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Special Briefing - Navy Honorary Member Program

Presenter: Secretary of Navy Richard Danzig
March 23, 2000 1:30 PM EDT

Thursday, March 23, 2000 - 1:32 EST

(Special Briefing: The Honorary Member Program. Also Participating: Marlin Fitzwater and Michael McCurry.)

CMDR. CULLIN: (Laughs.)

I want to welcome you this afternoon. Thank you very much for turning out for an event that's extremely important to the Department of the Navy, for the Navy and Marine Corps together.

We are about to launch a program, and will launch it today, with this presence here that we have got up here, of the USS Arleigh Burke and the USS Mitscher, and the secretary of the Navy and two individuals that are probably recognizable to you, figures from American history.

(Delayed laughter.)

The program is called -- (laughter) -- as you can see from the graphics up here -- Honorary Member. This is a program with great substance to it, which the secretary will talk about in a few minutes. It's a program -- it's an outreach program to bridge over to American society, some of the points that we think are very important to communicate back and forth. And the secretary will talk about that.

I am going to introduce those individuals on the dais, up with me, right now. Obviously, I'll just introduce Mr. McCurry and Mr. Fitzwater, and no introduction is necessary there, I don't think; Commander Pandolfe from the USS Mitscher and the command master chief, Master Chief Nabong (sic) [Downs]. We also have Commander Eschbach over here from the Arleigh Burke -- and excuse me -- the Master Chief Nabong over here. We have Master Chief Downs over here. These are representatives of the commands.

And without further ado, I am going to introduce the Secretary of the Navy, Richard Danzig.

SECRETARY DANZIG: Well, thank you.

This is a thoroughly enjoyable moment for us. The Navy and Marine Corps really are about relationships; the camaraderie, the sense of intimacy that is formed between sailors and Marines as a result of the experience of going to sea and doing the things that, I think, the Navy and Marine Corps do so well. Relationships are really what this program is about, as well.

There are set of relationships that concern us very much, besides those internal to the Navy and Marine Corps, and they are between us, as members of the military, and the civilian society as a whole. And as a relatively declining percentage of Americans have the experience of military service, one question that concerns us is, "How do we convey a sense of that experience to the larger American public?"

To do that, we have constructed a program we call Honorary Members Program. And it connects the arrival of a captain on board a ship or, in the case of the Marines, the commander of a unit, perhaps a colonel for a Marine Expeditionary Unit, to the outer world by at the same time appointing a distinguished civilian chosen by that CO, and by me as the secretary of the Navy, as somebody we want very much to understand what we do and carry our message back to America more broadly, and at the same time, as someone who we think can contribute to the quality of experience that sailors and Marines have. These are people from really all walks of life -- corporate America; the world of celebrities in sports and entertainment; the world, in this instance, of government and the press.

And most broadly the notion is that we can establish a richer two-way flow by letting the COs and these honorary members connect together in a relationship and figure out between them how they can talk to each other what they can show one another, and how we can, on the one hand, improve the Navy and Marine Corps by introducing perspectives from civilian society, and on the other hand, how we can convey to the larger world what a wonderful set of organizations we are.

We were particularly delighted to start with sister ships here, the Mitscher and the Arleigh Burke, because the relationship between Mitscher and Arleigh Burke, both as people and now as ships, is a very rich and wonderful one. Arleigh Burke was, as a captain, the chief of staff to Mark Mitscher at the beginning of World War II. Arleigh Burke, a surface warfare officer, Mitscher an aviator, formed the warmest of relationships, which continued for decades afterwards. These two ships are moored together at Norfolk. They deploy frequently together, and they have an intimate relationship with one another.

And now we have this wonderful, long-standing relationship between Marlin Fitzwater and Mike McCurry, connected as well now by being honorary members of these two adjacent ships. So this is, from my standpoint, a terrific way to begin this program. We thought you might particularly appreciate it if we began with someone who is one of your own as an honorary member. And, who knows, as the years go by, perhaps you-all will aspire to one of these positions and we can lure you in.

And, having said that, I think we ought to -- you don't aspire, huh? (Laughter.) Having said that, I think we ought to begin by swearing these members in to their new position. I don't think there's actually all that much oath-taking, at least yet, but we can introduce each to their ships and to you, and then go on from there and invite some comments from both Mr. Fitzwater and Mr. McCurry, and any questions or comments you-all may have.

