Feb. 11, 2011 —
Good morning. What a beautiful day it is to be back in Norfolk . . . smelling the salt air, taking in the unique sights and sounds of a Navy waterfront, and standing on the deck of a very special warship.
All we’re missing is a nice long swell out there on the open ocean.
Thank you, Curt, for your kind introduction.
Secretary and especially Mrs. England, the sponsor of this fine ship, thank you both so very much for being here today. I know it means a great deal to the captain and crew of your fine warship that you’ve taken the journey to be with them on this special day.
Ladies and gentlemen, I will tell you from personal experience, that you will never find two people who care more about this nation and those who serve it than Secretary and Mrs. England. (applause)
Commodore Scovill, soon-to-be Captain Jones, CDR Herrmann, distinguished guests, family members, 9/11 families and those who experienced that awful day up-close and personal, and most importantly, men and women, Sailors and Marines of USS NEW YORK.
I’d like to compliment CDR Jones, CDRs Herrmann and Pethel, Command Master Chief Henry, and the entire crew of USS NEW YORK for how beautiful this ship looks today. If the watch-standing principles had anything to do with it, I’m pleased. It was just a lot of hard work. I know the schedule has been tough, coming off Final Contract Trials--and to turn around and make this ship look as good as it does today is reflective on the crew and her leadership. So thank you very much for doing what you do every day.
I have a special affinity for this ship for several reasons, which I hope will become apparent to you in the next few minutes.
First, as the combatant commander charged with the defense of our homeland, it is truly an honor to be aboard a ship that is a living symbol of the resilience of our great nation.
We all remember where we were on September 11th, 2001.
I was off the coast of Oman, steaming towards home, watching in horror along with millions of other Americans on live TV as those consumed by hatred for our freedoms and our way of life attacked the innocent people of our nation.
Four weeks later, I was writing FDNY and NYPD in chalk on the first bombs to fall in Afghanistan--flown off the deck of the USS ENTERPRISE--the first night of what has turned into a very long struggle to ensure this kind of attack can never happen again. It’s a struggle we fight today with our Sailors and Marines deployed overseas, and it’s a fight that we fight right here at home.
And out of the ashes of that awful day arose a powerful warship with a dedicated crew, charged along with the rest of us with defending the last great hope for mankind--this wonderful nation called America--and proudly carrying the name NEW YORK.
A fighting vessel has carried this name since 1776.
First a gondola, of all things, that suffered battle damage during the Revolution in 1776, then a 36-gun sailing frigate . . . and a 74-gun ship of the line . . .
. . . and an armored cruiser in the Spanish-American War . . . and a battleship that sailed and fought in World Wars I and II . . .
. . . and most recently a Los Angeles class submarine named the USS NEW YORK CITY. And now this new ship . . . standing into the future of America’s Amphibious Navy.
On her bow flies the First Navy Jack--the Don’t Tread on Me Jack, which in 2002 was ordered flown aboard all Navy vessels in honor of those lost on 9/11 . . . an order given by then Secretary of the Navy Gordon England . . . how fitting it is that he is married to the Sponsor of this ship.
And in her bow, as you all know I’m sure, rides seven-and-a-half tons of the sacred steel of the World Trade Center--along with the steel in the hearts of millions of New Yorkers and other people in many places who have borne the brunt of terrorist attacks.
In the spirit of her motto, “Strength Forged Through Sacrifice: Never Forget,” this ship will surely have a long life--defending you and me, and our children and grandchildren.
Her Sailors and Marines will carry a bad attitude towards anyone who means us harm--along with great compassion towards those in need. As the Marines who deploy on this ship say, “No better friend . . . No worse enemy.”
Now, in my view, the best homeland defense is a good offense. And when you look at this ship, you’re looking at good offense . . .
. . . namely, a modern ship that maintains the Marine Corps’ singular role in providing amphibious , expeditionary, air-to-ground combined arms task forces, capable of forcible entry from the air, land, and sea, nearly anywhere in the world.
When this ship deploys for the first time next year--it can’t be soon enough for me--with her repair lockers named after different fire companies in New York, it is just possible that somebody involved in that attack on our nation will hear “NEW YORK is coming after you.”
There will be a lot of people cheering her on, including me.
The second reason I have a special affinity for this ship is that she’s an LPD. Both my father and I had the very special privilege of commanding an LPD.
And my father commanded an LPD under PHIBRON 8--so what a great coincidence there!
I know what an LPD can do . . . they’re great ships . . . tons of fun to operate, more routinely demanding of good seamanship than almost any other ship in our Navy, privileged to embark U.S. Marines, and incredibly versatile.
All I have to do is think back to USS CLEVELAND in the Arabian Gulf, operating in shallow water, surrounded by oil rigs and fishing dhows with their nets out, with 4 feet under the keel, with both an LCU and two RHIBs full of SEALs out chasing Iraqi oil smugglers, and with both of my helicopters and Pioneer UAVs airborne at the same time . . . to recall what these great ships can do.
. . . And that brings me to the other reason I have a special affinity for this ship.
Because I probably never would have made it through those long nights without a crew of very special Sailors, including and especially the captain of this ship, then-LCDR Curt Jones, calmly playing a vital role in making it all happen safely and professionally.
