Kirk, John, thank you for your warmth and kind remarks. They cause me to recall a story I once heard about a NYC Councilman named Chauncey Depew. Depew was making a rather long-winded, grandiose introduction of then Senator William Taft. He went on and on, ad nauseum, and in one particularly curious turn of a phrase characterized Taft as pregnant with courage and pregnant with integrity. When Depew finally concluded, Taft stood up to thank him and to begin his remarks. But before he offered his formal remarks, he wrapped his arms around his rather large belly and said, “Ladies and Gentleman, if I am pregnant and it is a boy, I shall name him Courage. And if I am pregnant with a girl she shall be known as Integrity. But if, as I suspect, the size of my belly is due only to gas, I shall refer to the condition as a case of Chauncey Depew.” Now neither Kirk nor John is a gasbag, but for those of you who have heard me speak, I always like to start with a story. This one seemed appropriate for a ceremony in which there is often a tendency for, how can I politely say, verbal excess!
On a serious note, I am so proud of Shirley for all that she has done for our Submarine Force, our Navy, and our nation, and I am thankful that she could be formally recognized for contributions whose rewards are only psychic. Just as the recognition bestowed on me is an acknowledgement of all those with whom I have worked so closely, Shirley’s recognition is also of the countless Navy spouses who have taken on leadership roles in our services. I salute you all. What an even more wonderful place our country would be if communities around the nation were blessed with so many caring people who give so freely of themselves as many of our spouses do.
I have given countless retirement speeches on behalf of ship-mates. What an honor and how much easier than offering one’s own remarks … What can one say to capture the lessons and significance of a life’s work? Should the speech be inspirational? Should I offer forthright advice to the institution that has nurtured me for 36 years? Is it to be a round of thank you’s and acknowledgements? Or should it be a final opportunity for reflection, to come full circle, to end the final chapter of a really great book, but in full anticipation of the next volume of the series. I have opted for Reflections as a theme and how far we have come as a framework … how far personally, professionally, as an institution, and as a nation.
As I opined during my welcoming remarks, I do feel a lot like the last man standing. There are no more than a handful on active duty today who were commissioned before me in 1968. The changes in the world since that ceremony on 22 August in Auburn, AL are profound beyond recognition. The country was truly in crisis. Vietnam was raging; men were dying by the thousands in SE Asia; campuses were rocked by riot and demonstration; racial tensions were high in the cities and race riots occurred on some of our ships. Many of us had joined primarily to avoid the draft and the Green Machine, and precious few, yours truly included, had any intention of remaining beyond initial service obligation. We were committed to doing our jobs, but in those years, for me at least, it was just a job. Certainly it was not the calling it would become. Most of us just wanted to blend in and be part of society. No better indication of that than the picture on the inside front cover of your program. You are looking at a full Lieutenant in the US Navy!
In those years there was no human resource strategy, there were no Family Service Centers, no Ombudsmen, no support for those left behind. It was an era that gave real meaning to being run hard and put away wet. Nine and ten month deployments were the norm, only to return home to port and starboard, or if you were lucky, three section duty. The Cold War was raging. The Soviets had nukes and they were aggressive. Surrogate conflict between East and West raged in Africa; preventing the domino theory in SE Asia was the organizing principle of the day; Russian subs outnumbered us three to one; submarine deployments were focused on protecting the carrier against the cruise missile threat posed by Charlie class submarines and on holding the Soviet SSBN force at risk.
Today’s geopolitical environment is unrecognizable from those early years, and missions have changed dramatically. I have been to Russia more than 20 times, have visited virtually every Republic of the FSU, have a warm, professional relationship with the VCJCS equivalent on the Russian General Staff, with whom I have co-chaired two NA TO-Russia conferences focused on combating terrorism. The icing on this through-the-looking glass. Alice in Wonderland experience is the fact that I was recently awarded a medal by the Russian Minister of Defense for efforts to promote military to military cooperation between NA TO nations and Russia. That, my friends, represents a long, long journey for a guy who grew up eyeing Russian stuff through a periscope.
