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Remarks from Under Secretary of the Navy Thomas B. Modly to U.S. Naval Academy Change of Command

Admiral Richardson, Vice Admiral Carter, Vice Admiral Buck (doesn’t that sound good, Sean? ’83 what do you think?) Distinguished Guests, and most of all, the faculty and staff of this national treasure, our United States Naval Academy:

Good morning, Annapolis! Good morning, Navy!
Secretary Spencer wishes he could be here today, but as many of you may know, we have been playing a bit of musical chairs in the Pentagon over the last several weeks.

In fact, lately I have to check the paper each morning just to be sure I know what I’m supposed to be doing that day and what title I am supposed to assume, but I am pretty sure I got it right today, which is a blessing to me.

But just a quick diversion: As were thinking about all these macerations that had to happen with the acting SECDEF and so on and so forth, we had to go through all of the authorities I would assume. We went to a meeting about this and SECNAV said by the way, you could not name a CVN 81. I said, sir, I looked at all of the instructions and authorities and there’s nowhere in there, that when I’m acting SECNAV, I can’t name a ship. He looked and me and I said, I’m just kidding sir, don’t worry about it. So I went back to my office and literally five minutes later, a general counsel walked in and said, you know sir, he was really serious, and you cannot name CVN 81. So I was explaining this story to my classmate, Chris Pietrus, who is here this morning. He said, well, he said you couldn’t name it, but could you just re-designate CVN 81 to CVN 83. So right after this ceremony, I’m going to head back to the Pentagon and exercise my full authority. Actually, I wouldn’t do that to ’81 particularly on this day.

At any rate, while I know he regrets not being able to to be here to attend this ceremony, I am personally grateful that his schedule conflict, which was not planned, made it possible for me to be a part of it –as this is a really great day for the Academy.

Robyn and I could not be more honored to join you today for this historic event. It is kind of like the Olympics, or the World Cup – a very special celebration that only happens every few years, or in Ted and Lynda’s special case, five outstanding, record-breaking years at the academy.

I hope today for the two of you, it’s everything that is should be: A day of pure joy, and satisfaction, in recognition of nearly 40 years of remarkable, selfless service to our Navy and our Nation.

Four decades of service seems like a very, very long time, yet it still seems like only yesterday when many of us here today were also here as midshipman at the same time. Marching, competing, studying, laughing, stressing, and of course most memorably, particularly in July, sweating, along these shores.

It was a time long before anyone thought it might be a good idea to put air conditioning in Bancroft Hall. But we know that because of that, and no offense to anyone from the younger generation who’s here, we were probably among the last classes to have a REAL plebe summer!

When we left this place, quite happily, as I recall, we were more than ready to put our Midshipman days behind us. We were anxious and prepared to get out to the Fleet.

And here we all are, three classes in a row, represented specifically on the dais today, and in the audience – the Classes of ’81. ’82. And … of course… ’83.

I think we all look pretty much the same so it is kind of bit of a flashback for us. But, today is a bit of a flashback. It is like a flashback to our “youngster” year—particularly for our class as we look up with great envy to our upperclassmen like Ted Carter and John Richardson who have more stripes on their shoulder boards than we do and all the privileges and honors that accrue to them because of it—just like they did when we were all here together back in the 80s.

As youngsters, those privileges seemed so far away for us, but they came quickly as each class before us graduated and moved on to new adventures in which those midshipman stripes which we all envied so much were meaningless.

It is one of the great enduring elements of this institution. There are always those who came and went before us. Always those to whom some degree of reverence and respect must be paid simply because of this simple fact: you were never a “firstie” to them, but at one point in our common time here together they were “firsties” to us.

And Superintendents have an even more special connection to this place. They witness our entire passage through this institution. They understand how individual classes have unique characters and personalities of their own, and how individuals themselves can change and grow into naval leaders–leaders we have depended upon throughout our history as a nation.

Quite simply, they witness, and inspire, a very unique process of human transformation.

And we have been fortunate to have had some great Supes here over our history, leaders who made this special passage from childhood to adulthood and to principled officership possible. I am pretty certain Vice Admiral Ted Carter will go down in history as one of those great superintendents.