Brian?

CMDR. CULLIN: Before we actually begin the adoption ceremony, I just wanted to highlight for you something that's already in your bluetops: the candidates that we've also brought into the fold, as the secretary identified.

Most should be recognizable to you, but not all are household names, but I think that that also displays the depth of the program in itself. Mia Hamm, most people know who Mia Hamm is. I think every American, certainly every young American, knows that soccer player probably more than any other soccer player in the world right now, and certainly of American side.

Chad Hennings, Dallas Cowboy lineman, also an Air Force Academy graduate, Desert Storm pilot, and we welcome the Air Force into this program just as enthusiastically as anyone else.

Mike McCurry. Peter Schwartz, the futurist on the West Coast, an avid writer and someone who is kind of leading the charge on future thinking, and certainly in the security areas. Marlin Fitzwater. Dennis Bovin, who is an investor, senior investor in New York, very influential up in the Northeast and in financial circles.

Larry Luchino, who is the president of the Padres, has been a big supporter of the Navy and Marine Corps out on the West Coast but is looking forward to being adopted by the Navy or Marine Corps. And Ed McMahon, who many probably know what he did in 30 years in network television, but probably are not familiar that he was a Korean War Marine aviator, and he's looking forward to joining up with the Marines.

So without further ado, we'll go right into the adoption ceremony. We'll start with the Arleigh Burke, with the commander and the master chief doing honors for Mr. Fitzwater.

MASTER CHIEF DOWNS: Well, sir, on behalf of the crew of the Arleigh Burke, I'm proud to welcome you as a crew member to Admiral Burke's destroyer, and thank you for your participation, sir.

MR. FITZWATER: Thank you very much.

MASTER CHIEF DOWNS: You're welcome.

CMDR. ESCHBACH (?): Welcome aboard the USS Arleigh Burke, sir.

(Applause.)

MR. FITZWATER: I just want to say that I'm really honored to receive this opportunity. Being here today is a little strange, because I never thought I'd have to be in front of John McWethy and James Allen Miklaszewski again. (Laughter.) It's been nearly 10 years. The rest of you probably thought I was Jesse "The Body" Ventura up here. (Laughter.)

MR.: I'm sure they (mistook you ?).

MR. FITZWATER: (Laughs.) In any case, I'm delighted. I've had so many wonderful experiences with the Navy. I was telling earlier that in all the White House years with President Reagan and President Bush, the number of times we turned to the Navy and the Marines was truly remarkable, and they always responded in such dedicated and marvelous fashion. And the last time I had a real association with a commander was on the Belknap in Malta Harbor, where President Bush and I were stranded for two days in a storm. (Laughter.) So I do know something about the insides of a ship, and a little bit about the outsides of the ship, as we looked over the -- oh, never mind. (Laughter.) But in any case, I'm delighted, and this is a terrific opportunity and I look forward to helping in any way I can.

MASTER CHIEF DOWNS : Thank you, sir.

MR. FITZWATER: Thank you.

MASTER CHIEF DOWNS : You're welcome.

(Applause.)

CMDR. CULLIN: USS. Mitscher.

MASTER CHIEF NABONG: Sir, on behalf of the sailors of U.S.S. Mitscher, welcome to our ship, welcome to our crew. We look forward to sailing with you. (Applause.)

MR. MCCURRY: Now, unlike Marlin, I'm brave, and I'll actually put mine on. (Laughter.) And then quickly take it off. (Laughter.)

Look, I also will echo what Marlin said. I'm both pleased to have this opportunity and gratified that anyone can still remember what Mike McCurry once did for a living. Usually I get in a cab -- I got in a cab the other day, and the cab driver looked up in the mirror and said, "Hey, you're Mike McCurry! Whatever happened to you?" (Laughter.) So now I can say that I'm a proud honorary member of the United States Navy. And for my Marine Corps veteran father and my retired naval officer father-in-law, they will finally think that I DID amount to something after all. (Laughter.)

Secretary Danzig, I just want to thank you for the leadership you've shown and I think the extraordinary effort you've been making to kind of connect the American people to our service-people, particularly our sailors and Marines. It is really commendable. That's obviously what this program is about. But it is a way, for those of us who have had experience of sharing in some of the expertise and professionalism that our service-people provide, to give something back. I think most of this crew knows that Commander Cullin worked for me at the White House when he served on the National Security Council press staff. And my association with him and, indeed, with all the people who helped me get my job done every day was just a reminder of how much all Americans depend on our men and women in uniform and what a fine job that they do.

