TR, FDR… these giants all issued a clarion call for American naval primacy at key junctures in our history.
Let me stand for a moment on their shoulders as I tell you that today, we find ourselves at another such inflection point, one that demands we renew our commitment to naval primacy as we chart a course through this century of intense maritime competition.
Twenty-one years ago this weekend, the People’s Republic of China was admitted to the World Trade Organization, an event of geostrategic importance that would over time reshape the world we live in.
In the past two decades, China has more than quadrupled its export trade and used its growing wealth and economic power to rapidly expand and modernize its military and its navy.
I commissioned Bulkeley into our fleet two days before China joined the World Trade Organization.
In the years since, the Peoples Liberation Army Navy has added over one hundred combatants to its fleet – a naval buildup that is a key component of its increasingly aggressive military posture.
Today they have approximately 340 ships, and are moving towards a fleet of 440 ships by 2030.
China’s disregard for the rules-based international order is particularly troubling in the maritime domain, from the Taiwan Straits to the high seas.
Our maritime competition will be increasingly global.
In fact, the Department of Defense’s recently released 2022 China Military Power Report calls China "the most consequential and systemic challenge to our national security and to a free and open international system."
And let me be clear, our differences are not with the Chinese people, or the Russian people, or the Iranian people, or the North Korean People. It is with the totalitarian governments that rule those nations.
China is conducting active, aggressive maritime activities in the South China Sea that have the potential to undermine our system of international law, including the freedom of the sea, a foundational U.S. interest.
Our Navy and Marine Corps team are meeting this threat on the sea, under the sea, and in the air every single day.
I applaud Vice President Harris for traveling last month to the Philippine Island of Palawan, bordering the South China Sea, and her visit to a Philippines Coast Guard ship and a Filipino fishing community.
Her presence shined a much-needed spotlight on China’s maritime bullying, and its “intimidation and coercion” of local civilian mariners in the Philippines.
The Vice President made clear America stands for “respect for sovereignty and international integrity, unimpeded lawful commerce, the peaceful resolution of disputes, and freedom of navigation.”
To defend freedom of the sea, we must ensure our Sailors and Marines have the capability and forward presence to stand by our allies and our partners.
That is why I have directed our Navy and Marine Corps to prioritize our investment and readiness efforts, to make sure our ships and aircraft are always prepared to deploy.
This approach will deliver the integrated deterrence at sea required by our National Defense Strategy.
Our maritime challenges, however, are not just confined to the Indo-Pacific.
Russia’s army has faltered in the face of steadfast resistance by the brave Ukrainian people.
But Moscow has not abated in its efforts to control large swaths of the Black, Baltic, and Arctic Seas, trying to intimidate and deny other countries the opportunity to exercise their rights to free passage.
That is why six of seven of NATO’s priority operating regions are maritime-focused, and NATO is moving to adopt its first maritime strategy.
And so once again we find ourselves in an era of accelerating global competition.
We are at an inflection point, with critical choices to make to meet the challenge posed by China and Russia, as well as Iran, North Korea, and others.
The National Security Strategy outlines a vision of a world that is “free, open, secure, and prosperous,” and calls for the protection of foundational principles of “self-determination, territorial integrity, and political independence.”
The National Defense Strategy lays out four top-level defense priorities for the entire joint force:
First, defend the homeland, paced to the growing multi-domain threat posed by China.
Second, deter strategic attacks against the United States, allies, and partners.
Third, deter aggression while being prepared to prevail in conflict, when necessary; prioritizing the challenge posed by China in the Indo-Pacific region and the Russian challenge in Europe.
Fourth, build a resilient joint force and defense ecosystem.
Throughout our nation’s history, the United States Navy and Marine Corps have proven themselves the most versatile instruments of national power.
America’s naval forces are unique as America’s most timely, flexible, and forward-deployed force across the full spectrum of challenges -- from naval diplomacy to strategic deterrence, to resource competition, to crisis, and conflict.
That is precisely what our new National Defense Strategy calls for when it refers to “Integrated Deterrence” and “Campaigning.”
