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Navy League Sea-Air-Space Exposition
As Delivered by Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon R. England, Washington, DC, Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Thank you, Mike (McGrath)….

It’s wonderful to be here today… after my stints as SecNav it always feels like a homecoming to be among the distinguished men and women of the Sea Services.  Thank you all for your selfless contributions to the nation.

Now… as you all know, the Navy League was founded with the cooperation and encouragement of President Theodore Roosevelt….  What you may not know, however, is that in my days as SecNav… I had photos of Teddy and Franklin Roosevelt in my office.  They were both… in their time… Assistant Secretaries of the Navy… at that time, roughly equivalent to SECNAV … and, yet, they both survived those tours and rose to positions of even greater prominence…. For me, it was an encouragement of a future life … I doubt, however, if any future SECNAV will have my photo on the wall as an inspiration to become a future Deputy!  Few aspire to be Deputy.

Let me begin by sharing a bit of history with you about our nation’s oldest warship, the USS Constitution.   My good friend General Jim Jones used to tell this account.  I can’t vouch for its historical accuracy, but believe it’s a pretty good story all the same: 

On 23 August 1779, the USS Constitution set sail from Boston loaded with: 475 officers and men… 48,600 gallons of water… 74,000 pounds of cannon shot… 11,500 pounds of black powder… and 79,400 gallons of rum.

Her mission: to destroy and harass English shipping.

On 6 October, she made Jamaica, took on 826 pounds of flour… and 68,300 gallons of rum.

Three weeks later, the Constitution reached the Azores, where she provisioned with 550 pounds of beef and… 6,300 gallons of Portuguese wine.

On 18 November, she set sail for England where her crew captured and scuttled 12 English merchant vessels and… took aboard their rum.

By this time, the Constitution had run out of shot. Nevertheless, she made her way unarmed up the Firth of Clyde for a night raid.   Here, her landing party captured a whiskey distillery, transferred 40,000 gallons aboard and headed for home.

On 20 February 1780, the Constitution arrived in Boston with… no cannon shot… no food… no powder… no rum… and no whiskey.  She did, however, still carry her crew of 475 officers and men and… 48,600 gallons of water.

The math is enlightening: Length of cruise: 181 days… Booze consumption: 2.26 gallons per man per day (this does NOT include the unknown quantity of rum captured from the 12 English merchant vessels in November) … water consumption … zero.

I’ve been on Old Ironsides and can imagine its close quarters made a healthy grog ration an absolute necessity.

Historians estimate the re-enlistment rate from this cruise to be 100%.  It also marks the last time the Navy was awarded the EPA Gold Certificate for water conservation.

Mike McGrath has asked that I provide my views on the broad defense challenges confronting the nation and then spend a minute or two talking about the role of the Sea Services. 

Now as we all know, the Marine Corps is positively paranoid about the continued existence of the institution.  Paranoia is a required course in Marine boot camp and The Basic School.  But as one Marine explained, “just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you!”

Just maybe there’s some valid reason for that paranoia – for both the Navy and the Marine Corps.

Back in December, 1949, with the atomic bomb in mind, Louis Johnson, then Secretary of Defense, wrote to one senior admiral, “Admiral, the Navy is on its way out … There’s no reason for having a Navy or Marine Corps.  General Bradley tells me amphibious landings are a thing of the past. 

We’ll never have any more amphibious landings.  That does away with the Marine Corps.  And the Air Force can do anything the Navy can nowadays, so that does away with the Navy.”  I might mention that history records that SECDEF Johnson was not fondly regarded by the military, especially the Navy Department!

About a year later, the Navy and Marines would be making a strategically important amphibious assault at Inchon.

I liken the uncertain times then to the time we face today – in that uncertain world, the nation was just beginning to adjust to and counter communism… as today the nation is just beginning to adjust to and counter worldwide terrorism.

Just the other weekend, I was in New Orleans for the christening of LPD-21, the New York.  It was a poignant time with New York policemen, firemen and families of survivors.  It was a day of remembrance and reflection and it caused me to reflect on the events of 9-11. 

I’ve often wondered… why the terrorists killed 3,000 people that day.  I’ve concluded that the reason they killed 3,000 was that they didn’t know how to kill 30,000 or 300,000 or 3 million.  But they would have if they could have… and they are still trying.

Believing that, then you also know that there’s no going back… We can’t put the lid back on Pandora’s Box… and must remain as committed to our cause as our adversaries are to theirs.

This is not a war of our choosing.  This is not a war we can ignore.  This is not a war that will end if we walk away from the battlefield.

This fight, brought to our shores that day, is a struggle that will require strong, steady and sustained leadership … at all levels … with the enduring need for a strong military … and an even stronger Sea Service team.

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are the first campaigns of a long war … and it’s vitally important that the nation understands that reality as well.  We are in for a long, tough fight and must never forget it.  As the men and women of the Sea Services know … far better than most … we’ve seen such times before.