I will never forget my first visit to Moscow in 1995, standing alone in Red Square, on a cold, snowy October evening, marveling to myself how far our countries had come from the dark days of the Cold War. Russia, of course, remains a vast work in progress. Lately, the trend lines for democratic ideals, as we know them in the West, have not been encouraging. That said, I remain cautiously optimistic about our future relationship with this vast country. So that, in a nutshell, is how far we have come, at least in this man’s opinion.
Well, that’s a world view. What have the changes been in the institution? In 1968, the Navy was a sorry institution. It was a hide-bound, lily-white, aristocratic, only men need apply outfit. We were rocked by racial tensions and infected with drugs. It was not easy to serve in those days. Military service was not held in high regard by the public. We knew only a conscript mentality and people were treated accordingly, officer and enlisted alike. Abolition of the draft in the early 70’s was the most significant transformational event of the past three decades, and this enabled the Navy to become the service that visionaries only dreamed of. Today we are a force with no equal and no peer competitor on the horizon for another 15 years. The diversity of our work force is representative of society. We could not put our ships to sea without the contributions made by the women in the Navy. We are essentially drug-free. Our technical sophistication is eye-watering and most of the equipment is operated by men and women in their 20’s. Our non-commissioned force is the envy of every Navy on earth. This is no throwaway line. I have spoken of this with Chiefs of Defense from many NA TO nations. More than the equipment, the size of our budgets, the support of our public, it is the quality of our force that these Chiefs of Defense covet.
CNO has characterized the nation’s number one asymmetrical advantage as the genius of our people. That is exactly right and it is recognized around the world. Today our Navy has a very bright future. We have an operational strategy that maximizes our utility to the President as a war-fighting force or as tool of diplomacy. We are the iron fist in his velvet glove. My god, how wonderful it has been to be able to play a small role in this transition to greatness.
Well, what have I learned in 36 years? What are the enduring lessons from my career that I would wish to pass to those who still wear the cloth of service?
GATO was a great place to start. My first skipper, RADM (ret) Larry Burkhardt, was a man you would follow to hell. He was a warrior. There was no discernible gentle side to him, at least not on the ship. He had a short fuse and a fast burn rate and we measured the output of his temper in BEBs, Burkhardt Energy Bursts-megaton explosions that could melt flesh at 1000 meters. But, the storms passed quickly and one returned to his good graces as quickly as one could fall into disfavor. In those days, this style was not uncommon and it would be unfair to characterize a screamer in the negative way we do today. What the JOs learned from him in terms of submarine trade craft was of the highest caliber. The lesson I carried with me through all of my years at sea was how critical it was to have well-honed war-fighting skills that had been tempered in the arena, not just in the trainers, and how those skills had to be founded on a detailed knowledge of one’s ship. Qualification in Submarines with Larry Burkhardt was immersion in a crucible of fire.
Shirley and I were married near the end of that tour and rather than resign from service, as we had intended, we took a two-year assignment in Spain. We became fast friends with Gail and Alan McCurry, here today. Alan worked his tail off as the Tender RADCON Officer. My squadron job sent me to sea, but also gave us an opportunity to travel. Our love for Spain and Europe was kindled here.
My department head tour as Engineer Officer on VON STEUBEN was not a happy one, but in retrospect I can say it was the only tour in 36 years I would characterize that way. I wasn’t well prepared, never quite figured out how to improve, and always seemed out of sync with my Skipper. The takeaway-learning how you don’t want to ever do certain things again is just as valuable-perhaps even more valuable-than the run of the mill positive experience!
I first came to know Al Konetzni at this career point and he is the reason I am here to today. If you don’t like what you see, blame Al. At one point, I thought I should dedicate my remarks to him. Why, you may ask? Al was my detailer. Before getting underway for my last patrol on VON STEUBEN, I called him to tell him I intended to submit my resignation when we returned from sea. He immediately responded with what we called then “verbal notification of orders”. In those days verbal notification of orders trumped verbal intent to resign. The operative SECNA VINST required a minimum activity tour at the next duty station before being again allowed to request to resign, and all of this was put into play with verbal notification of orders! As you can ascertain, the Navy was not too touchy-feely in the mid 70’s. I was not happy with my detailer, but Al stuck to his guns and his intuition was good, and I am forever grateful that he maintained a hard line.
