Secretary of Defense Speech

Remarks at Chief of Naval Operations Change of Responsibility


Forty years ago – forty years ago – the son of a steelworker was commissioned as an ensign in the United States Navy. Having come from the blue-collar town of Butler, Pennsylvania, he’d chosen to wear a blue collar of a different sort – that of a midshipman here at the United States Naval Academy. And when he graduated, the Academy’s yearbook predicted that, and I quote, “with his personality, good looks,” – really dubious – “receding hairline,” – low, low, low, still not gone – “and quick wit,” – and here’s the part that was definitely right – “he is bound to be a success.”

As anyone who knows Jon Greenert would tell you, they were absolutely right. Today, we return to the same storied Academy, to thank that man for his career of service, to honor the naval forces he led, and to welcome aboard his relief – passing our Navy’s conn from one great leader to another.

Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests, leaders of the Navy and the Defense Department past and present: good afternoon, thank you for joining us here today for this celebration of two of America’s great sailors – the 30th Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Jon Greenert, and the soon-to-be 31st CNO, Admiral John Richardson.

I’d like to recognize Admiral Greenert’s family here today. As Jon likes to say – and I know the feeling – he married up when he and Darleen began a life together over 30 years ago. Having served as a naval officer herself – I’m told they first met when they were stationed in Hawaii together – Darleen has always been deeply committed to our Navy, its sailors, and their families. And we’re deeply grateful to her for that.

Together, Jon and Darleen raised a family that shares their commitment to service and our defense mission…their son Jonathan, their daughter Sarah, their son Brian, and Brian’s very young son Leland – where’d Leland go? This cute kid, who is the first Greenert grandchild – congratulations. They’re all here today. Thank you for supporting Jon.

Some of you may recall, and I recall very vividly, I was present at the beginning of Jon’s tenure in this job, in this very place. And now that we’ve reached the end, I’m pleased to tell you that as CNO, he has been a tremendous leader for our Navy for the last four years…four years that have been critical for our military, for the country – marked by an ever-changing security environment and persistent budget turbulence, but also by magnificent performance by the Navy under his leadership.

With Admiral Greenert standing the watch, America’s [sailors] and Marines have been where it matters, when it matters – rebalancing to the Asia-Pacific, where much of America’s future will be written; reinforcing our longstanding NATO allies; supporting our forces ashore in the turbulent Middle East; and providing humanitarian assistance and disaster relief the world over, in a way that only America can and does do. Indeed, from Fukushima to the Gulf, from the Black Sea to the Philippines, the Navy has lived its chief’s – this chief’s – three tenets: “warfighting first, operate forward, and be ready.”

But beyond the present, beyond the present, Jon’s also made sure to focus on the future. This is important. Four years ago, he was among a small group in the Pentagon who began to recognize the advanced capability gap that could develop between the United States and our high-end potential opponents. Jon was one of the first people in the Pentagon to start working on that problem, and I worked on it with him. He understood what was happening early on, well before it became mainstream – and he’s been someone I’ve looked to in the years since. As CNO, recognizing DoD must invest in innovation to stay ahead of new threats, he emphasized payloads over platforms, and created the CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell, empowering junior leaders to find and rapidly field emerging technologies and capabilities to solve some of the Navy’s most pressing challenges. Thanks to Jon’s leadership, this has already made a lasting impact, advancing breakthrough ideas from information dominance, to cyber defense, to putting 3D printers on ships that enable sailors to swiftly manufacture many things they might need while underway – training aids, models, medical devices, you name it – without having to wait for resupply.

Of course, always on Admiral Greenert’s mind was the welfare of his sailors. You see it in how he puts them at ease, whether it’s out on deck during a ship visit or speaking at a hail-and-farewell – asking “hey, what’s your favorite sports team?” – Jon’s, of course, always the Steelers, which, I’m a Philadelphia boy, so I resent slightly, but that’s okay – before talking easily about this statistic or that statistic or that player he’s always admired on whatever team it was. You see it also in how he’s led the Navy’s personnel – enabling the service to innovate and be on the leading edge in how it manages its talent, so we can keep recruiting and retaining in the future, the kind of magnificent men and women who make today’s U.S. military the finest fighting force the world has ever known.