Our Navy and Marine Corps integrate resources across disparate domains and elements of national power to deter adversaries and campaign forward.
And they are doing so through a clear strategic vision centered on three enduring priorities.
First, we are strengthening our maritime dominance so that we can deter potential adversaries, and if called upon, fight and win our Nation’s wars.
Second, we are building a culture of warfighting excellence, founded on strong leadership, that is rooted in treating each other with dignity and respect.
And third, we are enhancing our strategic partnerships, across the Joint Force, with industry, with academia, and with our Allies and partners around the globe.
Over the past year and a half, our Department of the Navy team has made irreversible momentum across our three enduring priorities. Let me explain how.
In regards to Strengthening Maritime Dominance requires us to rapidly field the concepts and capabilities that create advantage relative to our pacing threat, and the pacing scenario, with the sustainment necessary to generate integrated, all-domain naval power.
That is why we are making the investments now, guided by the Navy Navigation Plan and the Marine Corps Force Design 2030, to ensure we remain the most lethal, capable, and globally postured force on this planet for decades to come.
Let me share some examples.
Just this past June, our shipbuilders laid the keel for the first of a new class of nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines that will underwrite the nation’s nuclear deterrent all the way out to the year 2080.
The name of that class is COLUMBIA, and the first ship is the DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA. What a great name!
In July, we commissioned USS FORT LAUDERDALE, an amphibious warship that will help modernize our amphibious fleet and extend the reach of our Marines to fight from the sea wherever there is a need.
In August, we began construction on CONSTELLATION, a new generation of Frigates with the power and reach to protect the vital sea lanes that power our global economy.
And just last week, we marked our 100th year of carrier aviation with the conclusion of the first operational deployment of USS GERALD R. FORD, the largest and most powerful aircraft carrier the world has ever seen, and it has just returned from its first deployment.
Our most advanced fighter aircraft, the F-35 Lightning II, now brings fifth-generation stealth, multi-role, multi-mission reach and power to our carriers, our forward bases, and even the decks of our allies.
Our surface fleet is deterring our adversaries and protecting international waters, from the Indo-Pacific and the Baltic to our own hemisphere.
Soon our newest Arleigh Burke Flight III Guided Missile Destroyers will bring greatly enhanced warfighting capability to the fleet as well.
Over the past year, our Sailors and Marines have also demonstrated the immense potential of unmanned and autonomous vehicles.
The Overlord Surface Vessel RANGER successfully transited from the Gulf Coast to the West Coast without an embarked crew.
These unmanned surface vehicles will reduce the risk to our personnel, lower operating costs, and protect access to areas like the South China Sea.
Early in my tenure, we established a new, first of its kind task force in the Middle East at our naval base in Bahrain.
Task Force 59 is rapidly integrating unmanned systems and artificial intelligence into maritime operations in the Fifth Fleet area of operations, in the middle east, and we will soon expand that capability to other regions of the world – into Central and South America, and the Indo-Pacific.
Our second enduring priority, Building a Culture of Warfighting Excellence, demands more aggressive recruiting, training like we fight, and retaining a strong, diverse, and healthy force – ready at all times and focused on warfighting and leadership at every level.
That’s why we have expanded community- and school based outreach while simultaneously increasing media campaigns in underserved and minority markets.
We must attract the broadest possible talent pool from throughout our nation, including more women.
Recognizing that quality of life for our service members and families is inseparable from warfighting excellence, we have directed transformational investments in quality-of-life initiatives, infrastructure improvement, and support for families facing particularly difficult circumstances due to inflation.
All of these efforts are centered on one goal: combat readiness. Taking care of our people. Its what leaders do! Our Sailors and Marines are better prepared and more focused when they know their families are doing well.
Our third strategic priority, Enhancing our Strategic Partnerships, sustains and expands our advantage by seeking to achieve seamless integration, communication, and collaboration with each of our partners.
Among our Government partners, we have strived together toward greater agility, adaptability, trust, and transparency in support of our warfighters.
Globally, we have strengthened our relationships with like-minded maritime nations, deepening interoperability in order to enable mutual action to address shared challenges.
