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Vice Chief of Naval Operations Message to Navy Leadership

31 March 2020
The Vice Chief of Naval Operations, Adm. Robert P. Burke, released the following message to Navy leadership via P4 message.

The Vice Chief of Naval Operations, Adm. Robert P. Burke, released the following message to Navy leadership via P4 message:

1. Shipmates – We are engaged in a challenge unlike anything experienced in our lifetimes.  Together, we face an unseen enemy that is impacting not only our nation, but the entire world.  Times like these are the very reason we wear the cloth of the nation, and times like these are the reason our Navy has trusted you with command.


Waging this war to the best of our ability is the absolute first priority of your Navy’s leadership.  Winning this war is about two critical elements that are part of your commander’s toolkit: risk and trust.


2.  First, risk.  The Navy is America’s Away Team, enabling our national security.  It is true that keeping our Force healthy and safe is our absolute top priority.  It is also true that our Navy needs to sustain operational readiness to defend our nation.  Risk is the tension between these positions.  We will continue deployed operations, and we will continue to prepare for deployed operations.  There are some who want senior leadership to be more explicit in guidance, and more directive in nature.  Our NAVADMINs and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updates provide you this guidance, and the Fleet Commanders have provided even more.  However, as we continue to learn about COVID-19 daily, these principles are holding up:

A. Understand the facts about COVID-19 as we know them and operate accordingly:

  • It is transmitted by respiratory droplets from coughs or sneezes.
  • It can remain airborne for short periods of time (new debate surrounding the duration).
  • Respiratory droplets can settle on horizontal surfaces.
  • Left untreated, virus levels can be detected up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to 2-3 days on plastic and stainless steel.
  • A strong disinfectant (e.g. bleach) is required to clean infected surfaces.  Medical laboratory-grade ultraviolet lights are also successful.
  • It can be transmitted by an infected person before tests will detect it.
  • Many young, healthy people who are infected show no symptoms but still spread it.
  • Most Sailors are young and fit by civilian standards and may experience only influenza-like symptoms.  These symptoms may pass in days.
  • To date, few Sailors have been hospitalized and none have required ventilators.

B. Employ measures to social distance your teams to the extent possible.  This is tough on ships – use space, time, phasing – be creative and thorough – watchstanding, meals, berthing, work-to-home transits, etc.

C. Don’t touch your face – this requires personal discipline.

D. Once confronted with shipboard cases, we will segregate those exposed, test, and treat.  We are aggressively pursuing acquisition of new, simpler, and more plentiful testing mechanisms.


The CNO and I rely on you, our on-scene commanders, to best implement these principles and manage risk so that our Navy does not come to an all-stop.  There are times that you will need to push back on operational requirements.  There are times that you may need to go to an installation commander for places to house your Sailors because you cannot effectively isolate your personnel.  There are times when they may not be able to help.  We want these decisions to be fact-based, and not emotionally-driven.  If you’re not getting what you need, don’t suffer in silence, get the word up the chain.  Above all, and I want you to hear this from me and the CNO, WE HAVE YOUR BACK.  When in doubt, lean forward and lead.  We will be pushing the entire Navy team to remove obstacles for you – but we need you to lead.


3.  This gets to the second element, trust.  Within the storm of information and misinformation, trust is the bond that keeps us steady.  This trust must be sustained up your chain of command, down the chain of command, and among you and your peers.  Communicate the truth often, to your Sailors and their families… and to your leadership.  Be exhaustive in providing feedback and in sharing lessons learned.  Resist the urge to talk about what “they” are doing or about “them”.  As a Navy leader, you are “they.”  Think, communicate and act as an inclusive Navy team, bound together with trust.  


4.  The thought process we are asking you to apply now is no different than what we would ask of you in combat.  If we are to bring high-end, distributed lethality to bear against a peer competitor, commanders and their commands must be comfortable managing risk and moving at the speed of trust.  While our adversary may be different than we expected, our collective actions must be comprised of your absolute best.


5.  Talk to your crews about this message – in particular, focus on the facts about COVID-19 and the need for America’s Navy to continue operations.  The individual actions of our Sailors and their families will collectively ensure a healthy force - everyone should exhaust efforts to avoid exposure.


6.  Every action and every risk decision you make reflects on the Navy as a whole and is part of the extraordinary responsibility of command.  We must work hard to build and guard trust and confidence, in both our commands and with the nation whose constitution we’ve sworn to defend.  The CNO and I are proud to serve with you and we are both standing by to help remove any barriers in the way of taking care of our Sailors and their families.  


7.  Released by ADM R. P. Burke, Vice Chief of Naval Operations.



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