Good morning. It truly is an honor and privilege to be with you this morning. Admiral Mies, thank you so much for the gracious introduction. Thank you so much for your leadership. What a great opportunity. You know, we look at the challenges that we face as a nation, and I always look at our glass as being half full. And I think that’s the opportunity before us. Will it be a challenge? Absolutely. But I think that we are up for the challenge, and I know that these days, all of us are concerned about where we’re going with our nation’s defense.
Just this week, we saw Secretary Hagel lay out a plan, a plan that many of us look at and go, “OK, let’s ask some questions about this and understand where we’re going strategically.” I want to emphasize that the strength of our nation’s national defense is not necessarily in the technology, but it’s in the people. It’s in the people that develop that technology. It’s in our submariners that are out there in the fleet every day, doing the job that they do. They are the best submariners in the world.
I’ve been blessed in my office to have some great submariners that have been there serving with me. I had one of our Department of Defense fellows, Lieutenant Commander Tom Weiler, who is now the XO on board USS MICHIGAN and is a great, great individual. I think the world of Tom and he’s doing a great job there as the XO. I have an opportunity to travel quite a bit, specifically to visit our men and women in uniform. And one of my cohorts in travel was in the Navy Liaison Office, a gentleman who came with me to Newport News shipyard when we christened USS MINNESOTA. And this individual, Commander Brian Tanaka, was a Minnesota native. And as we stood there in front of the MINNESOTA, taking a picture, I said, “Brian, wouldn’t it be neat if, when you finish your tour of duty here at the U.S. Capitol, to one day command the MINNESOTA?” He said “I could only be so lucky”, being a Minnesotan himself and looking to take his first command. Well, you’ll be happy to know that just last week, Commander Brian Tanaka took command of USS MINNESOTA. She’s going through her sea trials and will be going through pre-deployment training, and he will actually be able to command USS MINNESOTA on her first deployment. So, a great, great opportunity. I know, a dream has come true for Brian. He is an outstanding Naval officer, absolutely one of the best and brightest in our U.S. Navy.
That’s what makes our Navy the best in the world, it is the men and women that serve, they are the people in our submarine fleet. We know that’s not going to be only the legacy of the past, but they are also charting the future of where we need to go to maintain our superiority at sea. And we have fantastic platforms. The SSN is by far the best attack submarine in the world, by orders of magnitude, and it’s the technology that’s in that boat. It’s the team at HII and Electric Boat that build those boats, that have done such an amazing job of putting the technology together, making the construction process more efficient, and shortening the time frames required. What a great example about how to put together a program, how to build a class of ships, how to get them to sea faster and less expensively. A great model for us to use in the future.
We’ve got the SSBN[X], the next generation of our ballistic missile submarines, that are hopefully coming on board in time to meet this nation’s needs. But I’ll tell you, there will be a challenge there as we look at how to put in place the necessary funding for SSBN[X]. We have the dollars there to begin the planning and design process. The concern, though, is the delta between the retirement of the Ohio Class submarines we have today and the availability of the SSBN[X]. As you know, right now a force-level dip where we will have Ohio Class submarines being retired before the SSBN[X] submarines come online. We have to find a way to close that delta. It is in our national interest. We have to do that. We have to make sure that we are putting that effort forward and that we have those discussions. It is a challenging time to find money in the budget to be able to do that. As our budgets get squeezed, we see those challenges.
Another challenge is for us in Congress to make sure that members understand where the challenges are for the nation. As I talk to other members that are not on the House Armed Services Committee, I stress the importance that they understand what their constitutional duty is, I remind them of Article 1, Section 8, and making sure that they take the time to know what it takes to defend this nation. That’s more and more of a challenge these days. We have members in Congress that come from a variety of different backgrounds. There are fewer members of Congress with military experience today than any time in recent history. That military experience gives individual members of Congress a certain perspective on how decisions need to be made. What then happens is those of us that are on the House Armed Services Committee, I think, have an increased responsibility to make sure that we get those members that aren’t on the House Armed Services Committee to a point where they understand what this nation’s military needs are and how they can be accomplished. That means we have to take them out to see what their nation’s military does. I know in the Republican Study Committee, which is a large group of members, that we continue to have discussions about readiness issues and about making sure we understand where the nation’s needs are.
Just yesterday, I spoke with that group about what our readiness challenges were going to be in the future and making sure that we get them to understand the aspects of this nation’s military. Especially its Navy. We actually had seventeen members signed up yesterday to go on a carrier embark, which is a good thing, to get those members to see and to make sure they understand what’s going on. Another conduit for them is to do a submarine embark. So we’re going to make sure that we take them through the National Defense 101 training to make sure they understand all the challenges that are out there. And they are many.
I told the members that they’re going to be faced with some tough decisions as we’re in this challenging budget environment. I see that challenging budget environment, not only now, but into the future. It is going to be a challenge for all of us to make sure that we make very pointed and cogent arguments about the importance of our submarine fleet; the strategic importance for this nation; the importance of maintaining that industrial base and the importance of making sure that we continue to attract the best and brightest men and women in this nation to become submariners. That’s our challenge.
