By Rear Adm. John Kirby, Chief of Information
Warfighting. It’s what we do in the Navy. We destroy or block an enemy’s force at sea, keeping the sea lanes open for ourselves and for our allies. We blockade an enemy’s ports, strangling his economy. We seize and hold beachheads and bases anywhere they may be needed. And we transport, protect, put ashore and sustain ground forces and their equipment.
Basically, we either deliver ordnance on target … or we make sure the enemy can’t.
That’s pretty much the mission. That’s why maritime nations build navies: to defend themselves, to protect their people and to safeguard their interests … at sea.
Sure, navies do lots of other things. We can provide humanitarian assistance in the wake of natural disasters. We train allies and partners. We explore the vast reaches of space and of the deep. We advance science and technology. We help save lives.
As Commodore Matthew Fontaine Maury once said: “Navies are not all for war. Peace has its conquests, science its glories.”
But even Maury, the great “Pathfinder of the Seas,” would later — as an officer in the Confederate Navy — argue strenuously for strong coastal defenses and a large fleet of well-armed gunboats to harass the enemy like a “nest of hornets.”
Maury had it right. OUR job is to make the enemy’s job really, really tough. And we’ve done that pretty well over the course of 23-plus decades.
My own family history bears this out. My grandfather served aboard the battleship UTAH during World War I. The ship’s mission was to escort convoys of doughboys and war materiel across the Atlantic and in the dangerous waters off Great Britain.
On the way home, UTAH had the solemn and vital task of bringing home our dead and wounded. I remember Pop talking grimly of seeing the bodies lined up in rows on an Irish pier, ready for loading in the very same compartments that had not long before been filled with equally young but vibrant men eager for a scrap in the trenches.
My Dad served aboard the carrier VALLEY FORGE in the mid-1950s. Back then, each and every deployment he made was a cat-and-mouse game with the Soviet navy as both sides in the budding Cold War staked out their position on the high seas. Dad said he could get used to almost anything at sea, but the thought that somewhere out in the deep lurked a Russian submarine with the “HAPPY VALLEY” in its sights kept him up at night.
As an ensign back in 1988, I found myself on the bridge of a guided-missile frigate helping escort tankers in and out of the Arabian Gulf. Mines were a real worry back then, as they are now. But, frankly, we were just as worried about the tension between Iraq and Iran. Having deployed not long after USS STARK was hit by Iraqi Exocet missiles, we were all just a little on edge as we tried to keep the oil flowing through the Strait of Hormuz.
Being “on edge” is what made us sharp. It’s what made us ready. It’s what made us and every other Sailor from every other generation ready for the fight … that and our training.
“We have to train like it’s real,” said Damage Controlman 2nd Class Sandra Kimball of the recently deployed USS JOHN C. STENNIS. “If we don’t respond with the same enthusiasm, how are we going to know if we are prepared when something does happen? It’s our job.”
It’s our job. She’s right. And getting the job done is what we get paid to do, pure and simple. We are nothing of value to the American people we have pledged to defend if we cannot successfully complete assigned tasks.
It’s our job to be ready anytime the nation calls.
It’s our job to be out there at sea, forward deployed and poised to strike.
It’s our job to put warfighting first, just as the CNO commands us, because that’s why the American people maintain a Navy. That’s why they fund our ships and fuel our aircraft.
We can do everything else really well — and we do — but if we can’t put ordnance on target, if we can’t defeat or deter an enemy from the sea, we haven’t fulfilled our oath to “protect and defend.” We haven’t done our job.
This month, as we celebrate the Navy’s heritage, let us recommit ourselves to the all-important job of putting warfighting FIRST. Let us rekindle the legacy of Jones and Halsey, Farragut and Nimitz, of DC2 Kimball and of LT Michael Murphy. Let us remember all those who have before us — some of them our own flesh and blood — made the business of warfare their only and most important business.
The stakes are too high if we don’t. The world is still too dangerous a place.
In a letter written to his son-in-law in May of 1862, as the Civil War raged on, Matthew Fontaine Maury summed it up perfectly in this sage advice: “Your duties for the moment are and ought to be the all absorbing subjects with you. Not only your prosperity, but your life and liberty are at stake. And you will be lucky and ought to be happy to escape with the last two.”
I don’t think any one of us thinks of escaping with anything today. We are Sailors in the most powerful Navy human history has ever witnessed. We aim to preserve our country’s freedom. We aim to win. But we would do well to remember the price for ever failing to measure up to that task.
We would do well ALWAYS to put warfighting first.