Shirley and I have never looked back. Two years on the NPEB in Hawaii taught me a lot about engineering that I hadn’t learned as a DH. I had the opportunity to be a team member for an exam we gave to J. Guy Reynolds when he was a Tender CO. I saw this as an opportunity to get even. He had cleaned my clock as an NPEB Senior Member when I was Engineer on VON STEUBEN. So much for that strategy, his ship was evaluated as Outstanding in every area! Frankly, I don’t know how Admiral Rickover ever saw fit to agree to my assignment to the NPEB, based on my DH experience. Even then, NR worked in mysterious ways!
Our XO tour on SEA DEVIL was really special. Mark Kenny was a young JO, the DCA, I recall. It was clear even then that he had a bright future and no one was more dedicated to mission than Mark.
Bob Boyce, one of the honorary side-boys, was a tremendous skipper who gave me wide latitude, taught me graduate level ASW, and most importantly, demonstrated by example how to balance life, work, and family. What’s more, he demanded that we all do the same. There is no better way to learn how to delegate authority and give people the freedom to learn, grow, and yes, even make a mistake. I was an XO for 44 months. I don’t recommend it but there was no better way to be prepared for command and that is where we headed next No intervening shore duty. Life for my year group was, how shall we say, sea duty intensive!
Command of NARWHAL-what a marvelous three years! She was a one of a kind ship with a world-class crew. She had special characteristics that facilitated some very unique capabilities. RADM Ben Wachendorfwas an exceptional XO and Payne Kilbourne was a knock your socks off Engineer. Jon Yuen, another of the honorary side-boys, was the caliber of Supply Officer for whom skippers would offer live animal sacrifices to have assigned. What did I learn from NARWHAL that I would wish to pass along? Not what you might expect. No, the ship was great, the crew unequalled, the operations stunning, and our waterfront reputation amongst the best. But, those are attributes of which many skippers could boast. From NARWHAL, I learned to deal with adversity, learned how to keep it sublimated, and how to dig deep and press on. On New Year’s Eve 1986, at anchor in Palma, the anchor chain parted in heavy weather and before we got control of the ship’s head, we grazed the bottom. Actual damage was minimal. We continued our deployment after the requisite inspections, and had great operational success. When we arrived home in Charleston, unbeknownst to me, I was presented an investigation report recommending an admiral’s mast for myself and for others. I won’t recount the details; charges were ultimately dismissed; but suffice it to say that the months of uncertainty as the process grinded along at glacial pace were very, very hard. So, what are the lessons? Be prepared to find those personal reserves you must call on at no notice. Recognize that nothing is more sacred than receiving due process, and finally, trust the system to generate the right outcome. I would later become a GCM convening authority and would have to rule on some very significant cases. The lesson of due-process was not lost on me. I demanded that every due-process related benefit of the doubt be offered to those who came before me. NARWHAL saga ultimately ended on a very high note. I must say, though, that there was a period when I was certain I had topped out as a Commander.
As a Deputy Squadron Commander, following the NARWHAL tour, I was sent in to command BONEFISH, a diesel submarine, when her CO was detached for cause. Another phenomenal learning experience. Within weeks after getting her ready, and turning her over to the new CO, BONEFISH experienced a catastrophic battery well fire, while at sea. Several died and the ship had to be aban-doned, and then towed back to port. Dealing with the families throughout the ordeal, which unfolded first on CNN, courtesy of the pilot of a small plane flying through the area, was another defining moment for me. I was later assigned as the Investigating Officer for the casualty, and that, too, was an experience that could not be taught.
I was then blessed with orders to command the NF AS in Orlando. This school provided apprentice training to every enlisted person who entered the nuclear propulsion program. I really understand why VADM Al Harms gets so excited discussing our Navy’s education and training initiatives. I felt much the same way in those days when I witnessed firsthand how far we could take young people from a cross-section of America, fresh from Recruit Training, and after not too many months, turn them into skilled technicians. My takeaway: the value of strong enlisted and LOO leadership and mentorship. The enlisted staff and LDOs were the ones who made possible the metamorphosis of these young Americans. To give an example of the talent pool with which I was blessed at NF AS, Master Chief Jim Herdt, former MCPON, was my command master chief. At NFAS we learned that when you can capture their hearts and minds, control their environment, foster an atmosphere of growth and learning, and make it clear that homework and study were not optional, then the sky was the limit in what young sailors could be taught!