Our actions in the face of adversity will also be long remembered by our Allies and Partners.
Since the spring of this year, the Navy and Marine Corps have supported our Ukrainian partners as they continue to defend their sovereign territory in the face of unprovoked Russian aggression.
Together, we have risen to the occasion. We have shown great determination, generosity, and creativity in support of Ukraine, supplying an unprecedented volume of capabilities to assist in their time of need. And we will not stop doing so.
Over the last 5 years, the Navy and Marine Corps have facilitated development and delivery of maritime capability to Ukraine’s military.
In 2022 alone, the Department of the Navy coordinated the identification, adjudication and delivery of over $1.3 billion in critical systems, weapons platforms, munitions and support equipment to address critical Ukrainian needs.
As a naval force, and as a nation, we must continue to support Ukraine in the heroic defense of its homeland and the very defense of democracy around the world.
The Sailors, Marines, and civilians I am privileged to lead have made tremendous strides across all three of these guiding principles in the last eighteen months. And I am thankful to each and every one of them.
Let me highlight for you now some priority areas that will require increased focus in the year ahead of us.
Today, I am announcing my call to the Department of the Navy to accelerate our already impressive progress across the three previously mentioned enduring priorities, by focusing on a series of initiatives critical to their success.
I believe our increased focus on these specific areas will rapidly improve our warfighting capability and capacity. This acceleration is essential to our ability to prevail in protracted competition and, God forbid if deterrence fails, conflict.
We must first, accelerate our efforts toward fleet endurance and resilience required to prevail in a high-end maritime conflict of any scope and duration, by ensuring the necessary capability and capacity to Refuel, Rearm, Resupply, Repair and Revive.
All while being contested by an able adversary.
Often overlooked or taken for granted, these capabilities are transformational to our sustainment and logistics requirements, and are as important to winning as any weapon system we field or ship we commission.
Lessons from the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, in fact, bear this out. We will test our assumptions and take resolute action to make sure we are ready.
During my tenure, we will set the Navy on track to deliver the game-changing capability to rearm our warships at sea.
Being able to quickly rearm our warships’ vertical launch tubes at sea will significantly increase forward, persistent combat power with the current force.
No longer will our combatants need to withdraw from combat for extended periods to return for vulnerable in-port reloading of weapon systems.
Last month’s successful demonstration in San Diego of at-sea missile reloading is an early step in the right direction and paves the way for expedited development.
My intention is to perfect this capability and field it for sustained, persistent forward-strike capacity during wartime.
A second area of acceleration is to ensure the United States of America remains home to the most robust and capable shipbuilding industrial base in the world.
To enhance our peacetime deterrence, we are improving public shipyard performance in completing ship and submarine repair and maintenance on time.
And there’s a lot of work to be done here but we’re committed to the effort.
We must return these vital national assets to the Fleet as efficiently and quickly as possible.
Our significant investment in the Shipyard Infrastructure Optimization Program, known as SIOP, which is modernizing our four aging public shipyards, is a critical part of this task.
We know that in a high-end naval conflict with a peer competitor, we will need to repair, and even revive, ships at tremendous speed.
And we’ll need to do so as close to the fight as possible, so that even damaged ships can return to battle quickly.
The intense repair-and-revive demands of a high-end conflict in Asia will require significant shipyard capacity in the Pacific.
Accordingly, we are testing our wartime assumptions and looking for opportunities to expand our public shipyard capacity at home and abroad.
The ability to sustain combat operations also requires distributed and resilient cooperative security locations with strategic partners.
As the Navy and Marine Corps team works tirelessly ensure our forward presence, we are in an intense global competition with China for strategic access and influence.
That competition is particularly concentrated in the Indo-Pacific.
To prevail, we will continue to innovate, leveraging our naval diplomacy to maximum advantage.
For example, deploying amphibious warships with SEABEE construction battalions to priority partners in the Pacific will help build island resilience to a range of risks – a goal highlighted in President Biden’s Joint Statement with President Macron just last week.
