My 36 years as a naval officer have taught me that warfighting comes first. It's a lesson I've learned first-hand in the many conflicts I've seen throughout my career, and thus readiness is my number one priority. I expect U.S. 7th Fleet forces to be able to fight tonight, and I am convinced that our Sailors are up to that if called upon.
The work the Sailors of the 7th Fleet Staff and USS Blue Ridge have been doing these past three months during our "Spring Patrol" has helped ensure we won't have to fight tonight – but that if we do, we’ll do so in an environment with as many allies and partners as possible.
The Blue Ridge and 7th Fleet staff visited 10 ports in 8 different countries to build partnerships throughout the region. To visit so many ports on deployment may sound like a sailor's dream come true, after all, many of us joined the Navy to see the world. I won’t deny there were adventures, but I also know that the crew and staff poured hard work into planning and conducting the multitude of engagements, professional exchanges, staff talks, ship tours, and community relations events.
The effort was worth it. The United States has been operating here for over 150 years, and the Seventh Fleet for 70, but as new challenges arise, the engagement mission has never been more important. Our team strengthened relationships between the United States and our friends in the Indo-Asia Pacific, and fostered new friendships as well. Each port we've visited has been important to our ongoing mission of laying foundational blocks that help maintain stability and security throughout the region. Out here relationships really count, and we can't build them in the heat of the moment - it takes time.
To highlight a few of our visits, our work on this patrol created inroads that will enhance our bilateral cooperation with Sri Lanka, strengthen our partnership with India, and add depth to our alliance with the Philippines. We also helped grow our relationship with the People's Liberation Army Navy in China. These efforts go a long way in demonstrating to the world the benefits of professional seamanship and cooperation between navies. I believe that such work helps preserve peace and build prosperity for the countries in this region and beyond.
The Blue Ridge - the 7th Fleet flagship for 36 years now – has been vital in enabling us to do this. She has served us well during this most recent voyage throughout the Indo-Asia Pacific, covering more than 13,000 nautical miles during her more than 80-day patrol. Blue Ridge will now begin an Extended Dry-docking Selected Restricted Availability period, during which she will receive not only maintenance but equipment upgrades as well, so that she can help us carry out the 7th Fleet mission for many years to come.
While Blue Ridge is in maintenance, the work of strengthening partnerships and building friendships will continue. I'm proud to say that this work is central to our mission. Make no mistake about it, 7th Fleet brings credible combat readiness to the region to defend our country and support our allies in the face of a variety of threats. But real success is achieved when we can enable security, stability, peace and prosperity without a fight, and the transparency, goodwill, and professionalism we demonstrate do contribute to that success.
Being the Commander of the 7th Fleet is a dream job. I'm very happy to be here working with the men and women of the Fleet in this vibrant area of the world. I firmly believe our presence here over the last seven decades has helped bring stability to the region, generating economic prosperity not only in the Indo-Asia Pacific, but to areas beyond as well. Our efforts here are just as important today as they were 70 years ago.