Chairwoman Wasserman Schultz, Ranking Member Carter, and distinguished members of the subcommittee — I am honored to appear before you today on behalf of the men and women who serve in our Navy. The Navy has weathered many challenges since my last opportunity to testify, as our nation has, but we remain strong – committed to the defense of our shores and our interests abroad, committed to our citizens, and committed to our shipmates and teammates. I am always grateful for the opportunity to discuss the significant challenges we face, and in the coming year these challenges will directly affect and impact the service and quality of life of our Sailors, and our greater Navy family.
The Navy I joined in 1988 had nearly twice as many Sailors as we have today, and at the height of the Reagan build-up, we had more than double the amount of ships than we do now. With roughly half of what we once had 33 years ago, and despite an increasingly complex and far less predictable maritime security environment, we continue to maintain the same operational tempo of about 92 ships deployed away from port on any given day. This puts a strain on our force that is greater than has ever existed in our history. Even with the increased ability to connect, seen by some as a comfort or means to extend resilience, can just as easily be seen as an operational hindrance; once-focused Sailors at sea are now dealing with the problems on the home-front in real time, not just at mail call, or when it was operationally safer or more convenient.
Recruiting, training and deploying combat-ready Naval forces, set against the pandemic and unique close-quarters operating environment of units at sea and in crew aircraft, has not been easy; and yet your Navy continues to meet recruiting goals, train accession Sailors and man the fleet, preparing and deploying our forces in support of COCOM requirements. The toughness of our Sailors was best evidenced in NIMITZ Strike Group’s record setting 341 day deployment to CENTCOM, extended six times – unexpectedly through Thanksgiving and Christmas – in support of national tasking. Similarly, the USS STOUT recorded 215 straight days at sea. These Herculean efforts show not what we want our Sailors to have to endure, but what they are absolutely capable of when called upon by the nation; I am here today to advocate for continued support that will keep our Sailors navigating these waters, boldly and safely.
Sufficient mental health resources and child care facilities remain the perennial challenges we face; in addition, our Navy families also face concerns such as job security, timely access to medical resources and the ability to find adequate housing, just as many other American families do. Congress has made great headway in creating the kind of flexibility we need to retain the Navy family – a key enabler in retaining our best talent, expertise, experience and passion for service within our lifelines.
Our Navy remains committed to diversity, equity and inclusion. As our Chief of Naval Operations speaks about so often and eloquently, we must remain committed in our efforts to improve opportunities for all who come to us to serve. We continue to embrace our diversity – who we are contributes to our diversity of thought and ability to work through complex challenges in combat – and is one of the greatest reasons we will prevail. Diverse teams find the most creative and efficient solutions under the greatest conditions of stress, something that has been proven over and over throughout history; we not only owe it to those who swear an oath to serve our nation, but we owe our nation the best possible defense by maximizing our greatest strength.
All of these efforts are, in the end, to be combat ready as the Navy the nation needs. Throughout the pandemic, our Sailors have pushed on, deploying forward around the world to ensure the sea lanes and skies remain free and open to all, wherever international law allows. As our adversaries continue to push the boundaries of professional conduct with aggressive maneuvers in the South China Sea, Black Sea, in the Arabian Gulf and elsewhere, we have maintained our strong posture. Your support helps our Navy increase dominance and survivability at sea as we continue to deter aggression in the most contested waters. Recruiting, training and educating our Sailors is critical to our ability to prosecute any enemy we face, to challenge adversaries who dare to threaten our national security.
I am truly appreciative of your efforts – the real, detailed work, unseen by many in our nation – that has been in steadfast support for our Navy and our families. You have enabled us to remain ready to defend our nation, and we will continue to work diligently with the precious resources you entrust to us. It is an honor and privilege to serve, and I know that our Sailors are appreciative of your careful stewardship. Thank you for your time.
Oral Testimony of MCPON Smith At HAC-M Hearing
13 May 2021
14 May 2021
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