The following are Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus’ remarks from his farewell tribute ceremony at Marine Corps Barracks, Washington, D.C., Jan. 6, 2017. SECNAV Mabus served as the 75th U.S. Secretary of the Navy, the longest to serve as leader of the Navy and Marine Corps since World War I.
It may have been a mistake to have my family speak before me. I come from a long line of weepers.
But thank you, Commandant Neller. Thank you, CNO Richardson. Thank you, Admiral Greenert, Lynne, Elisabeth, Annie, Kate, the Navy and Marine Corps leaders that I have worked with, whom I respect greatly and admire, the family that I love. Thank you also to these Sailors and Marines who marched out here on this cold day, and to the people who planned this and worked this. And thank you all for being here on a chilly January morning. I appreciate it more than you can ever know.
Almost eight years ago, I reentered the service, sworn in as the 75th Secretary of the Navy, 37 years after departing my last duty station, the USS Little Rock. During my time in this storied and historic post, which is almost as old as the United States itself, the days have been long, but the years have been short. I cannot imagine a better position, or one where the stakes are higher for our Sailors, our Marines, for your families, for our nation.
This assignment is a high privilege, but also a solemn responsibility to those who stand the watch, protecting the land they love, and to their loved ones, and to the civilians who support and sustain them. Every decision I’ve made, every action I’ve taken has been guided by one goal: Strengthen the Navy and the Marines.
When I took office, our fleet was shrunken, our economy was in shambles, too soon we would face sequestration and a government shutdown. All dependency and price and supply shocks threatened operations and training and were literally costing us lives. Defective laws and antiquated personnel policies limited our abilities to attract and retain America’s most talented young people. All of this was happening, even as an increasingly complex and challenging world imposed ever-increasing demands on our naval forces.
But today, I can say this: Despite all the obstacles, because of the work, the dedication, the commitment of the Sailors, Marines, civilians, our Navy and Marine Corps are far more capable, far better equipped to meet and master any event that comes over the horizon than the force that existed on that hot day in 2009 when I was sworn in. The Navy and Marine Corps are undeniably and significantly different today than they were then, and they are also undeniably and significantly stronger.
We’re America’s away team, a constant presence around the globe – presence, around the globe around the clock, is what makes the Navy and Marines unique, and what gives America an unrivaled advantage on, above, under and from the sea. Fostering stability, keeping the peace, assuring that sea lanes remain open, and reassuring allies near and far, deterring adversaries, and delivering the widest range of options in times of crisis.
Eight years ago, to do all the nation has entrusted to us we had urgent imperatives: Reverse the decline in the fleet and make it fit for the 21st century. Change the way we consumed energy in a world where the old ways were wasteful and unsustainable. And to make our forces more powerful and more resilient where danger is less and less predictable.
There are consequences to a reduced fleet. Because we lacked enough ships, we had hard choices about which combat commanders to support. Because we lacked enough ships, our deployments were coming quicker and becoming longer and much more uncertain. Because we lacked enough ships, they could not stay in the shipyards long enough, and they were wearing out and breaking down. Because we lacked enough ships, the Navy and Marine Corps could not do everything America expects of us – from high-end combat, to irregular warfare, to safeguarding freedom of navigation, providing humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, and doing all this all around the world all around the clock.
You’ve heard this before. In 2001, the Navy counted 316 ships. Seven years later, in 2008, after one of the great military buildups in our history, we were down to 278. During those seven years, only 41 ships were contracted, not enough to keep the fleet from a continued decline and not enough to keep our shipyards going. So we not only needed many more ships, we had to get them with much less money. In the last seven years, with the help of Congress, by taking some basic business decisions, the cost of every type ship has been dramatically driven down and the number of ships under contract has more than doubled from 41 to 86.
It takes a long time to rebuild a fleet. With the commitments of the last eight years, we’ve turned the trend and the size of the fleet will reach 300 ships by 2019 and 308 by 2021. The ships we are building now will determine fleet size for years to come. If you miss a year building ships, the neglect cannot be made up. If years are missed, if not enough ships are built year in and year out, the impact will be felt for decades.
