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)