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Adm. Winnefeld's Remarks at the 142nd U.S. Naval Institute Annual Meeting

By Adm. James A. Winnefeld Jr.,
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WINNEFELD: Thank you so much Jim. As usual, you’re way to kind, and I would say that you don’t want to see that normally. My Dad saw it and turned away in disgust. Anyway, thank you so much again Jim, and distinguished members of the Naval Institute Board, members, colleagues, and plenty of old friends and colleagues and mentors, people who have brought me up over the years.

It’s a real treat to be here this afternoon, this evening, having been a card-carrying member of the Naval Institute for over 40 years, which I know is nowhere near as long as most of the people in this room, and I don't actually have my card with me.  But, I'm really delighted to be here nonetheless, and it’s truly an honor to have the opportunity to speak in front of a group like this.

Let me add my congratulations to the award winners, I apologize for missing that particular part of this event, it’s always great to hear what they have to say, but I was off in some other meeting, and I couldn’t make it.  And I also wanted to collect my wonderful sweetheart, Mary Winnefeld, whose here tonight with us.

I've always benefitted from reading the articles and books and other products the Naval Institute publishes.

Any story of my career - and let's hope someone doesn't write one - would be incomplete without the influence that this organization has had on my development as a naval officer, starting before I even became a member, when as a little kid I looked at the pictures that went along with the articles that came with Proceedings in the mailbox each month at our house.

I recall how excited I was to publish my first little article in Proceedings, as a midshipman, a professional note way back in 1975.

It was about NROTC recruiting, and it wasn't really very good at all, but a young editor named Fred Rainbow encouraged me, and nurtured me, and helped me, and somehow it happened.  It was an utterly intimidating experience and a great lesson in the hard work of how to write and, by extension, how to think.

Now, 40 years later, it's a privilege for me to stand before the people who care the most about an organization that I've admired for so long.  And all this reminds me of how life and how history tends to rhyme, never perfectly, but closely enough that the harmonics make us reflect on linkages among past, the present and the future.

Since I'm in the home stretch of a rewarding career built around and in our United States Navy, rather than give you a 45-minute speech on the future of the United States Navy, which I know you would really like to hear, I hope you’ll indulge me if I reflect for just a few moments on some of the things that have rhymed for me over the years.

I'll begin with the day the February, 1965 issue, of, I’m sorry, National Geographic magazine arrived at our little house on Bliven Lane in Norfolk, Virginia.

It featured on its cover a photo of USS Enterprise, along with USS Bainbridge and USS Truxton . . . the nuclear Navy steaming in formation.

I thought, "How cool is that?" or whatever version of that sentiment a little kid nine-years old at that time would have thought to himself. And I thought, you know, maybe this is something I would be interested in doing some day. I had no idea then, as Jim said, that I'd be privileged to assume command of Enterprise in the same town, 35 years later.

But another rhyme is embedded in that one.  Just last week, I spent my last night at sea, in uniform, aboard USS George H. W. Bush, where a shipmate from my tour aboard Enterprise came up and asked me to actually sign a copy of the little speech I gave on the PA system, we call it the 1-mc, the night we began our strikes against Al Qaeda and the Taliban a month after the attacks on 9/11, which had occurred while we were on our way home off the coast of Oman.

That night, which I’ll always remember, in the Arabian Sea I had described how, the last time our nation's soil had been attacked, a different Enterprise, CV-6, was on her way home, this time to Pearl Harbor.  And how later that ship had struck the first blows back at Japan, in the Marshall Islands, and we were essentially doing the exact same thing, almost exactly 60 years later.

Indeed, how history rhymes - and for me there's usually some intersection with the Naval Institute.  It's never very far away from the things that I’ve done in my career and other people have done in their careers.  For example, later in World War II, a young pilot named Jack Taylor flew off of Enterprise, on the wing of leading Navy ace David McCampbell, earning two DFCs in the process. He ultimately named his rental car company after the ship.

