Secretary of the Navy Kenneth Braithwaite wrote the below Op-Ed on July 29th following his visit to the amphibious assault ship Bonhomme Richard.
Today is the proudest day I’ve ever had as part of the United States Navy! After more than 30 years in uniform and now having just completed my first 60 days as Secretary, I am filled with a renewed and compelling pride in our sailors and Marines.
Last night I returned to our nation’s capital after visiting our men and women in San Diego. While there, I went aboard amphibious assault ship Bonhomme Richard to see the destruction of the devastating fire for myself. I talked to the team of sailors and civilian firefighters who diligently worked to extinguish the blaze. Never have I witnessed such honor, such courage and such commitment to mission.
For four long days, these young men and women fought an enemy who gave no quarter. They fought against 1,200 degree heat and smoke so thick that they couldn’t see their hands in front of their face, let alone their shipmates to their side. They did so at great risk to themselves knowing debris could set off an explosion at any moment. Each did so for as long as they could before being overtaken by heat and smoke. And after resting for a short period, these same sailors went back time and again, day after day, until they finally defeated the enemy. Simply put: Commitment and Courage to reflect Honor upon themselves! As I made my way up the brow aboard Bonhomme Richard, I couldn’t help but be awestruck by the magnitude of the destruction. Young sailors learn in training that a fire aboard a ship can potentially be their greatest enemy. All around me was the proof of such potential; melted metal, dust, debris and ash in what was once the hangar deck, the mast and the island of a great U.S. Navy warship.
I recalled the words of Adm. Nimitz, the Navy’s greatest wartime leader, when he described the “terrible sight” of the devastation he saw in Pearl Harbor upon assuming command of the Pacific Fleet, just three weeks after the attack. As I looked around, I thought to myself the damage could not possibly have been any worse. But as I met with the crew, I soon realized it most certainly could have been much much worse.
Even though the ship is unrecognizable from its former stature, the skill and leadership of those aboard ensured we didn’t lose the ship altogether or — more importantly — the life of a single sailor or civilian firefighter. Those who fought the fire won the battle because of the three simple but powerful words of the motto which drives our Navy and Marine Corps team forward every day...Honor, Courage, Commitment. Your Navy continues as it always has, standing ready to sail into harm’s way at any moment to protect and defend our nation’s interests around the world. Ever present...ever prepared...ever ready to sacrifice for your freedom.
Around the globe, from the Indian Ocean to the Atlantic, from the Caribbean Sea to the Norwegian Sea, from the Mediterranean to the Arctic, and all throughout the vast Pacific, our ships, submarines and aircraft — and most importantly our sailors — are demonstrating every day that the U.S. Navy remains the most capable maritime force in the world. We will complete a thorough and exhaustive investigation to determine the cause of the fire and how it could have been prevented. Just as we did following the catastrophic events aboard the aircraft carriers Constellation, Forrestal and Enterprise in the 1960s, and following every other shipboard fire, small or large – we will learn and we will get better.
But at the same time, we must not lose sight of all our Navy and Marine Corps accomplishes on a daily basis in extremely demanding and dangerous places around the world. And we certainly cannot forget the heroics of the team who fought so hard to save their ship against all odds. Afterall, it is not complex systems or platforms that make our Navy great, but rather men and women who raise their hand and take an oath to serve. No doubt, they power our Navy.
We have several great inspirational sayings in our Navy, including the motto of Bonhomme Richard. These famous words were spoken by Captain John Paul Jones as he claimed our Navy’s first major victory at sea in 1778 aboard the first American ship to bear the name Bonhomme Richard. When asked to surrender his badly damaged ship, Jones replied to his adversary, “I have not yet begun to fight!”
That spirit of proud defiance lived again aboard Bonhomme Richard a few weeks ago. Americans should be proud of their sailors and Marines who serve our nation today…For they serve with honor, with courage and with commitment.
Kenneth J Braithwaite, a retired Rear Admiral and US Ambassador serves proudly as the 77th Secretary of the Navy.
Editor’s note: This is an Op-Ed and as such, the opinions expressed are those of the author. If you would like to respond, or have an editorial of your own you would like to submit, please contact Military Times managing editor Howard Altman, firstname.lastname@example.org.