But only history will prove it, because Ted’s tenure is not going to be measured by the improvements he made to the infrastructure here, nor by how well he managed his budget, nor by how he improved academic performance, or athletic performance, nor will it be measured by his drive to build a new cyber center, nor by the countless hours he and Lynda put in to a nearly impossible social schedule (I thinks Lynda said it was over 300 nights a year for five years, which was remarkable), but they executed that flawlessly, as flawless spokespeople for the Academy and its mission.

Rather this Supe, just as all others before and after him, will be rightly measured by the officers that were produced under his tenure and how well they perform in the challenging world in which they are about to enter.

When I think of our classes, those from the early eighties, now over a generation ago, maybe a couple generations ago, it’s difficult not to harken to classes that proceeded us by this same time period gap of forty years.

For us it was the classes that left here and went immediately to war in the 1940s — a war that saved the world from tyranny and secured the blessings of liberty we all enjoy today.
These were the classes where “the stars fell” in each class, classes that in many ways defined and secured our national destiny through their valor on the seas and shores far from here.

Each of these classes has its own crest. Walking through this hall, Alumni Hall, we can see them quietly surveying us as we walk past them. They join so many others on these walls. Not one class crest is more prominent than any another.

They are not ranked, they are not rated, they are not evaluated and enshrined differently from each other. They are part of a continuum. They are part of the legacy of this Academy, more than one hundred of them.

The crests are something the leaders in each class designed. They designed it to illustrate how unique their personality might be, or the history of their particular time here.

The tradition of creating a class crest started back in 1869, and every class has had one since. But all those crests are connected, and subservient, to just one – the largest crest you see here in this hall, the Naval Academy crest. It was designed by Park Benjamin, class of 1867, and adopted by the Department of the Navy in 1899.

The story goes that Park saw the new University Club house being built in New York City, and realized there was no good seal for the Naval Academy. Like any good former Midshipman would, he invoked the Message to Garcia, and created one himself.

Later on, our journal of naval record, the United States Naval Institute Proceedings, published an article in 1913 that tried to capture the story of how he created that crest.

But, it seems that story was not up to his standards. So Park, enterprising once again as midshipman are, wrote a letter to correct the record, and his letter is stored in the Naval Academy archives to this day.

Park’s letter is everything we could have hoped for from a Midshipman.

It’s bold.
He said “I am rather at a loss to understand why if (the author of this article) wanted to tell the story he did not come to me for the facts before doing so.”

His letter was brash.

“I made two designs, one of the conventional type, the other the present seal. At quite a large meeting of graduates both in and out of the service, and the present seal was chosen by an overwhelming majority.”
Best of all, as a proud Annapolis man, former midshipman Park took the opportunity in his letter to attack the Army.
He wrote,
“The West Point seal has always seemed to me not to be particularly happy. The Naval Officer, like Caesar’s wife, is absolutely above suspicion in the matter of “Duty, Honor, and Country” – and doesn’t need to remind himself or his countrymen of that fact by putting it on his badge.
He continued saying,
“Besides, while that sort of motto might be well enough for the Army as a whole, or the Revenue Service, or the Patent Office for that matter – I cannot see for the life of me see how it particularly applies to a naval training school.”
Luckily for us, and thanks to Park, our school crest does apply perfectly to this great school.

And thanks to each class since, all reinforce the Naval Academy’s singular motto: Ex Scientia Tridens.

Through Knowledge, Sea Power.

That crest, and its simple motto, binds all our graduates, our Superintendents, our legacies, to every future this proud institution might hope to achieve.

Through Knowledge, Sea Power.

That is the existential purpose of this amazing place.
It is to educate.
To teach our future naval officers not what to think, but how to think.

It is to translate and convert education into sea power.

In a world that will be more and more defined by unpredictable nature of events, this is why this institution matters so much to us.

Our destiny as a nation will be determined by how well Ted’s many successors, starting with Vice Admiral Buck, continue his path of excellence in this essential mission.

During the time Superintendents are here, in this Yard, they are at the pinnacle of leadership and prestige. They are role models, they are cheerleaders, they are educators, and disciplinarians, and administrators. But it is what leaves this Yard, from under their tutelage, that matters most in the end.

What do we think when we read the roll call of names who have lived in Buchanan House? Names like Commodore George Blake, Rear Admiral Willard Brownson, or Vice Admiral Aubrey Fitch, or Rear Admiral Charles Minter?