So for me, this is an opportunity to give a little bit back to the people who were very supportive of me during six years at the White House and the State Department. And I'm actually looking to have some fun, too. And the commander and I have already talked about the ship schedule and where we can go out. And if you will teach me how to navigate straight and true, I'll teach you how to spin. (Laughter, applause.)

CMDR. CULLIN: Thank you very much.

We're going to open this up to Q&A. The secretary of the Navy is going to take the lead, but if you want to ask questions of anybody up on the dais, feel free. We're going to be out of here on time, before Ken Bacon comes in. So, go ahead. So -- go ahead.

MR MCCURRY: Unless -- is it a rough day for Ken? (Laughter.) Would he want us to stay out here longer? (Laughter.)

CMDR. CULLIN: Actually, I can call -- I'd like to call on -- well, does anybody have a question? Sir?

Q: Are you returning back to the White House? Are you planning to return back to the White House?

MR MCCURRY: Well, I had an opportunity just recently to be back to the White House when we dedicated the Briefing Room there to one of our predecessors Jim Brady. And that was a great occasion. I had a nice visit with the president.

But I can honestly say that, the minute that I walked in that Press Briefing Room, I started getting the shivers all again. (Laughter.) And I was happy to get out of there as quick as possible. And I am happy that Helen Thomas is not in the front row here. (Laughs.) (Laughter.)

Q: As usual, you failed to answer the question. (Laughter.)

MR. MCCURRY: Mick, you know that trick, don't you? (Laughter.)

CMDR. CULLIN: Other questions or comments?

Q: Well, yeah.

Marlin, does George Bush -- President Bush hold a personal grudge against Manuel Noriega? (Laughter.)

And, Mike, is Mrs. Clinton wasting taxpayers' dollars by using Air Force planes for her campaign? (Laughter.)

CMDR. CULLIN: Thank you for coming today. (Laughter.)

MR. FITZWATER: We have nothing for you on that one.

MR. MCCURRY: That's right. (Laughter.)

SECRETARY DANZIG: I would just remind you, in your military capacities, the long tradition of nonpartisanship that we advise -- (laughter) -- always.

MR. MCCURRY (?): Yes.

SECRETARY DANZIG: Thanks, guys.

I also need to remind you, Mike, that, though fun is definitely a part of this program, we have eliminated water skiing as a potential -- (inaudible). (Laughter.)

Q: Hey, Mike, what's your wife -- every night -- just before you go to sleep, you turn to him and say, "Call me if the wind shifts"? (Laughter.)

MR. MCCURRY: Well, she is excited. I have to confess to you; my family, my daughter, who -- when she heard I was going to be on the same list as Mia Hamm, she thought that was the biggest thing that I have done so far in my checkered career. (Laughter.) But I think our family, as I said -- my wife's family is obviously a Navy family, and I know that they are going to be quite proud that I have this opportunity, given by you.

SECRETARY DANZIG: Your comment, by the way, about the taxicab experience reminded me that Navy has supported -- I think it's 39 Nobel Prize-winners in recent times.

And I had occasion to be entertaining one of them at my house. And a high school student, who is a neighbor, came by to borrow something. And he said to the Nobel Prize-winner, "Why, Doctor" -- so-and-so -- "you are famous. You are in my high school textbook." And the Nobel Prize-winner puffed up, feeling very proud. And the kid went on and said, "I thought you were dead." (Laughter.) (Laughs.) The same situation.

CMDR. CULLIN: Other comments, questions? Yeah?

Q: As an actual question, are we going to have one of your surveys for everybody, or is this a one-time -- (inaudible)? And when are the rest of them joining?

SECRETARY DANZIG: It really depends how much you like it. If you give this big play, we'll do it every time for everyone. (Laughter.)

But I think we will not, in the normal course, do this kind of ceremony. The idea is to phase this program in, over the course of this year. And really, I see it as a -- sorry -- this is one of the straight lines in this presentation. (Laughter.)

Q: No, it's just odd -- like "phase it in" -- phase what in? What do you plan to phase in?

SECRETARY DANZIG: Oh, I'm sorry. I mean the selection of people and matching them up with COs. The idea is --

Q: Well what are they going to do?