Command of PENNSYLVANIA, a Trident submarine, came next. The Soviet Union had just collapsed and it was a challenge to keep the crew motivated for a mission of strategic deterrence against an enemy that had just imploded. It was also a challenge to convince the Congress that an investment in the ultimate insurance policy, which is what the SSBN force is at the end of the day, was a necessary expenditure of national treasure. Walt Yourstone, another of the honorary side-boys was my Exec, and like Bob Boyce had done for me on SEA DEVIL, I gave Walt the reins and he found his head. Don Kelso, son of former CNO Frank Kelso, and a rising star in his own right, was the Engineer and best in the Squadron. Ours was the number one ship in Kings Bay. That Team played a huge role in my presence here today. When I was sent to PENNSYLVA-NIA, I must say I was a bit disappointed that I had not been given squadron command. We Trident COs joked that we were not sure if we had been sent to major, minor commands or minor, major commands; but, there was a method to the madness. Our Force leadership wanted to demonstrate that there was a path to Flag from every conceivable vector. I’d guess it was part of our human resource strategy, though I doubt we referred to it in that way. Anyhow, it was another blessing to be given the chance to move up from this direction.
After PENNSYLVANIA I was awarded a Federal Executive Fellowship to Harvard for a year. I had completed an MA in Political Science while in command at NF AS and pol-mil affairs had become a new passion for me. One Friday afternoon I got a call from the Submarine Force Front Office asking if I would take an assignment as a Battle Group COS in lieu of going to Harvard. You can well imagine my “you’ve got to be kidding” response. I thought about it for the weekend, sought advice from mentors, and then said “what the hell”, I’m a waterfront sailor. VADM George Emery, COMSUBLANT, had cajoled Jay Johnson, the TRBG CDR to try a submariner on for size as his COS. I was given the chance to pioneer, as one of the very first from the silent service. This was naval warfare at graduate level with two phenomenal teachers, Jay Johnson and Steve Abbot. Bosnia, Iraq, Haiti, major joint exercises, and broad exposure to big Navy were all part of the mix in this tour. I am convinced that this experience resulted in my Flag selection. My, oh my … this was the ultimate win-win assignment. If I didn’t promote to Flag it would be a wonderful way to cap a career, and if somehow, I did get selected, there was no better way to be prepared for the challenges that would lie ahead.
My first Flag assignment was on the Joint Staff and this was my first DC tour as Director International Negotiations for General Shali. I had the arms control portfolio and the Former Soviet Union pol-mil desk. This was a great tour for a pol-mil junkie and it was the tour that would set me up for the NA TO assignment. I was also a · direct report to LTGEN Wesley Clark, and that too was an experience of a lifetime, albeit one that I won’t describe! My takeaway from this assignment was a very nuanced understanding of inter-agency and national decision-making, and a recognition that there were points of view outside of DoD that occasionally had real merit.
Commander Submarine Group TWO and Commander Northeast Region-attack submarines; oversight of Naval installations through-out the NE US; privatizing excess Navy property; face of the Navy in the NE; interaction with the Reserves; learning more about the business side of the business; GCM convening authority; and even going to sea to certify SSN deployment readiness. This was a full plate and a wealth of opportunity … what a blessing to serve.
Three years as Director of Undersea Warfare for CNOs Johnson and Clark was the toughest assignment of my career. I walked in believing the future of the Submarine Force rested on my shoulders. Of course that was not the case but it did give one a certain edge to be a bit nervous about such things and I believe that holds for any assignment inside or out the service. The Navy was still organized around the major war-fighting platforms and it was the responsibility of the resource sponsor to maximize the resource allocation to his sector, with the certain caveat that the funds would be used to deliver executable programs which would provide real, needed capability for the Navy. I am proud to say that on my watch we delivered modernization, increased the SSN inventory, began the Trident life extension program, delivered the JCS SSN Study, set the stage and kept alive SSGN, and funded JIMMY CARTER. I offer no excuses or apologies for maintaining a laser focus only on undersea warfare programs during my three years. But then again, I wasn’t hired to be the advocate for interplanetary space travel. .. or another resource area! Today, the Navy’s focus on platforms has changed. I hope the pendulum has not swung too far and that we ensure complete intellectual honesty as we evaluate capabilities and decide where they must reside. The Submarine Force is a national treasure, with national as well as Navy missions. I trust we will give this due regard in our deliberations.
