‘Admiral G’ Urges Force to Embrace Change, Stay True to Fundamentals
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
ANNAPOLIS, Md., July 27, 2007 Ask the second-highest military officer to reflect on his 37-year Navy career and he doesn’t talk about fascinating assignments or the challenges of modern warfare. Adm. Edmund P. Giambastiani talks about people. (Video)
U.S. Navy Adm. Edmund P. Giambastiani introduces family members (standing from left: wife Cindy, son Navy Lt. Peter and daughter Cathy) who accompanied him to a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, to consider the admiral's nomination to be the next joint chiefs of staff vice chairman, June 29, 2005, Washington, D.C. Giambastiani, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, retires July 27, 2007, in a ceremony at the academy, 37 years after he graduated from there. U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Jim Varhegyi
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
As he approached his retirement today, “Admiral G,” as he’s known throughout the ranks, said his relationships with his fellow servicemembers boil down to an expression he learned as a midshipman at the U.S. Naval Academy here: “Every day is a holiday; every meal is a banquet; and every formation is a family gathering,” he said.
“We’re all a family,” he said, noting that sailors, soldiers, airmen and Marines celebrate each others’ successes and grieve each others’ losses. “That is what the military is all about.”
It’s a constant Giambastiani said has remained with him through his career -- from his “incredibly bewildering first day” as a midshipman here until he returned 41 years later to retire as vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Change has been the other constant in his career. Gone are the days when changes in the military came in bursts, followed by periods of relative calm, he said. “Today, the world turns over so rapidly that you have to build in a culture of change and innovation on a day-to-day basis,” he said. “Innovation is an every-single-day part of a soldier, sailor, airman, Marine or Coast Guardsman’s life.”
Giambastiani encourages servicemembers to embrace change, but he acknowledged that not all changes he’s witnessed during his career have been so well-received. He recalled the angst that surrounded two of the most sweeping changes of his career: the advent of the all-volunteer force in the early 1970s and passage of the Goldwater-Nichols Department of Defense Reorganization Act of 1986.
While initially unpopular among many people within the ranks, both measures set the stage for revolutionary improvements in the force, he said.
Giambastiani was an enlisted program manager at the Navy Recruiting Command headquarters in the early days of the all-volunteer force, when many in the military were convinced the system would fail.
Yet today, he credits it with creating a military that’s second to none and a model that other countries around the world seek to emulate. “It is remarkable what that has done for the U.S. military and how professional our forces are today,” he said. “The quality of the people and what we do today in this all-volunteer force is quite remarkable.”
Similarly, he said, the Goldwater-Nichols Act ushered in a new level of cooperation and interoperability never before imagined within the military. As commander of U.S. Joint Forces Command from 2002 to 2005, Giambastiani advanced this concept to ensure all U.S. troops were trained, equipped and led as members of a joint team.
At the same time, as NATO's supreme allied commander for transformation, he led the transformation of NATO's military structures, forces, capabilities and doctrines to improve its military effectiveness.
Nowhere is the impact of that effort more striking than in Afghanistan, where NATO forces are helping Afghan authorities provide security and stability and helping pave the way for reconstruction and effective governance.
Giambastiani observed firsthand during his most recent visit to Iraq and Afghanistan, in June, how U.S. and NATO forces on the battlefield are applying groundwork he helped lay. He said he takes great pride seeing U.S. servicemembers in action, inspired not just by their skills, but also by their can-do attitude. “They are focused on their goals and what missions they have been given (and) they want to complete them,” he said.
Giambastiani said he came away from the visit feeling “rejuvenated” and confident in the state of the U.S. military. “You feel good because they are doing what they know how to do, and they do it so exceptionally well,” he said.
He said he’s impressed by the quality of their leaders, too. Giambastiani traces his own leadership style to the Naval Academy, where he graduated in 1970 with leadership distinction, and to his early years in the Navy’s elite submarine force.
He encapsulates his leadership philosophy into a list of four basic qualities he said all good leaders possess: confidence, competence, integrity and stamina. “I don’t think those change with time. I don’t think those change with technology,” he said. “I think they are very, very important to how you work with your people.”
And if there’s a single leadership lesson he said he’s learned during his military career, it’s the importance of looking out for those under your charge. “I have learned that you take care of your people and they’ll take care of you and they’ll take care of this country,” he said. “And they do.”