I think we’re up for the challenge, but there will be lots of competition in that realm for those resources. Therefore, I put out to each of you in this room that you are the cadre of experts- whether it’s through your experience in the submarine fleet or through your experience in the industrial base—is to make that argument, is to talk to people about the importance, and the importance at every level—the importance to our nation, strategically, to have the submarine fleet that includes our ballistic missile submarines and the modernization that needs to happen there, to continue the two ship per year build for SSNs, to make sure we continue on that track. In this competition for scarce resources, that’s going to be our challenge. I want to make sure, too, that people understand why the whole concept of the nuclear triad is important for our nation, why sea-based ballistic missiles are extraordinarily important. We continue to make that argument every day. Sometimes, though, members’ eyes glaze over when you start to talk about all these acronyms about ships and D5 missiles and modernization. People go, “What’s going on with that.” So what we have to be able to do is to bring it down to the very, very simple level about why it’s important for our national security and why that strategic importance lets us keep our economic position in the world. Also we have to explain why the industrial base and the skills that go along with that are so critical, and why if that’s allowed to decay in any way, we know what will happen to the ability to build those fantastic boats that we put to sea—the SSNs and the next generation of our ballistic missile submarines. So it’s a challenge for all of us. But I do believe that members are sympathetic to that argument.
I have found that when I go to members and say, “You need to take the time to come in and get a brief on where we are with this nation’s military readiness”, most members are willing to do that. When it comes time for them to visit and actually take a couple of days out of a schedule during an election year to go to sea, that’s a good thing. So we’re going to continue to build on that and make sure that members have that opportunity. As you contact members of Congress in your areas, please encourage them to take that time. We are going to continue to put on these briefs about national security, we’re going to continue to provide opportunities for them to go to sea. Please encourage them not just to support our submarine programs, but encourage them to understand more about how our submarine programs fit into the full scope of national security. Encourage them to take the time to go to sea not just to understand the great capability in these platforms, but to make sure they get to visit with our sailors. That is really the true value in our Navy. I can tell you, in every circumstance when I brought members out and they’ve gone to sea and they get to visit our sailors and they get to meet those bright young men and women that are there serving this nation, whether it’s the eighteen- or nineteen-year-old that’s on their first embark on a submarine or whether it’s the eighteen- or nineteen-year-old working on the deck of an aircraft carrier, it never ceases to amaze those members the great asset we have in this nation in our men and women that serve. That’s a great story to tell. It’s a great way to get them to understand the importance of their job. It’s not just about numbers, it’s not just about systems, it’s not just about numbers of ships, but it’s about people. It’s about making sure they understand what’s important in our Navy, and that is our sailors.
I want to make sure that we continue to have that opportunity, and we will continue to make sure that we make the argument up on the hill about why our submarine fleet is so critical to this nation. Our SSNs as I said are just fantastic ships. I’m always an advocate, too, to make sure that we get our members of Congress out to our shipyards so not only can they meet our sailors that are there as these ships are constructed but also they can meet our world class shipbuilders that do a fantastic job and that they have an opportunity to go around to the companies, the suppliers that provide the great parts for those submarines, and understand the great technology that goes in there. It’s a fantastic story to tell and whether a member of Congress is interested in jobs and the economy, we’ve got a great story to tell. Whether they’re interested in making sure that the long term interests of the United States are preserved, we’ve got a great story to tell. I believe it’s just a matter of us getting out there continuing to emphasize how important our submarine fleet is to the nation. We have to emphasize how important their support is to making sure we maintain that, but also that they understand it’s the people element that’s important.
It’s a very easy story to tell. So I encourage each of you to do that, and I know that you do that in scores. But I will say this, we have more and more of a challenge in the years to come because, as I said, fewer members of Congress have that direct connection to the military, either having served themselves or have a family member that’s served. And that’s not in any way, shape, or form being critical of those members, but it just puts more of a responsibility on all of us to take the time to make sure that they understand. As I said, the story that we have to tell is a great one, and it’s one that sells itself. It’s just a matter of putting the effort and the time into making sure that it gets done.
I want to thank each and every one of you for the great job that you do in your service to our nation. Whether it’s presently in uniform, whether it’s being in uniform in the past, in our submarine fleet, whether it’s as part of our industrial base, all of those elements are a critical part of the team that it takes to provide the national security that we need for this nation. And I can tell you folks, it’s an honor for me to be able to serve, to be on Capitol Hill, to make sure that I’m at least a tiny part of making sure that our nation is heading in the right direction on national defense, and I can tell you that your efforts here go an extraordinarily long way to make sure that our future remains bright for what we know is the greatest military the world has ever known defending the greatest nation the world has ever know. Folks, thanks again. May God bless each of you, and may God bless our great nation.