Indeed, when I think of those who serve… and I do so often… people like you … people like Gunnery Sergeant Wilson… I know that because of the sacrifice of thousands, Americans triumphed in World War II… and I was permitted to live the life I’ve known.  But, as we know… it was a tough, hard slog that tested the nation’s mettle and resolve.

Yet we prevailed… and when that war ended … people felt entitled to a well-deserved period of peace… but communism didn’t cooperate.    Instead, Korea was the beginning of a long Cold War that did not end until the Wall came down in Berlin in 1989 … almost 40 years later.

That victory was the result of a sustained commitment that stretched over four decades and transcended political party lines.  In those days, the nation’s security wasn’t about Democrats, Republicans, liberals or conservatives. 

It was about a nation committed to freedom and liberty … a nation that understood the challenge… and a nation that was willing to drive to a shared goal of victory… a lesson that clearly needs to be understood and reapplied today.

When the Wall finally came down and the Cold War ended in 1989 … we again expected a peace dividend.  But our path has never been easy … and that, perhaps, is the real lesson of history.

Iraq and Afghanistan are today the front lines in the war on terror … but they will one day surrender that distinction to some, as yet unknown, challenge.  They are also not the sum total of the war on terror.  As we look ahead, the probability of a large conventional war is small while the probability of wars like Afghanistan looms large. 

One certainty of the future is its unpredictability … another certainty is that we can expect sustained conflict in the years to come … yet a third certainty is that this will be evermore an era of naval forces.  In the kind of fight we will likely be engaged in for the foreseeable future, ships like LPD-21 (New York), and the Littoral Combat Ships (LCS), and their ability to project power forward in a lethal and integrated way will be vitally important to our national interest.
Being able to deploy quickly anywhere in the world … at any time … is exactly the kind of force the nation needs today and will need in the future. 

Naval forces have another unique and critical attribute.  Naval forces are ideally suited to build partnership capacity and to strengthen the bonds of friendship between nations… soft power.”  Forces from the sea have always been welcome at ports of call.   Stresses of life at sea result in strong bonds of friendship among naval forces around the world… the foundation for friendship between nations.  It can truly be said that our naval forces transcend even our diplomatic efforts, as every nation relies on naval forces to protect against pirates, and terrorists, and to keep the international lines of communication and trade open … and secure.

Military force alone, however, will likely not win this war or future wars on terror.  America will not lose on the battlefield – not with the best forces in the whole world.

But America and our friends and allies can’t win only on the battlefield, either.

Ultimately, what will win wars on terror … like the Cold War … are the choices people make, whether the terrorists’ path of violence, or the far better path of peace, democracy, and development.

President Eisenhower said, “The history of free men is never written by chance, but by choice – their choice.”

All free nations have to provide an alternative to the terrorists’ false promises, in the form of real paths toward social and economic development, the rule of law, and freedom of choice.

The most important message America can send to the world is our commitment to freedom and liberty for our citizens and for all people.

In his second Inaugural, President Reagan said, “Freedom is one of the deepest and noblest aspirations of the human spirit.  People worldwide hunger for the right of self-determination.”  It was that same hunger by our founding fathers over 230 years ago that provided the foundation for the way of life we so enjoy today.

The power of freedom… the power that brought down the Wall in Berlin in 1989… the power that brought millions to the voting booths in Iraq and Afghanistan… is still the most powerful tool in our national arsenal. 

The Sea Services are best suited to deliver this message to the four corners of the world.

As we deliver this message of freedom, we need as a nation to remember people in embattled communities around the world listen to the words used on our national stage – and they watch our national actions – and choose whether and how to act – and this could be more important than anything else in tipping the scales.

As I said earlier… we face many challenges.  And, although the greatest short-term threat to the United States may be a terrorist attack... I believe the greatest long-term threat is failing to acknowledge the complexity of the security environment and the challenges confronting the nation… and failing to adapt to these ever-changing conditions … and failing to harness the requisite political will to succeed.

I mentioned Teddy Roosevelt at the beginning of my remarks… One hundred and one years ago, he dispatched the Great White Fleet to demonstrate for the entire world our Navy’s capacity to “operate globally.” 

On this very date in 1908, the fleet was at port in Magdalena Bay, Mexico with over 13,000 miles behind it and over 30,000 to go. 

Today, in the Fleet’s enduring tradition, our Sea Services continue to serve across the entire globe… shaping the international environment… building productive relationships… responding to crisis... and defending the nation’s interests.  They have many miles behind them… and many more to go.

Precisely what the next hundred years holds in store for America is unknown… but, what is certain… is the enduring requirement for robust and fully capable maritime forces.  The nation’s security will forever rely on a strong Sea Service team.

While challenges to our nation’s security will endure… I am constantly inspired by our men and women in uniform.  All Americans can take comfort in their dedication and courage.  As they have proven time and time again… like the generations who have came before them… when given the support required… they are up to any challenge.

I thank each of you for your selfless service to the nation… and for everything you do, every day, to make the world a better place for our children and grandchildren.  God bless all of you, God bless all those who stand the watch today, and may God continue to bless America.