Remarks of Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates

By Gates, Robert M. | Naval War College Review, Autumn 2010 | Go to article overview

Remarks of Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates


Gates, Robert M., Naval War College Review


Delivered to the Navy League Sea-Air-Space Expo, Gaylord Convention Center, National Harbor, Maryland, on 3 May 2010

The topic of this year's exposition is "Responding Globally: Engaged at Sea and Ashore." Considering our military's unprecedented level of global engagement- especially the sea services-I cannot think of a better subject.

The pattern of engagement is reflected in a range of activities around the world that would no doubt leave Alfred Thayer Mahan spinning in his grave: building partnership capacity through the Africa Partnership Station in theGulf of Guinea; training with friends and allies to secure vital shipping lanes in Southeast Asia; digging wells and building schools in Djibouti; leadingmultinational efforts to counter the scourge of piracy around the Horn of Africa; dispatching hospital ships to treat the poor and destitute; helping with crises like the oil spill along the Gulf Coast; and responding to natural disasters, most recently in Haiti-efforts that demonstrate our service members' incredible compassion and decency.

Then there are the wars. With roughly twenty-five ships-and more than twenty thousand sailors-in the CENTCOM [U.S. Central Command] area of operations, there is no doubt that this is a navy at war. Every time I visit Iraq or Afghanistan, I am struck by the number of sailors on the ground-one of the great unappreciated stories of the last few years. Tens of thousands of sailors have been to theater-including officers commanding provincial reconstruction teams, finance clerks, riverine crews, engineers, the SEALs and the corpsmen, and our "devil docs." These men and women are vital to the mission and helping to ease the strain on our ground forces-and doing so without fail and without complaint.

And then, of course, there is the role of the Marine Corps, whose impact has been a game-changer: first in Anbar Province, key to the turnaround in Iraq, and now in southern Afghanistan, the center of gravity in that war. InMarch, I had a chance to meet withMarines at the tip of the spear in a town called Now Zad-a place that had been, for nearly four years, a ghost town under the jackboot of the Taliban. Then came a battalion of Marines, who, after months of hard work and sacrifice, have slowly brought the town back to life-creating amodel for operations elsewhere.

For years now, the Corps has been acting as essentially a second land army. As General [James T.] Conway [Commandant,U.S.Marine Corps] has noted, there are young, battle-hardenedMarines withmultiple combat tours who have spent little time inside of a ship,much less practicing hitting a beach. Their critical work well inland will be necessary for the foreseeable future.

Many of the tasks and roles I've just mentioned would have been unthinkable as recently as a decade ago and are with our sea services to stay. But we must always be mindful of why America built and maintained a Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard in the first place. Indeed, it was an Army general, Ulysses S. Grant,who said that "money expended in a fine navy, not only adds to our security and tends to prevent war in the future, but is very material aid to our commerce with foreign nations in the meantime." In fact, this country learned early on, after years of being bullied and blackmailed on the high seas, that it must be able to protect trade routes, project power, deter potential adversaries, and, if necessary, strike themon the oceans, in their ports, or on their shores.We cannot allow these core capabilities and skill sets to atrophy through distraction or neglect.

This is even more important considering that, with America's ground forces dedicated to the campaigns in the Middle East and Central Asia, the weight of America's deterrent and strategic military strength has shifted to our air and naval forces. So in the next few minutes I'd like to offer some perspective on the challenges facing America's sea services as they strive to field and fund the capabilities our nation will need for the decades ahead-focusing on three central questions:

* What kind of qualities should the maritime services encourage in a new generation of leaders? …

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