I met him in 2002, when I was looking for help putting together an Enterprise legacy room on a ship that had no person named as its legacy. He was a clear eyed guy back then and he still is today.  He's been very generous to the Navy, including donating a significant amount of money to the Naval Aviation Museum and he eventually fully funded David McCampbell's Naval Institute oral history. There’s the tie.

Here's another rhyme for me with this wonderful service. Sixty four years ago my Dad, then the Naval Academy's Color Company Commander, kissed my beautiful mom under the assembled colors at the June Week Color Parade.  Two years ago, I was privileged to be the reviewing officer, using my Dad's sword, at the same parade as he, a two-time Naval Institute Prize winner, watched.  He and his lovely spouse Judy Duckett are with us tonight.  And I’m so grateful to him for the inspiration he’s given me throughout my career.

There’s more to this rhyme as well. Then just last fall I was proud to be the reviewing officer during the first parade in which my son marched as a midshipman.  Every time I drop that kid off at Bancroft Hall, I drive right by the statue of one of my father's classmates, former POW Vice Admiral Bill Lawrence.  Wonderful gentlemen, most of you know him, who was a mentor of mine years ago. So what a great honor it was for me to speak at the commissioning ceremony in 2011 for the USS William P. Lawrence, DDG-110.  Of course, his Naval Institute oral history is an absolute treasure trove of integrity and physical and mental courage.

Here's another rewarding rhyme. When I was a young lieutenant at the Navy Fighter Weapons School, you know it as TopGun, around 1986, a certain surface warfare officer lieutenant Commander paid us a visit.  He was bright eyed, full of energy, and wanted to know everything that we knew about defending ships from air attacks.  I was really impressed.

As it turns out, that kind of restless curiosity can actually go a long way – that officer was Jim –  Stavridis, with whom I was so privileged to work at the flag level a couple of decades later, and who, of course, has been such a gifted writer and contributor to this great institute and who is now its Chairman.  And the list goes on.  But history not only rhymes for us personally, but also for our naval services and for our Joint force. 

In my first tour in an F-14 squadron, we were struggling with how to defend carrier strike groups from Russian Backfire bombers, another historical iteration in what we now call the anti-access, area denial challenge. Oh, how it rhymes.  When I arrived as an eager young pilot, the community was trying to use a tactic named vector logic - you know, some of you remember it, the old "launch the grid."

The problem was that it violated nearly every principle of warfare, and whenever it was exercised in the fleet it seemed to always collapse in a heap after a couple of hours - followed by a highly stressful debriefing.  But we continued to hammer away at it, incrementally trying to make a fatally flawed tactic work, I even wrote an article about it for Proceedings.

It brought me to an early realization that all too often incredibly bright adults will work incredibly long hours trying to perfect fundamentally flawed concepts.  I worry sometimes that, many years later, we're living a rhyme of that final decade of the Soviet Union.

The world is changing around us.  Potential adversaries, who care not for our rules-based International order, are closing the gap on us technically by watching us in action, or through their own developmental cycles, or by outright theft.

It seems so clear that the advantages in capability and capacity we once counted on to overmatch the tyranny of distance and initiative are rapidly eroding, in front of our eyes.  It's been a long time since we've had a kinetic fight at sea, and the environment, out there, has grown incredibly hazardous, much more so than the final decade of the Soviet Union.

And it's more hazardous in other domains as well, including air, space and cyber.  Not only are our potential adversaries beginning to pace us in the things at which we have become adept, they're doing so in asymmetric ways as well, whether it's little green men in Ukraine or precious habitat being destroyed in the South China Sea to put new facts in the water, hybrid warfare is here to stay.

But we've had a hard time accepting all this. We tend to keep pressing incremental improvements to our long­ standing approaches.  But soon those approaches are no longer going to work. We're going to have to need to find another way.  Rather than simply run away, we have to find ways to present potential anti-access and hybrid warfare challengers with new dilemmas.

Fortunately, there are new approaches are out there, and we need to expose them.  Those solutions in many cases will have to overcome our warfare communities' deeply embedded DNA, and programmatic momentum, and symmetrical thinking.  We're trying to get at this through the Secretary of Defense's innovation initiative, including our emphasis on finding the third wave of technological offsets that are intended to trump our adversaries' strengths, but some of the best ideas will have to come from outside the formal system.  And we need to hear them.

