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Navy Flag Officers Conference
As Delivered by Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, U.S. Naval Academy, Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Good afternoon.
It’s a pleasure to have this opportunity to talk to you, and to give you a chance to ask a few questions.
I’ve accepted an invitation to speak at the Naval Academy’s commencement in a few weeks – and I’m really looking forward to meeting firsthand the midshipmen who will soon be joining your ranks. I presided over 39 commencements as president of Texas A&M, but this will be my first commencement speech ever. Only thing I know for sure is to keep it short.
The character of any institution is determined by the character of its individuals – and I know the graduating class will make a great contribution to the Navy.
I’d like to take a few minutes and talk about what I see as some of the most important priorities and goals for the Navy in the years to come.  Some of these priorities relate to the threats of today, and others relate to ensuring that our country remains vigilant and prepared to meet the threats of tomorrow.
First of all, let me say that I appreciate the Navy’s direct and indirect support of operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere in the War on Terror.  The nature of the fight is such that the Department has asked sailors to take on duties that they would not ordinarily do – such as building schools and hospitals or helping provide security for convoys.  Considering the very different types of operations called for by conflicts like those we are engaged in, it makes sense to consider the Navy and the Air Force a “Strategic Reserve.”
At the same time, however, we should not forget that even in times of peace, the Navy is much more than just a Reserve force. Our fleet is a symbol of America’s presence across the globe – a deterrent to all of our enemies, and a reassurance to all of our allies that we will keep our commitments. It was in this spirit that I sent a second carrier strike group to the Gulf region.
With the types of globalized and uncertain threats we face today, we have to focus on the Navy’s unique war-fighting capabilities.  For this reason, I support the chief of the Navy’s maritime strategy, which better aligns budgetary decisions with our risk assessments and future missions we may have to undertake – and which also underscores the interdependence of the Navy-Marine Corps team.
We should not forget that in this age no single nation is capable of addressing the myriad threats we face. This is why I strongly support the 1,000-ship Navy initiative.  Any effort to bring together the navies of multiple nations in either a formal or informal manner is well worth the effort.  Not only is this in line with the President’s and the Quadrennial Defense Review’s call for partner-building, but it is also the only way we can meet threats that do are not limited to any single nation or region.
On a more operational level, I agree with the chief that our three priorities must be readiness, building a fleet for the future, and developing leaders for the 21st century.
To ensure readiness, we have to acknowledge that readiness is something that must be maintained over time.  It is not a sprint to any sort of finish line.  This means we have to continue focusing on initiatives that increase our long-term readiness – initiatives like the Fleet Response Plan, which has already greatly bolstered our ability to surge the fleet if the need arises – while still meeting all the needs of the combatant commanders.  Like everything to do with readiness, the Fleet Response Plan is an ongoing project, but one with even greater potential in the future.
Long-term readiness is also to a large degree contingent on building a fleet for the future.  The nature of the defense industry is such that it requires long-term thinking and planning – and it requires a careful evaluation and management of risks as we consider what types of ships we may need many years from now.  We have to be flexible in our thinking – but at the same time we have to provide some sort of stability for the defense industry, so they can make appropriate business decisions.  We need to move ahead with the current plan for 313 ships and around 3,800 aircraft since at this time this appears to be the minimum force we will need in the future.
None of this is possible without effective leaders.  As a former university president, I applaud the chief’s drive to develop an education strategy for the Navy, especially one that places so much emphasis on the skill that will be important in the future – skills that reflect the evolution of technology, the interdependence of the branches, and the sophisticated regional knowledge that is so crucial in a globalized world.  Young people today have many opportunities, so we will have to always be on the lookout for better ways to compete for the most talented students – whether  that means taking cues from the corporate world or increasing our minority recruitment.
I would just close with a few words about intelligence and its importance today.  Having served most of my career at CIA, no one appreciates the role intelligence plays more than I do.  I have, however, seen control over intel divide organizations or slow them down with internal fights.  In today’s world, we need to put any feeling like that aside. With the types of enemies we face, intel has become more important than ever – and we have also learned that while intel can be a dividing force, it can also bring us together and increase cooperation, both domestically and internationally.
We face many challenges today, and we will also face many more in the years ahead.  But if we can maintain a spirit of cooperation – within the branches, among the branches, domestically, and internationally – then I have no doubt that our nation will continue to be the leader of the free world for decades to come.
I’ll close with a few words about two institutions of importance to us – the Congress and the press. Too often we see both as adversaries. They are not. The Congress is a co-equal branch of government that under the Constitution raises and supports armies and navies. Members of both parties now in Congress have been strong supporters of the Department of Defense, especially our men and women in uniform, for a long time. As senior officers and as civil servants, you have a responsibility to communicate to those below you that the American military must be non-political and realize the obligation we owe the Congress to be honest and true in our reporting to them, even when it means admitting mistakes or problems.
The same is true with the press, in my view a critically important guarantee of our freedom. When they identify a problem – as at Walter Reed – the response of senior leaders should be to find out if the allegations are true, as they were at Walter Reed. And if so, to say so, and then act to remedy the problem. If untrue, then be able to document that fact. But they are not the enemy, and to treat them as such is self-destructive.
As the founding fathers wisely understood, the Congress and a free press, as with a non-political military, assures a free country.
So with that, I’ll be happy to take a few questions, if there’s anbyody among you courageious enough to start the process.