Editor’s Note: Adm. Mike Gilday assumed duties as the 32nd chief of naval operations on August 22, 2019. He is native of Lowell, Massachusetts, and a graduate of the US Naval Academy, the Harvard Kennedy School and the National War College. The views expressed in this commentary belong to the author. View more opinion at CNN.
Across the nation this Veterans Day, we honor the service, sacrifice and commitment of those men and women who have worn the cloth of this great nation. If you believe as I do that there is a desire in every human heart to live in freedom, then this day is a special day.
For 244 years, American heroes have built a Navy that supports and defends the nation we are today – a country that has been blessed with unprecedented freedom, security and prosperity. While our ships, submarines and aircraft are made of steel, it is the sailors who give our Navy its lifeblood.
Among the heroes we should remember this Veterans Day is Cmdr. Ernest Evans, who chose to sail USS Johnston into harm’s way during the Battle of Leyte Gulf in the Philippine Sea in 1944. Despite the superior Japanese force of battleships, heavy cruisers and destroyers, Johnston’s actions ultimately crippled the Imperial Japanese Navy. Evans, who died in action, was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.
We should also remember sailors like Gunner’s Mate Third Class Paul Carr, who, during the same naval battle, manned the last operational gun mount aboard USS Samuel B. Roberts. Even after an explosion grievously wounded him, Carr continued in a desperate attempt to load and fire the last remaining rounds in the ship’s magazine, and was posthumously awarded the Silver Star.
The ferocity of the American attack at Leyte Gulf ultimately spelled the collapse of the Imperial Japanese Navy and cemented American naval supremacy in the Pacific during World War II. With the valiant efforts of Evans, Carr and countless others at Leyte Gulf, they showed that even the smallest ships in the US Navy could fight well above their weight class.
Today and every day, we honor the millions of sailors who have gone before us to ensure that, if called to fight, the US Navy is so utterly dominant that we do not have to rely on sacrifices like the ones these heroic men made during World War II.
While it is vitally important to remember our past, the Navy’s future is also on my mind.
Naval warfare is undergoing a rapid transition, which demands integration between each of our fleets. We are adopting this transition with urgency. Our Navy will deliver a combat credible maritime force ready to conduct prompt and sustained combat operations at sea. Together with the United States Marine Corps, our Navy is the bedrock of integrated American naval power.
From the Western Atlantic to the Arabian Gulf, and from the South China Sea to the Eastern Pacific, the US Navy maintains a strong presence in waters around the world. With 291 ships, about 30% of which are underway today, and more than 3,700 airplanes, the Navy, which serves as America’s away team, is more important to national security than ever.
The Navy is America’s first line of defense and, in many respects, the protector of trade and travel across the world’s super highway. Waterways enable economic prosperity of nations, allowing the free flow of more than 90% of all trade and 99% of digital information. In effect, the backbone of the US economy floats on seawater. We facilitate this prosperity – at home and abroad – by ensuring peace, stability and security. That is what your Navy does and what we will continue to do for generations to come.
Mission One for every sailor – uniformed and civilian, active and reserve – must be the operational readiness of today’s Navy. We must also be committed to training, maintenance and modernization, which will ensure a ready Navy for tomorrow.
Today, the very nature of our operating environment requires shared common values and a collective approach to maritime security. And that makes steady, enduring relationships more important than ever. Our common naval experience with our allies and partners strengthens our ties and maintains the secure and orderly conditions that continue to deliver prosperity to all.
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While there is much work to be done, the tenacity and initiative of our sailors will take us where we need to go – and do so at top speed. This is what the US military requires and our nation expects.
To America’s veterans, you have our utmost respect and gratitude for your sacrifice. We who serve in the Navy today pledge to carry on your legacy of service far into the future.