ANNAPOLIS, Md. (NNS) -- Adm. Vern Clark passed the baton of leadership of the U.S. Navy to Adm. Mike Mullen during a ceremony at the U.S. Naval Academy July 22, stepping down from the post of Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) after five years.
Clark's tenure began July 21, 2000, and is the longest term served by any CNO since Adm. Arleigh Burke resigned in 1961.
"I have no doubt that history will recognize Adm. Vern Clark's contributions during his 10 command tours and his exceptional second appointment as Chief of Naval Operations," said Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, who served as the ceremonial guest speaker. "We can already see his mark on the fleet as it sails today in America's defense."
"The programs that he championed created sustained striking power on short notice, including expeditionary strike groups, Sea Power 21, the SSGN, and the Fleet Response Plan," he said.
"Vern Clark will be remembered for his vision, his courage, and his fashioning and transforming a service steeped in over two centuries of tradition," Rumsfeld added. "No easy task."
Acting Deputy Secretary of Defense and Secretary of the Navy Gordon England focused on their time serving together on Sept. 11, 2001, and the difficult days that followed, saying Clark was the right man to be on the job.
"I believe this nation is particularly blessed, because for the past 229 years we always seem to have the right people in the right positions at the right time," England said.
Many of the Navy's past leaders made the Navy stronger due to the challenges they faced, England continued.
"We now add Adm. Clark to that distinguished list."
After England finished his comments, he invited Clark and his wife Connie to the podium to present Clark the Distinguished Service Medal, and to his wife the Distinguished Public Service Award.
Before reading his orders, Clark thanked Rumsfeld and England for attending the ceremony and for their stalwart support during the past five years. During his remarks, Clark echoed a theme he has often spoke of during his tenure as CNO.
"We who are privileged to serve do not lay claim to the offices that we hold. Those offices lay claim to us," Clark emphasized. "It is a special calling to serve in our Navy, to wear this uniform, to be given a chance to serve, and if proven to be good stewards, to be given a chance to lead."
Clark also spoke of the impact the current generation will have on the global war on terrorism.
"This generation knows that beliefs are worth fighting for. They also understand that this global insurgency seeks to destroy the political and moral will of the American people," he said.
"This generation gets it. They know that it is their turn. It's their turn to stand up for America. They are proud of what they are doing, and they well know their place in history," he continued. "They are the bearers and protectors of our values and of our shared beliefs."
"On behalf of every one of them, and for my very last time as CNO, I thank you for your devotion to our service men and women. It means everything to them, and to me," Clark added.
Mullen then read his orders, took the Oath of Office and assumed the duties as the 28th Chief of Naval Operations at the very place he earned his commission after graduating from the Naval Academy in 1968.
Mullen also thanked Rumsfeld and England for their support in transforming "our Navy to conquer those harsh realities."
"Today the Navy grants me yet another great opportunity, and I intend to make good on my obligation in return," Mullen said. "Listen, learn and lead. Those will be my watchwords these next four years, a challenge to myself and to all of you. Given the world around us, the threats we face, we have no choice."
Mullen commended Clark for putting the Navy in a "position of enormous strength. He took this Navy to a point - reformed us to a point - where we can now make decisions we simply couldn't make before. What we do with that strength, the kind of Navy we build and put to sea in the future, is entirely up to us. The tiller is in our hands."
For related news, visit the Chief of Naval Operations Navy NewsStand page at www.news.navy.mil/local/cno.