My final three years at NATO was an over-the-top experience. Serving in an international organization at three star level, living in Europe, and working daily at level of Ambassador, Minister, and Chief of Defense was intellectually stimulating, eye-opening, and frankly, a bit of a heady experience. My job, in a nutshell, was to facilitate consensus military advice from the viewpoints of 19 NA TO nations, in order to advise and inform the political decisions made by the Alliance. When I arrived at NATO, I also undertook a personal commitment to work towards improving military to military relations with Russia, which were at a low point after the Kosovo War. Today we have a NATO mission in Moscow, over which is flown the NA TO flag. Think about that. .. a NA TO flag in downtown Moscow! There will soon be a full time Russian military presence in General Jones’ HQ at SHAPE, focused on improving Russian interoperability with NA TO forces, with a view to joint action and joint decisions in peacekeeping operations. We now have agreed procedures between NA TO and Russia for assisting in submarine escape and rescue, a development that came about following KURSK disaster. I was privileged to lead the negotiations for NA TO that put these elements in place. Improvements in our military relationship with Russia have been profound and the implications for the future are staggering. I am humbled to have played a role.
The personal and professional relationships from NA TO will last Shirley and me a lifetime. I must confess. We have gone to the dark side. We actually like most Europeans, even the French, and we enjoyed living in Belgium! The insights I have gained will, I imagine, form the basis for my next career. I will be forever grateful to the CNO for his confidence in my nomination and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs for selecting me to complete my service to the nation in Brussels. When I first arrived at NA TO, I was convinced that ours was the only right approach to world affairs and that if we listened to other nations, it was only to be polite. I leave NATO in full recognition that the composite points of view from nations big and small, from Old and New Europe, from governments of the Left and the Right, produce a world view that is the most appropriate for dealing with the challenges of the 21st century.
Yes, my friends, it has been quite a ride. I will never regret making the decisions to wear the cloth of service for 36 years. Few have the opportunity afforded me by my country. The standard by which we are expected to live is very high. Some would say we live in fish bowls. That is the price we pay to have the opportunity to lead, to influence the lives of countless thousands, to be afforded the opportunity to leave a legacy for the next generation, and to make decisions that could call for the ultimate sacrifice of those entrusted to our care. So the price is high, but the price is right, and it has been an experience for at least two lifetimes.
Shirl, Meredith, words can’t do justice to all you have meant to me, and all you have done to keep me going, during good times and hard times. Meredith, watching you mature has been an intense joy and it has been a source of unfathomable pride to witness your accomplishments and your humanity.
Shirl, there is no way to capture how much of all that we have together is a direct consequence of all you have done for me, and with me, at my side, or on my shoulder, serving as my conscience. You are my touchstone. Ours has been a journey of love and commitment and discovery. We have had 32 joyous years together and I expect at least another 32 as we move to the next chapter of our lives. You raise me up, so I can walk on mountains; you raise me up, to walk on stormy seas; I am strong when I am on your shoulders; you raise me up to more than I can be. I love you.
Friends, family, colleagues, I thank you for sharing this fine day with the Fages family. Oh, how far we have come in 36 years, as a Nation, as a Navy, in my own professional development, and in a wonderful personal relationship with my family. Somehow, I made it to a rather lofty level in this outfit without ever being early selected; without front office exposure as an MA or EA; after having spent an unusual amount of time on the waterfront as a straight-stick nuke; a man who has stood at the wrong end of the long green table; who never attended War College; and who went to DC for his first assignment as a Flag Officer. If it can happen for me, take heart it can happen for any one of you in the audience. Work hard, stay focused, go where they tell you to go, worry about what you are doing today and not where your next assignment will be; maintain a balance in your life; keep your sense of humor; be blessed with a loving family; and be lucky. That is my recipe for success and it applies whether one is 25 or 55, military or civilian. I humbly pass it along.
In 1963, John F Kennedy wrote,” Any man who may be asked in this century what he did to make his life worthwhile, I think can respond with a great deal of satisfaction, I served in the United States Navy”. I say AMEN to that!
Admiral Donald, I am ready to go ashore.
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