There are other important operational questions out there.  For example, we're rapidly falling off the back side of a steepening theater ballistic missile defense cost curve, and we should stimulate more discussion about that.   And the Navy's concept of the relationship between forward presence and surge capability, which is another topic that rhymes over the years, is ripe for a new discussion, which is why I was so happy to see it as the subject of this year's prize essay by Wolf Melbourne.

While I might not go quite so far as Wolf recommends, we might need the pendulum to swing a bit more in the direction he suggests while we make better use of the forward presence we do have through something called dynamic presence.  But that's only the operational side.

We also need to answer important strategic level questions surrounding how to fix our increasing misalignment among the ends, ways, and means that we as a nation are assigning to the military instrument of national power.  That implies a serious, high-level debate about what we hope to accomplish in a changing world in which our resources are shrinking.  That debate has to include how we would prioritize what we defend, and how we might allocate resources to ensure our most important interests are covered first, while we ensure any additional risk, if it must be taken, is taken in interests at lower importance.  Otherwise, the discussion ends in chaos.

As some of you have heard me say before, it's about aligning ends, ways, and means at the strategic and operational level, and it's about innovation.  Again, I believe the answers are out there. But it's going to take a lot of clear thinking and intellectual bravery and artful expression, much of it from our mid-career officers to bring new ideas to light. We don't have much time, and we don't always get the best answers out of our bureaucracy.

So, coming full circle, new ideas are what this great organization - the Naval Institute - is all about, and what it must reach even higher to foster.  It's a fantastic forum, as we all know, for exposing realities our system might tend to wish away, and for debating iconoclastic ideas about how to confront those realities.

Steve Jobs said “The people who think they're crazy enough to change the world are the ones who do.”  Well, we need to continue to find those people and encourage them to find some air time in the pages of Proceedings.  After all, this is how the Institute began, a discussion among 15 officers about the implications of a smaller Navy after the Civil War.

Since then, some of the best maritime thinkers in our history have been featured in the institute's publications - Luce, Wainwright, King, Mahan, Nimitz, Stavridis.  Once or twice in a generation, there's a ground breaking, disruptive article in Proceedings that owns up to a truth our institution has been skirting and that proposes a new way to get at it.

We as an institute should do even more to pull the next big idea out of our talented contributors. Perhaps we should commission a few new, one time essay contests intended to get at particular questions.  I'd be willing to help foot some of the bill if the Institute will match it.  Pete, see me later. Maybe some of you who have done well in life will do so the same. Don't worry, I'm not going to pass a hat around, but I'm really interested, really interested, in getting to what our smartest people think are the answers to the most important questions.  Perhaps at the same time we could ease back on quantity to allow the most important things to stand out.

That said, it's so gratifying, for me, to see our Institute as healthy as it is as we approach a century and a half of stirring the pot of intellectual activity in the maritime profession.  I credit a long line of talented and dedicated leaders for that, including our current crop, but we need to continue to steer clear of the equilibrium that Richard Pascale says "is the precursor to death."

Let's stay restless. Let's continue to adjust to new media technologies, and keep solid quality in what we publish - in some cases, less is more.  Let's keep pressing forward on emerging topics, such as cyber.  Is it possible that our Navy's progress in cyber, including Ted Carter's Naval Academy team's recent victory over all the other services in CYBERCOM's annual three day cyber defense exercise, is partly attributable to the emphasis on that topic that we've seen in Proceedings?

Let's also make sure we tailor our products to a new generation of members – the amazing millennials - who are growing up in a far different world than the one in which that nine-year old little kid started this journey 50 years ago in Norfolk, Virginia.

Life and history will surely rhyme for them as well, and I'm confident that their journey will be as rewarding for them as it has been for me.

Thank you again for allowing me to speak tonight.  Please, Naval Institute, keep up the good work, and reach even higher.

And may God bless the young men and women out there on watch tonight, for us, for looking after our safety and security.

Thank you.