USA — Navy, Marines Need Adaptable People, Gates Says

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — The types and num­bers of Navy ships will change, but the qual­i­ty of the sailors and Marines aboard those ships and serv­ing ashore must endure, Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates said here today.
Gates spoke at the Navy League’s annu­al Sea-Air-Space Con­ven­tion at the Gay­lord Con­ven­tion Center. 

Sailors and Marines “must have moral, as well as phys­i­cal courage; they must have integri­ty; they must think cre­ative­ly and bold­ly,” the sec­re­tary said. “They must have the vision and insight to see that the world and tech­nol­o­gy are con­stant­ly chang­ing and that the Navy and Marine Corps must there­fore change with the times – ever flex­i­ble and ever adapt­able. They must be will­ing to speak hard truths, includ­ing to superiors.” 

How the Unit­ed States han­dles the increas­ing­ly com­plex secu­ri­ty chal­lenges of the future will depend less on the qual­i­ty of its hard­ware than on the qual­i­ty of the lead­ers, the sec­re­tary said, not­ing that he spoke about this at some length with mid­ship­men at the Naval Acad­e­my last month. 

As exam­ples, he used Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Vic­tor Kru­lak, the vision­ary behind the Hig­gins boat who lat­er con­tributed great­ly to U.S. under­stand­ing of coun­terin­sur­gency in Viet­nam. He also cit­ed Navy Fleet Adm. Chester Nimitz, who as a young offi­cer helped to devel­op the cir­cu­lar for­ma­tion for car­ri­er escorts, used to great effect in World War II and for decades after. 

The sec­re­tary men­tioned Navy Adm. Hyman Rick­over, whose genius and per­sis­tence over­came the con­ven­tion­al wis­dom that nuclear reac­tors were too bulky and dan­ger­ous to put on submarines. 

Final­ly, he spoke of Navy Lt. Cmdr. Roy Boehm, who after World War II designed and led a spe­cial new com­man­do unit that became the Navy SEALs. Boehm’s lega­cy is at work every night, he said, track­ing down America’s most lethal ene­mies in Afghanistan and else­where around the world. 

“The rea­son I want­ed to talk to mid­ship­men about these lead­ers … is not that they were always right, nor that they should be emu­lat­ed in every way – to put it mild­ly,” Gates said. “What is com­pelling about each of these lead­ers is that they had the vision and insight to see that the world and tech­nol­o­gy were chang­ing, they under­stood the impli­ca­tions of these shifts and then they pressed ahead in the face of often-fierce insti­tu­tion­al resistance.” 

These qual­i­ties would come to the fore in any era, Gates said, but they are espe­cial­ly impor­tant today, giv­en the pace of tech­no­log­i­cal changes and the agile and adap­tive nature of the most-like­ly and lethal U.S. adver­saries. The ene­my could run the gamut from mod­ern mil­i­taries using asym­met­ric tac­tics to ter­ror­ist groups with advanced weapons. “Our offi­cers will lead an Amer­i­can mil­i­tary that must have the max­i­mum flex­i­bil­i­ty to deal with the widest-pos­si­ble range of sce­nar­ios and adver­saries,” Gates said. The empha­sis in the Navy and the Marine Corps has to be on their peo­ple, the sec­re­tary told the group. 

“Over the past three-and-a-half years, in the fury of two wars, I have seen the future of the Navy and Marine Corps onboard ships, on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan, at Navy bases and Marine camps, and at the Acad­e­my,” he said. “These young men and women fill me with con­fi­dence that the future of our sea ser­vices is incred­i­bly bright and that our nation will be secure in their hands.” 

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs) 

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