For our military force, energy is both a weapon and a vulnerability. It can constitute a combat edge or a weakness, which can be exploited. The Navy has understood the central role of energy and has been a leader in innovation for more than two centuries, moving from sail to coal, coal to oil, pioneering the use of nuclear propulsion.
And every time – every time the Navy changed types of energy or the way energy was used, there were critics who defended the status quo, arguing that we were giving up something free, the wind, for something that cost money, coal. Or, that we were abandoning huge infrastructure, worldwide coaling stations, for oil. Or that there was no way nuclear power could be made small enough or safe enough to be put on a submarine. And every time, the Navy held firm and made the shift because it gave us an edge.
In 2009, we were at a new point of energy vulnerability and, again, change was essential. As I took office, the price of oil was at $140 a barrel. And early in my tenure, the Navy was presented with over $2 billion in unbudgeted fuel price increases. We were forced to choose between operations and training. And most crucially, we were losing a Marine, killed or wounded, for every 50 convoys of fuel we brought into Afghanistan. That’s unacceptable.
As you’ve heard before today, I set some ambitious goals for Navy energy, the most far-reaching and fundamental that by no later than 2020 at least half of all our energy afloat and ashore would come from non-fossil fuel sources. We achieved the shore part in 2015, five years early, and we now get 60 percent of the energy on our bases from alternatives. We’re moving to micro grids so that so, like John Greenert said, even if something happens to the grid, we can still perform our vital military functions. At sea, we’re at 35 percent alternatives, which is half nuclear. And we’re on track to meet our goal in 2020.
Tactically, our Marines and SEALs are decisively more mobile, and can operate far longer without dangerous resupply of fuel. By getting generators, they can hear when danger is coming. Our ships are staying on station longer. Our bases are more adaptable and secure. Economically, even with the present low price of oil, we’re saving money on energy. For the first time, we have competition in liquid fuels. We’re more insulated from price and supply shocks. And there’s a whole new income stream for American farmers and small businesses.
Strategically we’re no longer dependent on nations that may not have our best interests at heart and we have many more options. In Singapore, there’s an oil refinery owned by the Chinese. Just down the road, there’s a biofuel refinery owned by a Finnish company. We need options so that we do not have to rely on the Chinese for fuel for our Navy, particularly in the Western Pacific. And we and our allies are not nearly as vulnerable to energy threats from nations like Russia.
At the same time, we can’t ignore the effects of climate change. This is not just a national issue. It’s a grave national security issue. As new routes open, amid the melting arctic ice, as sea levels rise, as storms increase in intensity, the Navy and Marine Corps face new and critical tests. If we fail to act upon climate change, instability around the globe will inevitably intensify, and even our bases will risk being lost.
I speak of this not to advance some sort of green agenda, but because it is indispensable to a 21st century military. A modern energy revolution, a strategic resolve to respond to climate change can transform how we fight. And it, too, gives us a combat edge. This is the new normal for the Navy and Marines. Going back to the way we operated before would be equivalent to stopping the use of nuclear or returning to sails. Going back would mean sacrificing a significant advantage, rendering our forces more vulnerable, and recklessly risking the lives of Sailors and Marines.
Today we have the finest force in our history. The Sailors of today are rightful heirs to those that defeated the world’s preeminent Navy power at sea in 1812, to those who fought at Mobile Bay and Manilla, to those who won the battle of the Atlantic in World War I, those who prevailed at Midway, manned Yankee Station, provided combat air over Afghanistan and Iraq. The Marines of today are rightful heirs to those that fought at Tripoli, Chapultepec, Belleau Wood, Iwo Jima, Chosin, Hue, Kuwait, Fallujah and Helmand.
Ours is also an all-volunteer force, in a country where three of four Americans between 18 and 24 do not qualify for military service. It’s also a force stressed by a decade and a half of war, longer and more unpredictable deployments and, because of endless budget fights, uncertainty about its future. It’s a force at risk because of the crime of sexual assault and the tragedy of suicide. It’s a force composed of the brave and the talented, who value service to country over comfort and safety and ease and financial reward. Because you are our best, we have to do our best for you.