Jon, those men and women are going to miss you. I am going to miss you. We all are. Because, as you leave the Pentagon for safe harbor in your cottage off the shores of the Chesapeake – where I know you’ll enjoy spending time with that little grandson and also your dog, a golden retriever – you’ve also left America’s Navy well-positioned for success.

We’re very grateful for that, because in the months and years ahead, America’s Navy will continue to be called upon. With global challenges that span every domain – not only the sea, but also the air, land, space, and cyberspace – the Navy is critical to our military’s ability to project power around the world, protect the global commons, and flow ready forces wherever they’re needed. Given the advanced systems being fielded by other nations today, this will include helping ensure our forces can access denied areas.

Our Navy has long been a lynchpin of global security and prosperity, ensuring the free flow of commerce that has enabled many nations to rise and prosper. And that won’t change, as our sailors, naval aviators, and submariners continue to sail, fly, and operate wherever international law allows – from the Arctic to the South China Sea.

Our military is first and foremost a warfighting force, and while we seek to deter wars, we must also be prepared to fight and win them. This means that overall, the Navy’s strategic future will require focusing more on posture, not only on presence; and more on new capabilities, not only ship numbers. And the Navy is more than up to this task.

Under Admiral Greenert’s leadership, the Navy has already begun investing in research, developing and acquiring what we need to stay ahead of emerging threats and to sustain our military’s technological superiority. This includes submarines, long-range anti-ship missiles, the electromagnetic railgun, numerous unmanned undersea, surface, and aerial vehicles – some autonomous, some teamed with human controllers and other manned systems – and a wide variety of payloads, from weapons to electronic warfare systems. Meanwhile, the Navy has also been developing innovative operational concepts to use existing capabilities in new and creative ways – like using flocks of swarming drones for several different missions, adapting our Tomahawk missiles to be used against moving targets in a maritime environment, and using smart projectiles that can be fired from a destroyer’s five-inch gun to defeat incoming missiles at much lower cost per round.

Continuing and building on all this work will be critical going forward – and Admiral John Richardson was a clear choice to carry it out. Like Admiral Greenert, he’s exceptional, strong, quiet, and centered. He’s a bold and innovative thinker, a tremendous leader, and the go-to officer for many of the Navy’s tough issues in recent years. He’s been its best troubleshooter – from handling problems of integrity and ethics, to preparing for the Ohio-class replacement ballistic missile submarine, to leading the Navy’s advanced capability efforts…and we need to get all of that right in the years ahead. I know he’ll be the man to do it. He is, of course, in high demand – I had to wrestle him away from the Secretary of Energy – but as anyone who’s worked with John will tell you, he’s worth the fight. I told Ernie Moniz that if I could clone John Richardson, I would. And he could have one and I could have the other. But I couldn’t do that, so I was stealing him. Because he’ll do an excellent job of helping steer our Navy in the future.

John too cares very deeply about the sailors he’ll soon lead. He learned that from his father, who’s here today – a retired Navy Captain, and a submariner like his son. Captain Richardson, thank you for your decades of service, and for raising such a fine officer. John draws strength from your legacy, and from his entire family – his wife Dana, whom we thank for her service and support of John, and also their five kids, also here today as well. There’s Nathan, who’s a Navy lieutenant, and also Daniel, Rachel, Veronica, and Matthew. To each of you, thank you, thank you for the love you’ve given your dad over the years. I’m sure raising you has kept your parents on their toes – it works like that – but I know it’s also prepared your dad to help me build the force of the future, where we’ll make sure we continue attracting new generations of talented Americans to contribute to our mission.

So Jon, Darleen, “other” John, Dana, and both of your families: We thank you for your many years of service to our country. We look forward to your continued success. And we wish all of you the most favorable of winds, the safest of tides, and the calmest of seas in the years ahead.

Thank you.