Do we immediately recall these leaders and what they did here in Annapolis?

Or, rather do we remember their former midshipmen, who studied and trained and learned to lead under their mentorship:
Rear Admiral Alfred Thayer Mahan under Superintendent Blake;
Fleet Admirals Chester Nimitz and William “Bull” Halsey under Superintendent Brownson;
Vice Admiral James Bond Stockdale under Superintendent Fitch?
Or General Charles Krulak, under Superintendent Minter?

The fact is, admittedly, we do not readily remember those who produced such great naval leaders, but perhaps we should.

For the true legacy of real, lasting, and historic leadership – is the formation of others, both men and women, who perform magnificently when called by their Nation to do so.

That will be the legacy of Ted and Lynda Carter during their record-setting tenure here in Annapolis.

It has been a race well, and faithfully, run. A legacy of endurance, excellence, class, and strength.

Also, a lot of victories against Army. I pretty sure Ted may remind of exactly how many victories against Army. I think he’s got a Fitbit App that calculates it for them because it’s always on the top of his mind. It’s probably more important than your heart rate, if you’re the superintendent of the Academy, knowing how many victories against Army.

Yet more than anything else, the only thing that matters, really – is our latest generation of Navy and Marine officers in the Fleet– five graduating classes, and their underclassmen –who today shoulder the sacred destiny of the United States of America through what we will ask of them to do in uniform.

Ted, I’ve been honored to work with you here in the last shining moments of your brilliant naval career. And I say naval career, because I know you are not done – and that other prominent leadership positions await you in your next phase of life.

You and Lynda have made this Yard sparkle with inspiration and pride, and you have made Robyn and me feel extremely welcome whenever we visit.

I can tell you, even though I have been the Under Secretary of the Navy for about 19 months now, I still get a little pit in my stomach when I walk on the Yard, or walk by the superintendent’s house, or most especially the Commandant’s house (there are a lot of people up there who know exactly what I’m talking about) but despite my lasting paranoia inside these brick walls of the Academy you have always made us feel really welcome.

In addition to welcoming us, you have gracefully opened your doors to thousands, and made Buchanan House a home for the entire country.

Sean and Joanne, we go back a long way. I know that you, of all leaders, are ready for this glorious challenge. No pressure, of course, but our class has been waiting for this day for a really long time!
It is something each of you in many ways have prepared for during your entire adult lives. We have great faith in you and know that you will pour your hearts and souls into this Academy and its mission.

I know you will continue the legacy of excellence Lynda and Ted have served so faithfully, and so well.

In closing, I would like to invoke a memory that many of us share from Plebe Summer—in the last century. It’s hard to say that, but it’s true. As I am sure you all remember, during our daily morning PEP sessions on the astroturf on Farragut Field, Coach Heinz Lentz, with his crisp Austrian accent, would encourage us to keep the pace with the following instructions:
“follow the man in the Red Corvette”.

Now at first I didn’t quite understand what that meant. At that point in history at the Naval Academy there were something on the order of 150 red corvettes parked along the seawall with first class midshipman bumper stickers. It’s a little bit of embellishment. There were a lot of corvettes here back then.

Like me, I am sure many of us wondered, which Corvette did he want us to follow and for how long? We quickly learned that the man in the red corvette was actually an extremely fit first class midshipman, donnig a red T-shirt, whose responsibility it was to set the tone and the pace of the workouts.

Vice Admiral Buck, Sean, there is no need to wonder at this time and place, 40 years later, who is the man in the red corvette. Vice Admiral Ted Carter is that man. But today, he is taking the red T-shirt off and handing it to you—but guess what? He’s not stopping to do that.

So it is your time to catch up to him, put on the shirt, and then to set your own pace. Today, the mantle of this awesome responsibility is yours. You will soon be the man in the red corvette and those who are told to follow you will set the course of our Navy and our Nation well into this century.

You are not alone, classmate, the Class of ‘83 is with you. It’s time now, however, for you to be the Supe, and more importantly, as Coach Lentz would also say to us, it’s your time now to be a “SUPER!”

Congratulations Ted and Lynda and the Class of ’81. Let’s go ’83!
Go Navy. And always and forever, Beat Army! Thank you.

Watch the video of these remarks here, beginning at 39:00.

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