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Chief of Naval Operations Change-of-Command Ceremony
Remarks as Delivered by Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen, Tecumsah Court, U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland, Friday, July 21, 2000

Secretary [of the Navy, Richard] Danzig; foreign ambassadors; Senator [John] McCain, Senator [John] Warner, members of Congress; [Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff] General [Henry] Shelton; [Outgoing Chief of Naval Operations] Admiral [Jay] Johnson and [Mrs.] Garland [Johnson], [Incoming Chief of Naval Operations] Admiral [Vernon] Clark and [Mrs.] Connie [Clark]; members of the United States Navy and the armed forces; distinguished guests and Janet [Cohen]. I am rushing through the acknowledgements because I noticed that John Warner has taken off his jacket. [Laughter.] And that is a signal to me to be as brief as I possibly can. [Laughter.]

Two weeks ago, several of us here had the great, good fortune to be aboard the aircraft carrier the USS John F. Kennedy for the Fourth of July. And I must tell you that it was truly an inspiring moment. There, in the New York harbor, anchored near the Statue of Liberty: a stunning International Naval Review, hundreds of military ships from dozens of nations; an inspiring flyover with dozens of aircraft filling the skies; and, a grand display of tall ships hearkening back to America’s birth as a maritime nation. All told, the largest peacetime gathering of sailing vessels in history. What a great and proud day for our Navy and for our nation.

That day, we paid tribute to those sailors who take to the seas every day to defend the ideas and the ideals for which America stands, as John McCain so eloquently pointed out. But, in many ways, today is just as important. Because today we pay tribute to the leader who has guided our ships and our sailors with such great care and compassion, a leader who over the past four years has had a most impressive tenure and indeed, over his lifetime—again, as Senator McCain and Secretary Danzig have just noted—he has reaffirmed and renewed the timeless values and traditions of America’s Navy.

So let me simply say how fitting it is that we gather here on these storied grounds from where Jay Johnson graduated back in 1968 as a proud member of the so-called "Foaming Fourth" Company of the First Battalion [laughter and applause] and from where he literally catapulted into the ranks of naval aviators and went onward to a distinguished career of more than 30 years of serving the Navy and our nation.

And I imagine for his fellow midshipmen, this would come as no surprise. Because the authors of his graduation yearbook noted in a touch of prophesy that "Jaybird" had an "extraordinary sense of duty" and "exemplary leadership qualities." And they wrote that this young man was so focused on naval aviation that he had come to believe that the Great Almighty had created steam for one purpose and one purpose only — to launch a jet from a carrier. [Laughter.] And launch, of course, he did. Admiral Johnson is the last of a breed, having made his first two deployments flying the F-8 Crusader off the [USS] Oriskany, along with John McCain, over Vietnam from the Tonkin Gulf.

But perhaps the most telling passage, I think, written about the man that we honor today was by one of his classmates. It said, "After knowing Jay for four years, I can say of him if it can truly be said of anyone, ‘I would be proud to serve with him.’ "

Ladies and gentlemen, I must tell you that as someone who has worked with and served with Admiral Jay Johnson for more than four years, I could not be more proud of his service, of his sacrifice, of his sense of devotion to America’s sailors in white and indeed to all our men and women in uniform.

The years, as Secretary Danzig has pointed out, of Admiral Johnson’s tenure have been years of formidable challenge and change for our military: external challenges, from tensions in the Asia Pacific region to Operation Southern Watch in the Persian Gulf to Operation Allied Force in Kosovo; and the we had the internal challenges, from readiness to retention to formulating a strategy to capitalize on the stunning revolutions in both military and business affairs.

Indeed, being CNO -- Admiral Clark, as I am sure you’re going to soon discover -- it requires an extraordinary balancing act. You have to reach and respond to constituencies at all levels, from midshipmen to captains to admirals to the Joint Chiefs who are with us today, to Congress to the President. You have to calibrate your responses and your resources horizontally, among the geographic regions and the CINCs, as well as vertically among aviation, surface, and subsurface. You have to ensure that joint operations work well not only across the services, but across the coalitions of nations. And you have to constantly balance the demands of present readiness against the demands of modernization for the future.

In every case, whether he was out at sea, in a port, at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill, or at the White House, Admiral Jay Johnson has provided leadership characterized by consistency, candor, optimism, and especially by insight. And he has managed all of those competing claims on the Navy’s time and resources with a very rare combination of energy and finesse. But more than anything else, he did it with a genuine concern for the well-being of the men and women under his watch.

I think all who know him know that in his eyes the men and women who dedicate their lives to our Navy have always come first. And not too long ago, he was testifying on Capitol Hill and a member of congress – it may have been Congressman [Steve] Buyer -- asked him, "If you were given one more dollar to spend, what would you spend it on?" And Admiral Johnson said, "Sir, one dollar, all things being equal, I’d put in the pocket of my sailors." That is a very simple but very powerful statement about who Admiral Johnson is, and who he has stood with in the past, and why he is able to stand here today at the pinnacle of a great career.

And today, of course, we have just paid tribute to another great person in our Navy, and that is Garland. Garland, I can’t add to the accolades that Secretary Danzig has imposed today, other than to say that you've just been a great, great spouse and a leader on behalf of our Navy and all you’ve done for the naval families, thank you very much. And I want to add my own great applause you deserve. [Applause.]

And let me also say, as Senator McCain pointed out, that I have every confidence that the type of values, the integrity, the vision that we have seen these past four years from Admiral Johnson is going to be carried on by Admiral Clark. He not only has the intellect, the technical skills to provide the innovation that the Navy will need. He has the savvy and leadership instincts necessary to make the right choices at the right times. So Admiral Clark and Connie, congratulations as you take the helm of this remarkable force.

In closing, I’d like to note that Admiral Johnson, as so many of you know, came to the helm of the Navy following a period of great challenge and turmoil. But as he so often said, the United States Navy will never make progress if it focuses on the wake behind it, it must focus on the stars ahead, on its horizon.

Each and every day, Admiral Jay Johnson did precisely that. And today, it is abundantly clear that our Navy has been the beneficiary of that vision. Admiral Johnson, on behalf of a grateful Navy, on behalf of a very grateful country, thank you for your life of service and thank you for your legacy, which will shine forever bright. Thank you. [Applause.]