So we make careers more flexible and rewarding by creating opportunities for promotion based more on merit and less on time, opportunities to acquire new skills and education, take a break from the military for family, or to work in private industry. We’ve tried to make sure people are never forced to choose between service and family by tripling paid maternity leave, expanding childcare by two hours in the morning and the evening, and adopting two military spouses co-location policies. We’ve been aggressive in tackling sexual assault and are seeing improvements there, and are pursuing suicide prevention from the deck plates to senior leadership. We have changed and improved physical standards and DODS, and ended the symbolic segregation of women by standardizing uniforms for everyone.
You heard about my travel. And the reason I’ve done this so much is to see Sailors and Marines where they’re deployed, to shake their hands, to look them in the eye, to listen, to answer their questions, explain the reasons for the decisions that have been made. And I’ve done this, in the words of the Marine hymn, in every clime and place, at every Marine Forward Operating Base, in Helmand province Afghanistan during my dozen visits there, and on every type of ship and virtually every base around the world.
As a wartime Secretary, the first thing I do each morning and the thing that takes priority during the day are casualty reports. These are not statistics. These are men and women who volunteered, raised their hands, said send me. Knowing the risk, yet willing to take them. Each with family and friends and, when lost, leaves a void that is never fully closed. Every loss is personal, and not just for comrades in combat. This is a dangerous business that these special sons and daughters undertake every day, whether in battle, or operations, or training.
In this book, “Lords of the Sea,” John Hale describes the dynamic between the Athenian Navy and Athenian democracy. The Navy that defeated a Persian force more than four times as large in Salamis was powered by ordinary Athens citizens and commanded by officers of their choosing. When those citizens came home from the sea to the Athens they had saved, they demanded a full say in its future, and established a democracy which flourished for centuries. In ancient Athens there was no difference between those being defended and those doing the defending. So too, in our democracy, there cannot be too much distance between those who fight and those who they fight for.
The protecting force must be reflective of the nation being protected. A diverse force is a stronger force. Not diversity for diversity’s sake, but diversity in background and experience and perspective. A force which is too alike in its thinking becomes predictable. And a predictable force becomes a defeatable force. So we’ve ended some arbitrary and ultimately self-defeating restrictions on who can serve and in what capacity. We’ve set high job-specific standards for every Navy and Marine Corps position. We will not relax these standards for any group, for any reason.
And once you set this standard, things like race, who you love, where you come from, what’s your gender or your identity is all become irrelevant. The only thing that matters is whether the person doing the job has proven they can do the job. Our Navy and Marine Corps will continue to be the most formidable and lethal expeditionary fighting force in the world, and in history, if the only qualification to serve is to be qualified to serve.
In 2011, soon after repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” I was in Manas, Kyrgyzstan, at our base where nearly everyone going into or coming out of Afghanistan passed through. After an all-hands call with about 800 Sailors and Marines, a corpsman, Navy first class petty officer who had just finished his third combat deployment with the Marines, came up to me afterwards and said he wanted to thank me, thank me for pushing for the repeal of this law. He’s gay. And he said he’d been scared for years that he would be found out and kicked out of the service that he loved. Now, imagine, here was someone who had done three combat tours, risking his life time after time to come to the aid of Marines in need, and yet his biggest fear was that he would be removed from the Navy just for being gay. How wrong is that? How wrong is that?
And coming up, we got to work on the timing of these flyovers.
When Sailors and Marines are doing their job, they’re usually a long way from home. The American people never get to see how hard the jobs we expect them to do every day, and how good they are at doing them. At the start, I thought that one of my most important responsibilities was make sure the Navy and Marine Corps are closely connected to the American people. I’ve tried to do this in a lot of ways: Visiting all 50 states to thank our citizens for their support. Bringing Naval ROTC back at Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Columbia, after an absence of 40 years, and establishing an ROTC at Rutgers and Arizona State – the most diverse campuses in the country. And I’ve sought to do this in exercising the duty and privilege of naming ships.