Q: What are they going to do?

SECRETARY DANZIG: Okay. The first thought is to try and get the Honorary Members out on the ship or with the unit as it trains, as in the case of the Marines, and give them some opportunity for seeing what happens.

A second thing is, then, to see whether communication between the CO and the Honorary Member generates some ideas about connections that can be made with the larger American society.

As, for example, I could imagine these two gentlemen saying, "You know, this would make an interesting kind of story. Here's an opportunity for some visibility that you might not have thought of." That kind of thing. There was mention, for example, of Denis Bovin, who is a vice chairman of Bear Stearns, who is therefore a major investment banker. We have been thinking about a number of financial issues relating to the well-being of sailors. They may have ideas about this.

But one of the reasons why I wouldn't lay this out in great detail now is because I think there's a third possibility, and that is people of this level of ingenuity, as our ship captains and our colonels commanding Marine units, and our Honorary Members are going to, by nature of their own warmth and humanity, I think, invent possibilities and relationships that we're not going to conceive. Since this is essentially no cost to us, the notion of creating such a pairing looks like it's worth doing and then seeing what happens in its own fermentation. And that's basically where we're coming from.

Q: (Off mike) -- a recruiting angle?

SECRETARY DANZIG: From my standpoint, terrific, if it turns out that they, between them, generate that kind of possibility. For example, one of the things I'll be interested in -- I think some members will be very active and some members will be a lot less so. And one thing that will be interesting is, is there a retention effect in the reenlistment rate? Does a sailor feel appreciated simply because an eminent citizen spends some time on his ship and shows an interest? Does Mia Hamm's presence provide a role model for women that's validating in those ways? And does it say something to the larger society when Mia Hamm -- who, by the way, has a brother (sic)[husband] in the Marine Corps -- winds up spending time on a ship and showing that kind of interest and commitment? What's the relationship between the home port and the ship? It's a very positive one in many instances. But we have the potential, through the presence of eminent Americans in these towns visiting, and so on, for other kinds of spin-off things.

So I think there's a world of possibilities here. But I wouldn't -- maybe this is very un-military -- I wouldn't begin to circumscribe it by defining it with great particularity. My view is that these gentlemen right up here, standing side by side, and many others beyond that, would invent it. But maybe you all would like to comment on that, because you are the inventors.

MR. MCCURRY: Mr. Secretary, I was going to add to that one thing. I think -- Marlin and I have found, we have had the opportunity to appear on occasion together in different kinds of settings, and there is a real fascination with how our government works and what goes behind the scenes, particularly when it involves the presidency, the White House, and I have especially found that true among members of the uniformed military services.

They -- you know, they sometimes, I think, feel like they should not be asking about certain types of things and when you get an opportunity informally to create a setting where they can, it's a very rewarding experience. I know it is for those who are presenting and, hopefully, it will be for the sailors and Marines that we encounter, too. I know we've already talked about maybe we'd go down and do our version of "Crossfire," or whatever it is that Marlin and I do, but the crew, I think, might find that interesting, particularly this being an election year.

So that's the kind of thing I think that we can offer -- certainly some expertise in communications and how you tell good stories, because obviously, you know, on both of these ships they're probably some interesting stories to tell. But that's, I think, the way in which everyone -- I like your idea that everyone will contribute from their own expertise to what we can make of this program, and I think it's just a good idea.

MR. FITZWATER: Yeah, I would only add that I'd look forward to doing the same kind of things with, also, the dimension of talking publicly about the Navy and the Marines and about recruitment and about why it's respected and a great career. I was just talking to the commander about his ship coming to Annapolis, which is near my home, and I think it's good for people like me to be able to go on the ship and tell the sailors kind of how we've seen the Navy's role in the White House and in various episodes, and also to tell the American people.

And I wouldn't mind doing some interviews around that talks about the Navy's responsiveness as I worked with the Navy and the Marines during the Persian Gulf War, or the re-flagging of the Kuwaiti tankers or various exercises in the Persian Gulf against the oil rigs, or working with the Joint Chiefs and the wonderful representatives there. So hopefully, I can also say some things as a civilian maybe that the Navy guys can't say about how the military relates to our diplomatic efforts around the world and the president's civilian policies, and why this is a good career for young people.

Thank you.