Improving ports and enabling enhanced maritime patrolling capacity from modern airfields serves U.S. security as well as island nations’ interests as well.
Combined, these critical enablers of U.S. influence, posture, and readiness in the Indo Pacific also are the core components of the Department of Defense’s ability to deliver humanitarian assistance and disaster relief in the region as the catastrophic consequences of climate change accelerate.
Resilient, distributed posture to meet our operational needs and outcompeting the PRC for strategic access and influence in the Indo Pacific go hand in hand.
Our U.S. flagged merchant fleet and our proud American merchant mariners are critical components of our national security and I’m honored that leadership from SUNY Maritime and the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy as well as maritime industry leaders are in attendance today.
A strong merchant fleet is essential for our entire joint force to effectively operate in high-end conflict.
I support the Department of Transportation and its Maritime Administration’s efforts to improve the nation’s Maritime Security Program.
Our U.S. flagged merchant fleet must be prepared to meet wartime sealift requirements.
The rebirth of a vibrant commercial shipbuilding sector would be a tremendous asset to the defense shipbuilding enterprise.
Reinvesting in and developing a globally competitive maritime workforce is a national imperative.
To maintain America’s maritime dominance, we must invest in expanding our shipbuilding workforce and provide compelling opportunities for a new generation of American shipbuilders.
The Americans who build our Navy are a national asset. We must invest in modernizing their training and unleash their full potential for innovation.
We will move to establish programs to build capacity in naval architecture, engineering requirements, and life cycle management for Government and industry managers as well as technical expertise in nuclear welding, robotics, software and electronics, and additive manufacturing to name a few – and I know much of that work is being done at Columbia University!
We will also seek ways to integrate the shipbuilding expertise of some of our allies and partners.
High-paying, highly skilled blue-collar jobs that restore America’s manufacturing primacy are an Administration priority and are essential to the Navy’s role in securing the nation.
A third area of acceleration is the Department of the Navy’s efforts to drive innovation across every corner of the enterprise.
The best way to deter our adversaries is for the department to restore its technological superiority.
Over the past year, we have established key centers of innovation, including Naval X, with 18 Tech Bridges and six Centers for Adaptive Warfighting, to build cooperation with the private sector and universities.
Our newly established Marine Innovation Unit is tackling tough problems such as contested logistics, battlespace awareness, and the role of small craft in sensing and reconnaissance.
And through partnerships with academia, industry and government, our Office of Naval Research is driving scientific research and technology development across the Department and at this very institution.
To further accelerate these efforts, I am also standing up a Department of the Navy Science and Technology Advisory Board of highly qualified experts, nationally renowned leaders in their fields, to provide independent recommendations on our science and technology portfolio.
Throughout this journey we must ensure that our efforts are interconnected and that ideas and breakthroughs flow effortlessly between the Navy and Marine Corps, from the lowest to the highest ranks, and from warfighters on the front lines to researchers back at home.
Education is the key connector for this work.
Our educational institutions hold great promise and opportunity. Early in my tenure, I created an Education Task Force, comprised of leading scholars and warfighters, to evaluate our naval education ecosystem.
Their efforts are producing a bold new vision for Naval education and innovation ecosystem.
I am also directing the creation of a Navy Innovation Center at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California – right in the heart of our nation’s leading technology corridor.
This will serve as a premier military education facility tailored to innovation and experimentation, serving as a technology resource for Navy and Marine Corps warfighting development commands, as well as a go-to partner of the defense industrial base, the technology sector, and academia, like here at Columbia.
In conclusion, when I commissioned USS BULKELEY here in New York City 21 years ago, the geostrategic landscape was radically different. Beijing had not yet stripped Hong Kong of its long-standing democratic freedoms guaranteed in the “One Country, Two Systems” arrangement.
In a poignant, personal moment of hope that seems utterly unbelievable today, Russia’s newly elected President, Vladimir Putin, closed Russia’s infamous Lourdes Intelligence Collection Base near Havana.
On 9/11, great and small powers alike rallied to our side in a post-Cold War world trending towards multilateral cooperation and expanding democratic freedom – a time before the seeds of escalating great power competition and the slide towards authoritarianism had fully taken root.
