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Scene on board USS Yorktown (CV-5), shortly after she was hit by three Japanese bombs on 4 June 1942.
Scene on board USS Yorktown (CV-5), shortly after she was hit by three Japanese bombs on 4 June 1942.

Thoughts about Risk, Battle of Midway, Memorial Day

By Rear Adm. John Fuller
Commander, Navy Region Hawaii and Naval Surface Group Middle Pacific

When is it OK to take risks?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately – about the difference between taking calculated risks and being risk averse or, worse, taking reckless chances without thinking.

The U.S. Navy took a calculated risk when Adm. Nimitz and Adm. Spruance put the gears in motion for the Battle of Midway exactly 74 years ago.

USS Yorktown (CV 5) burning, photographed during the Battle of Midway, June 1942.
USS Yorktown (CV 5) burning, photographed during the Battle of Midway, June 1942.

 

Nimitz had faith in his intelligence team at Station Hypo. He relied on the superior work ethic and expertise of Shipyard workers who made USS Yorktown battle-ready within days. He believed in the fighting spirit and courage of his airmen, submariners and surface warriors.

And he had clear guidance, objectives and empowerment. Chief of Naval Operations Adm. E. J. King authorized Nimitz to fight to win.

Weeks before battle plans went into effect, Adm. King wired a remarkable message to Nimitz: “You are requested to read the article ‘There Is Only One Mistake: To Do Nothing’ by Charles F. Kettering in the March 29th issue of Saturday Evening Post and to see that it is brought to the attention of all your principal subordinates and other key officers.” That article urged the Navy and nation to take a no-holds-barred approach to mobilize and engage without delay.

For those of us in the military, doing nothing in the face of approaching danger is not an option. Failure to adapt, innovate, connect and communicate is a recipe for defeat – because complacency kills.

USS Yorktown (CV 5) is hit on the port side, amidships, by a Japanese Type 91 aerial torpedo during the mid-afternoon attack by planes from the carrier Hiryu, June 4, 1942. Photographed from USS Pensacola (CA 24). Yorktown is heeling to port and is seen at a different aspect than in other views taken by Pensacola, indicating that this is the second of the two torpedo hits she received.
USS Yorktown (CV 5) is hit on the port side, amidships, by a Japanese Type 91 aerial torpedo during the mid-afternoon attack by planes from the carrier Hiryu, June 4, 1942. Photographed from USS Pensacola (CA 24). Yorktown is heeling to port and is seen at a different aspect than in other views taken by Pensacola, indicating that this is the second of the two torpedo hits she received.

The brave men of the Battle of Midway risked their lives in calculated strategies and tactics that turned the tide of the entire war. Those warfighters were committed, not complacent. We must emulate their example and ethos.

So, how does the Battle of Midway apply to peacetime, Memorial Day Weekend and the summer months ahead?

In our careers, we have all been and will continue to be challenged with opportunities to intervene and do the right thing. We need people to be risk conscious, not risk averse. Remember: We did not volunteer to serve to just admire the problem.

No nice way to say it, if we know about a shipmate, wingman or battle buddy in trouble, we fail if we choose to do nothing. If we see a safety or security issue, we need to step up and speak out. Waiting to act is not an option. If we witness inappropriate behavior, we need to step in and say something. Don’t be afraid, do right.

Just like at Midway, we must play to win, not participate and hope not to lose. So, as we head into the summer and the peak of safety concerns both on the job and on leave – from now through Labor Day weekend – I hope everyone will think … Think about the high standards to which we are held. Think about the consequences of our actions. And don’t make choices without thinking.

At Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam and Pacific Missile Range Facility Barking Sands, I am proud to see our warfighters, civilian teammates and families sticking together, looking out for each other and learning and adapting as part of one big ohana (family).

In his “A Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority,” CNO Adm. John Richardson puts forth our mission, core attributes and lines of effort. The desired outcome: “A naval force that produces leaders and teams who learn and adapt to achieve maximum possible performance, and who achieve and maintain high standards to be ready for decisive operations and combat.”

The mission is clear. We are absolutely empowered to make good and smart choices; to take calculated risks for the right reasons; and to think about the consequences of our actions – or inaction.

Please stay safe in the busy summer months ahead. We need you!

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