SEC. DANZIG (?): I wonder if maybe one of the master chiefs would like to comment on the effect on the enlisted people, or if either of you commanders would like to comment --

MASTER CHIEF DOWNS: I think it's a great deal to have this level of civilian leadership on board the ships to actually see what these young sailors are being trained to do these days, and how well they're doing. These gentlemen standing right up here, these sailors and Marines, they're kicking tail for you out there, and probably the most professional people you'll ever meet. So, thanks.

SECRETARY DANZIG: Other questions, comments?

Q: I had a question for the master chief while he's up there. How much are you looking forward to being able to show off your ship and show off the Navy with your now more-famous shipmates? Any of the master chiefs or COs who want to take that one.

MASTER CHIEF NABONG: Well, I know I'm really looking forward to it. I'm very proud of my ship and even more proud of our crew. They're professionals. They do a tremendous job. I think that they are going to be very much enriched by meeting their new shipmate, and I think Mr. McCurry will enjoy meeting them very much as well.

MASTER CHIEF DOWNS: I'd just like to echo one thing that the secretary said, and that was, when you're out at sea and you're standing -- you're up 24 hours straight, you feel unappreciated. And when you have somebody like Mr. Fitzwater, who takes out of his personal time to interact with the crew, that means a lot to them. So I see it as such a give and take on both sides, and everybody wins. We have the opportunity to hear first-hand a part of life that we otherwise would never, never imagine. And you can talk to us about what's going on behind the scenes.

And everybody on the ship -- and I'll tell you this for the Arleigh Burke, is Admiral Burke left some money to the crew of the Arleigh Burke. And every crew member, for as long as he's on active duty, can get his college education. And so we have folks on board the ship that are on the Internet getting their college education. They're taking courses at night. And I guarantee you that there's plenty of folks on the ship that probably know more about your background than I did prior to coming up here, sir. (Laughter.) And that's not to say that I didn't know anything about it; it's to give them credit for their interest in government and politics. We're looking forward to having you on board.

SECRETARY DANZIG: I could just add that as secretary of the Navy, I could divide the world, amongst other ways, into two groups -- people who are really --

Q: (Off mike.)

SECRETARY DANZIG: I could divide the world into two groups -- people who are really enthusiastic about the Navy, and people who aren't. And I've never encountered anybody who has been to sea who doesn't fit into the first category. Everybody who goes on our ships has that feeling for the sailors and Marines who make up these services. So the question, in part, for me is how do we increase that experience? And for me to tell people things about the Navy is immediately to be discounted because, after all, I'm a part of it, I work for it. But for people like these two gentlemen and others we've named to have this experience and relate it to the American people is, I think, to open up opportunities for a big positive.

Yeah, Dell (sp)?

Q: Mr. Secretary, historically the Navy, and the other services, for that matter, have from time to time had tensions between their civilian leadership and the uniformed leadership. Do you have some hope that the presence of these folks on ships from time to time will provide you with some feedback from the grass roots, as it were, or from the deck plates, that you might not get through the normal channels?

SEC. DANZIG (?): Gee, it's ingenious, Dell (sp), but I really hadn't thought about it that way. (Laughter, cross talk.) And my guess is --

Q: No -- (inaudible) --

SEC. DANZIG (?): -- right, I appreciate it. Right. (Laughter.) I think I rely more on your feedback in those in those contexts.

Q: (Inaudible.) (Laughter.)

SEC. DANZIG (?): Right.

CMDR. CULLIN (?): We are going to use Mike McCurry as kind of a back door to send secret orders and bypass the chain of command. (Laughter, cross talk.)

SECRETARY DANZIG: It is a deeply unnerving thought, I must agree. (Laughter.) But I think this only demonstrates that, even when a secretary of the Navy is being unusually, it seemed to me, innovative with a program, your imagination outstrips us by far -- (laughter) -- on that. So --

Other questions? Yeah, the last one?

Q: (Inaudible) -- get anthrax shots?

SECRETARY DANZIG: Will they get anthrax -- no, because they won't deploy, et cetera. And they can have them, I think, if they want them, as part of the honorary participation in the program. (Laughter.) But what we are really looking for is their spirits, rather than their arms, in this context. (Laughter, some groans.)

I thank you all very much.

Q: Thank you.

SECRETARY DANZIG: Thank you.

Q: Thank you.

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