I was very fortunate to have Curt Jones in my wardroom, and am grateful for the opportunity to attest to that fact today.
At a time when it was a bit unusual for a line officer to be chief engineer on an LPD, he took a then-31-year-old steam plant, with an undermanned department that was on port and starboard watches with questionable morale, and turned it into the most reliable 600-pound steam plant in the Navy.
Not bad for someone who majored in philosophy…even if it was at MIT.
CDR Jones was also instrumental in the operational success of some of the most interesting missions an LPD has conducted in the history of that class, from the Red Sea off of Eritrea to the Arabian Gulf.
And he did it as the Chief Engineer and an absolutely vital member of my Operations watch team in CIC.
Curt was also an amazing shipmate. I can personally attest to his soccer prowess.
After playing all day in a mud-soaked amphibious ready group soccer tournament in Singapore, when we were all completely exhausted, he managed to boot in the championship winning goal from about 40 yards out.
It was an awesome shot.
But just another routine success for Curt Jones.
I have many other sea stories that I can tell, but we need to get on with business.
Despite the fact that he did have his letter in to leave the Navy at the time . . . he was such an amazing engineer, operator, and leader that I nominated him for the surface community’s prestigious Arleigh Burke Award for operational excellence . . . and to his surprise (but certainly not mine), he won.
Imagine . . . a steam engineer on some tired old LPD banished to the far corner of 32nd Street Naval Station, snatching this prestigious award from the slick and perfumed destroyermen moored at the more glamorous end of the San Diego piers. It was a great moment.
Curt’s leadership and technical and tactical skills and grace under pressure were critical to CLEVELAND’s success. We really were grateful and fortunate that he withdrew his resignation letter, because we needed him, among other things, to become Commanding Officer of USS NEW YORK.
Bringing a new ship to life is owning like a brand-new house . . . it’s exciting and painful all at once, and it’s all the more interesting when it’s a brand new class.
We couldn’t have hired a more determined and proven engineer, operator, warrior, and leader than Curt Jones.
He made everything work . . . to establish a solid culture that will endure past his tenure . . . to turn a bunch of metal into a “city that never sleeps” . . . to maintain high standards while taking the best possible care of his Sailors and their families. It’s no surprise to me. It’s a testament to a host of hard-working people from a dedicated maintenance team to a fantastic crew. And to a talented captain.
If I have a twinkle in my eye today, it’s because I am proud of Curt for what he’s done with a good ship.
They always say that, if you want something done, then give the task to a busy man. And Curt has been and will soon be a busy man again.
In the near term, he’ll move on to become Executive Assistant to a friend of mine, Vice Admiral “Mike” Vitale, Commander of Naval Installations Command, in Washington, D.C.
But Curt, the sting of giving up his baby today will be mitigated by the distractions of getting married to Emily next week.
Emily is a former commanding officer of the USS SQUALL. We are grateful for the time you spent mentoring Curt on being a commanding officer. It has paid off well here aboard NEW YORK.
Emily, I wish you and Curt all the best in your bright future together.
Curt, congratulations on a great command tour on a wonderful ship. But now it’s time to hand her over to another fine Sailor.
Our surface community has made a wise move to fleet-up the XO to command. Curt actually wrote up the instruction that set that bird free, and now it’s come home to roost. Commander Will Herrmann has served superbly as XO of NEW YORK, and has certainly earned his way to this ceremony today.
He served with distinction aboard the destroyer MITSCHER, the LSD GUNSTON HALL, the LHD ESSEX, as PHIBRON 5’s Materiel Officer, and aboard the LSD WHIDBEY ISLANDas XO. He sounds like a Gator’s Gator to me.
He’s also had some great shore duty including work in something that is near and dear to my heart—and that is Maritime Homeland Defense.
Will’s broad and deep career experience will serve him well as Captain of this wonderful new ship.
It’s great to see Will’s family here today . . . his lovely wife Julie and their six children: Elizabeth, William, Sarah, Lucas, Maggie, and Isabella.
It’s also special to see Will’s Uncle Fred Herrmann, a New York City Firefighter, here today. Thank you so much for being with us.
The men and women of your Department were very much on the minds of our Sailors on ENTERPRISE responding after 9/11. You should know that an FDNY hat was on my bridge console as we were launching the first strikes into Afghanistan, offering inspiration to our crew and me.
Will is fortunate to have such a wonderful family--and I mean not just his own family, but his extended family supporting him as he embarks on command at sea.
The Navy has been wise in selecting you for command.
This is a lot on your shoulders, but you are ready for this responsibility.
Congratulations! Be safe.
Curt and Will, I am proud to stand with you today on one of the U.S. Navy’s great new warships.
I salute you and your crew for what you’ve accomplished so far with NEW YORK . . . and for what you each will achieve in the years to come.
Thanks to all the Sailors and Marines of NEW YORK for stepping to the front line in defense of over 300 million Americans. I salute the service and sacrifices that you and your families and all your successors will make.
You have much to be proud of . . . and we can see it all around us today.
Thank you all for being with us on this very special day.
God bless NEW YORK and her crew.
And God bless the United States of America.