by COMSUBPAC Public Affairs
Few activities at the U.S. Naval Academy are awaited with more anticipation than the annual Service Assignment process. Service Assignment is the program by which members of the senior class of midshipmen apply for and receive assignments to serve specific officer communities in the Navy and Marine Corps; thereby establishing initial relationships with their respective professional careers. The Service Assignment program includes a series of community familiarization briefings that supplement four years of professional education and training, experienced both at the Naval Academy and with active Navy and Marine Corps units during Summer Training. For the Class of 2013, the formal process concluded on November 28, 2012 with the official announcement of service assignments for 1,050 seniors—132 of whom were selected to serve in the Submarine Force. On the evening of January 22, the Submarine Select Community Dinner was held in the Bo Coppedge Room of the Naval Academy’s Alumni Hall to welcome the future Submariners to the community. In addition to the selectees, attendees included 25 active and retired flag officers as honored guests. The evening’s featured speaker was Vice Adm. Michael Connor, Commander, Submarine Forces, who offered the remarks reprinted below.
Submariners—and of course the reason we’re all here tonight, Submariners from the class of 2013!
I want to tell you how proud I am of each of you. You appear to be the most talented group of Submarine Selectees ever. What I’m being told about you is remarkable. I want to thank the submarine officers who serve here, especially Commandant Bob Clark, for attracting such talent to the Force.
Our Nation invests a tremendous amount of resources in this institution for the important mission of educating you. It should be obvious why we do this.
As noted British soldier and scholar Sir William Butler once said, “The nation that insists on drawing a broad line of demarcation between the fighter and the thinker is liable to find its fighting done by fools and its thinking done by cowards.”
The Naval Academy has provided you with an exceptional intellectual foundation. Following graduation, you will receive the training that completes what you’ve learned here on your path to becoming capable mariners, engineers, and fighters. Then, you all will be the fighters and thinkers that the Submarine Force, and the Nation, truly need.
When you consider the world events today, and those that will come in the future, you can see just how important it is that our best and brightest choose military service as a profession—and Submarining in particular.
We are well into an era characterized by more instability and challenges, and increasing worldwide demands—a widely dispersed terrorist threat in some areas and rising powers in other areas who seek to intimidate their neighbors—many of whom are our allies. Now, more than ever, we need determined, courageous, and thoughtful men and women who put the Nation’s interest above self-interest.
The contribution you will make to the defense of your country as a Submariner is immense. It ranges from finding, fixing, and finishing terrorists in Africa to providing the bedrock of the Nation’s strategic nuclear defense—the primary means of preventing large scale war between major powers. The Submarine Force is usually on station and ready when the crisis breaks. That provides our national leadership the widest possible decision space—from a completely invisible response, to a peaceful deterrent presence, to a decisive combat force.
As of now, you are a member of this elite Force. With continued hard work and determination, you will become a contributor to its future success.
So now that you are in the family, so to speak, we probably ought to have a talk about your ancestors. It all started in 1900 when we acquired the technology and learned how to operate undersea—by trial and the occasional fatal error. Early Submariners learned that the ocean is always trying to kill you. It tries harder as you go deeper, and the ocean never rests. These facts remain true to this day, and that is why we need you to be technically competent.
But our modern ethos grew out of World War II. That ethos is that we are the ones that surge forward, with no outside support and take the fight to the enemy in places and in ways that others cannot. We learned that mission success, not to mention your life, hinged on understanding your equipment—sometimes better than the people who designed it.
We learned that those who studied and adapted the best to the changing face of war prevailed. Those who could not, or would not adapt, were moved aside.
We often think of World War II submarine success in terms of the tactical success of fearless skippers like Dick O’Kane and Gene Fluckey—who took the fight to Japanese home waters when no other forces could get there. They were incredible heroes. But we should also consider the strategic success produced by another Submariner, Chester Nimitz. As he led the Pacific Fleet, he operated in an environment characterized by little guidance from above and scant intelligence. He studied the facts that he had, knew when it was time to take a calculated risk, gave good guidance to his subordinates, and trusted them to do the right thing. While many questioned his judgment and predicted failure, he had an inner confidence. Probably because the environment I just described is the environment every submarine skipper lives in.
His leadership of course led to the success in the battles of the Coral Sea and Midway. These battles turned the tide of war and enabled all that followed—and even gave some of our fellow warfare communities some moments to be proud of.
But it didn’t stop with WWII.
During the Cold War, ballistic-missile submarines, and the survivability that they bring to the strategic nuclear triad, fundamentally changed the calculus of nuclear deterrence, and stabilized superpower relationships.
Think for a moment about the people who put the strategic triad together. They were people like Gen. Curtis LeMay and Adm. Arleigh Burke. People like Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, and Kennedy. What did these people have in common? Well, they all fought in at least one, and in some cases, two World Wars.
They knew what massive casualties, military and civilian, looked like, smelled like, and felt like. They were great warriors—who hated war. And they set about the task of making major power war a choice that no one would ever make again. They have been successful—for 67 years and counting. While the SSBN force ensured that we had confidence in our triad, our SSN force ensured that Russia could never have similar confidence in theirs.
In the 1980s, we added the land attack cruise missile to our quiver. There were howls of protest from some senior submariners who thought we lost our way. Others—like Adm. Trost, who is with us this evening—saw the future. Submarines with missiles contributed heavily in Operations Desert Storm, Allied Force, Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom, Odyssey Dawn, and many more that you won’t hear about publically.
As Submariners, you are destined to be part of this elite group. The good news is you are well prepared. You have learned how to think, and that will serve you well as you continue the submarine path.
I have tremendous respect for the accomplishments of all of you. You are looking at a guy who kept the Naval Academy handbook on his desk as he did his homework at night all through high school. The greatest disappointment of my high school experience was that I failed to gain acceptance here …and had to find another way to succeed. So all of you are ahead of where I was at your age.
Then I see examples such as Midshipmen Galvin and McVay who are not only maintaining 4.0 CQPRs in tough fields, but are also leaders in several sports teams and professional associations.
Or Midshipman Hanlon, who is currently first for the Class of 2013 in both Overall Order of Merit and Academic Order of Merit.
And so many more of you like Midshipmen Wetzel and Penichet who are so very close to a 4.0 CQPR while also doing so much outside of academics with football, crew, sailing, professional associations, and everything else!
As I look around this hall, I see the next generation of men and women who will continue the legacy of excellence, steadfast courage, and innovation that are the hallmarks of the Nation’s Undersea Warriors.
Let me talk for a minute about another incredibly talented group of people—the enlisted Submariners who will work with you. They will put their lives in your hands and you will put your lives in their hands. They are not very different from you.
The biggest difference—I think—is that they were often not lucky enough to have had the parents, teachers, coaches, and other mentors that helped you prepare and gain acceptance to such an amazing institution as the Naval Academy.
But they too, are smart and talented. For many of them, the journey that they made to get from where they started in life to where they are today is every bit as remarkable as the journey you made to get where you are today. Make sure you respect that, and respect them, because another part of our submarine ethos is that we need, we know, and we look out for every person on the ship.
I look forward to seeing each and every one of you in the fleet. It is truly an honor to be among you on this special evening.
Photo at top: Vice Adm. Connor offers words of inspiration to the class of 2013 at the U.S. Naval Academy’s Submarine Select Community Dinner in Annapolis, Md.
Vice Adm. Connor speaks with Midshipmen Hussey (left) and Kotlikoff (right)