That’s why I’ve named ships after nine Medal of Honor and two Navy Cross recipients – people like John Basilone, Louis Wilson, John Finn, Woody Williams, and Jack Lucas from World War II, Lenah Higbee from World War I, Thomas Hudner from Korea, Barney Barnum, who’s here today, and Ralph Johnson from Vietnam, Rafael Peralta from Iraq – individuals who fought and in many cases died for American values. But it’s equally important to honor the values themselves. That’s why, in accordance with the long-standing naval tradition of naming support ships for civilians, I’ve named ships in honor of civil rights and human rights leaders, like Medgar Evers, Cesar Chavez, John Lewis, Harvey Milk, Lucy Stone, Sojourner Truth – Americans who have also fought, and in some cases died, pursuing our most sacred values – justice, equality, freedom.
The memories that I leave with I will carry with me until the end of my days, incredibly happy memories: Meeting in the fleet the sons and daughters and grandchildren of friends of long ago. Being on the sidelines of Navy football games with players who very soon will be turning pro in defense of our country. Eating ice cream with Sailors and Marines in every corner of the world. Shaking the hands of almost 9,000 graduates of eight different Annapolis commencements.
Moving memories: At a forward operating base in Afghanistan, meeting Marines coming in from a firefight, drenched in sweat despite freezing weather. At Bethesda, visiting warriors with grievous wounds, but no bitterness, no regret. Serving and then sitting and eating meals at Camp Leatherneck and ships at sea with Marines and Sailors who would immediately report back to their duties and return to the fight, learning that the mission had been a success and that Osama bin Laden was dead.
Painful memories: Handwriting condolence letters to the families of the fallen, particularly those I wrote to children. Being at Dover for our heartbreaking, dignified transfers. And being with one grieving family, or many, as I was when we lost 22 SEALs and enablers, five Army, three Air Force comrades, and eight Afghan allies.
Poignant memories: In Pearl Harbor and Iwo Jima for the 70th anniversary of those battles, and listening to the stories of the dwindling ranks of survivors, talking with one of the last crewmen still alive who had been on board the USS Indianapolis when it sank. Helping families reconnect with their ancestors by recovering long-lost service records. Listening to Thomas Hudner talking about trying so hard, but unsuccessfully, to save his wingman, Jesse Brown, the Navy’s first African-American aviator.
And some really cool memories: Skydiving with the SEALs. Standing on both poles. Transiting the straits of Magellan and Malacca. Going through the Suez and the Panama Canals. Experiencing a very small part of Marine pre-deployment training. Being given a horse in Mongolia. Being made an honorary chief. Landing on a carrier and being catapulted off in the backseat of an F-18, and being given the call sign, “Ahhh,” for what I said when I got catapulted off, flying at more the speed of sound than a Growler on 100 percent biofuels. Being Agent Ray on the NCIS TV show. Commandant, throwing out that first pitch at all 30 stadiums. Being underway for five days on a submarine, missing the CNO’s record by less than 12 years.
I’ve been incredibly fortunate in my entire life, from the parents I had, to the family I cherish, to the friends I hold so dear, to the positions of responsibility that I have been entrusted with. But I have never been so honored, so inspired, so encouraged about America’s future as I have been in this job, standing side-by-side with women and men who are willing to sacrifice everything to defend everything America stands for.
My first and only hero was my father. He lived in a town of 1,000 people. And he and his brother had a hardware store and were tree farmers. He’s buried less than three miles from where he was born. And like the Navy and Marines, tree farming requires a long time horizon and an abiding belief in the future. The last year of his life he did not cut a single tree, but he planted thousands even though he knew he would never benefit in any way from those trees. He planted them as an act of hope and as an act of faith. His hope was for future generations, including his grandchildren, here today, whom he would never meet. His faith was in a country that had lifted him and his family and had itself provided so much hope for the rest of the world.
The work we do for the future of the Corps and the Navy is equally an act of hope, an act of faith – hope and faith in the ongoing journey of this country and the generations to come who will be in its service. The sadness that I feel at departing is matched in much greater measure by pride in the accomplishments we have made together during my second tour of duty. I am absolutely convinced that our Navy and Marine Corps are positioned for a future that is as brilliant and as noble as its past. Today’s Navy and Marine Corps are not only the best in the world, they’re the best the world has ever known.