Today, totalitarianism and authoritarianism are on the march around the world threatening all we stand for.
The United States Navy and Marine Corps Team is on the front lines of defending the free and open rules-based international order against those who would cast us into a new dark age defined by the principle of “might makes right.”
A world led by the likes of China, Russia, or Iran is not one I want my children and granddaughter to inherit. And that is at the core of why I felt a call within me to return to New York today… A call in defense of Freedom,.
Your Navy and Marine Corps exist, as they have since their founding, to protect freedom.
And no city embodies freedom, hope, and opportunity like New York. Like so many others fleeing oppression for a better life, my parents and I escaped the grips of authoritarianism in Cuba and found freedom here in America.
It is personal for me. It is who I am because my parents instilled in me a steadfast belief in the promise and in the justice of a free society.
As I toured your university this morning, fond childhood memories came flooding back as I mentioned earlier.
The democratic institutions we cherish – “of and for and by the people” – gave me the opportunity to fulfill those dreams.
The Constitution Alexander Hamilton argued so fiercely for established not only the Department I’m humbled to lead today, but a Congress chosen by the people.
That Congress in turn has always ensured the students at my alma mater, the midshipmen of the United States Naval Academy, they represent the American people, from every district in the nation and from every background - including mine.
I’ll never forget the day my parents - who had sacrificed so much for me to succeed - were overwhelmed with pride by the news their son, a child with big dreams from Thomas Edison High School in Queens, received his Congressman’s nomination to the Naval Academy.
I wish with all my heart they could have been by my side forty-two years after that first, humid plebe summer in Annapolis, to see our Congress confirm me as your 78th Secretary of the Navy.
They would have said “Only in America, Carlos! Only in this beacon of democracy, this land of freedom and opportunity.”
Getting straight to the heart of it, those are the principles upon which my enduring priorities are actually based.
They are the foundation of my sacred obligation to you the American people and to those selected to represent you in Congress to ensure that our Navy and Marine Corps are always prepared to defend those liberties, those non-negotiable American values wherever the nation’s interests may be threatened.
The Navy and Marine Corps remain, after all, this nation’s single most versatile instrument of national power.
For this, I am grateful for the sustained, bipartisan support across our great Nation and on Capitol Hill for a strong Navy and Marine Corps.
I look forward to working with old friends and new partners in Congress to advance the nation’s security with a Navy and Marine Corps, supremely able, first and foremost, to deter all potential adversaries, and if called upon, to fight and win our nation’s wars.
For as George Washington advised us in his Farewell Address, “To be prepared for war is the most effectual means to promote peace.” That maxim is as true today as it was 225 years ago.
But we must, as Teddy Roosevelt urged at his historic Naval War College address a century later, not pay President Washington’s maxim mere “lip loyalty” but rather let it “sink deep into our hearts.”
We owe nothing less to our Sailors and M/arines who, I can assure you, are trained, ready, and fully committed to defend us to the last measure.
It is not lost on me that today is the 81st anniversary of FDR’s “Day of Infamy” speech, following the attack on Pearl Harbor - another moment when the world shifted beneath our feet.
But while that speech is best remembered for its opening, I believe the ending was more prophetic.
“With confidence in our armed forces,” said President Franklin Roosevelt, “with the unbounding determination of our people, we will gain the inevitable triumph. So help us God.”
His words ring true today. The unbounding determination of our people will never fail, no matter what challenge we have before us.
And I believe it fitting that I give the last word to perhaps that most famous Columbia Lion, Theodore Roosevelt:
“We ask for a great Navy; we ask for an armament fit for the nation's needs, not primarily to fight, but to avert fighting.” To avert fighting.
Preparedness deters the foe and maintains right by the show of ready might without the use of violence…we ask to be given the means to ensure that honorable peace which alone is worth having.”
Thank you all. May God bless our Sailors, Marines, Soldiers, Airmen, Guardians, Coastguardsmen, and their families.
Carlos Del Toro
08 December 2022
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