Coin of Adm. Michelle Howard
Coin of Adm. Michelle Howard

I swim. I strike.

By Adm. Michelle Howard
Commander, Allied Joint Force Command Naples
Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Europe
Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Africa

As the fledging continental Navy formed, Commodore Esek Hopkins ordered that a striped flag with a rattlesnake fly as the signal to engage the enemy. The jack had 13 stripes, representing the colonies. Eventually the words, “Don’t tread on me” were added. The snake and the words were a straightforward message that Americans would not have their rights trampled upon. If attacked, we would fight back.

Coin of Adm. Michelle Howard
Coin of Adm. Michelle Howard


As conceived by the Commodore as he surveyed his fleet on the Delaware River, the fighting spirit of the Navy was born. The captains and crews were ready to defend the sentiments found in the Declaration of
Independence. Citizens had the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It was clear to our American founders that our inalienable rights must be defended, on land and at sea.

Thomas Jefferson said, “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.” He understood that the freedoms dearly gained by Americans with the war, and the sacrifice of life and property, were always vulnerable. The United States would have to be watchful to ensure that our rights were preserved. John Adams, after the war, put forth the idea that the world would always have capricious tyrants and if America was going to thrive, a Navy was required to protect citizens, property and trade, across all of the world’s seas. In 1775, the Continental Congress authorized the creation, and dispatch of six frigates. Now America’s Navy would strike if needed.

Our American founders were prescient. The world is still inhabited by  capricious tyrants and today’s Navy must be vigilant to preserve the freedom and rights of her citizens. Our Navy has the fighting ethos of the original bluejackets, but we have evolved to a more lethal fleet, capable of projecting power, and sustained operations at sea.

It is in that spirit that I asked the Sailors of Naval Forces Europe and Africa, to create a modern symbol for our regional fleet. I held a contest and 19 submissions were received. An open vote by all who wanted to participate resulted in the winning entry created by Petty Officer Eric Horne II. It displays a sea dragon representing the combat strength of the United States Navy. The six blue and gold bars represent the original six frigates. And echoing the first battle cries of the Continental Sailors are the words, “Don’t tread on me. I swim. I strike.”

Along with Sailors across the centuries, we sail ready to defeat tyranny, defend our national interests, and preserve the ideals of the Constitution.

Don’t tread on me. I swim. I strike.

Happy Birthday U.S. Navy!



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