Speaking yesterday at the Navy League’s annual Sea-Air-Space Convention at the Gaylord Convention Center in Maryland, Department of Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said sailors and Marines must have morals, physical courage and integrity, and they must think “creatively and boldly.”
“They must have the vision and insight to see that the world and technology are constantly changing and that the Navy and Marine Corps must therefore change with the times – ever flexible and ever adaptable,” he said. “They must be willing to speak hard truths, including to superiors.”
The secretary said the way the United States handles the increasingly complex security challenges of the future will depend less on the quality of its hardware than on the quality of the leaders. As examples, he used Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Victor Krulak, who contributed greatly to U.S. understanding of counterinsurgency in Vietnam. He also mentioned Navy Fleet Adm. Chester Nimitz, who as a young officer helped create the circular formation for carrier escorts used in World War II and later on.
Gates also spoke of Navy Adm. Hyman Rickover, whose genius and persistence overcame the conventional wisdom that nuclear reactors were too bulky and dangerous to put on submarines, and of Navy Lt. Cmdr. Roy Boehm, who after World War II designed and led a special new commando unit that became the Navy SEALs.
Gates said the reason he wanted to talk to midshipmen about these leaders is not that they were always right, but what was compelling about all of them was that each “had the vision and insight to see that the world and technology were changing, they understood the implications of these shifts and then they pressed ahead in the face of often-fierce institutional resistance.”
These qualities are especially important today, given the advancement of technology and the agile and adaptive nature of U.S. adversaries, Gates said. The enemy could cover a whole range of modern militaries using asymmetric tactics to terrorist groups with advanced weapons.
“Our officers will lead an American military that must have the maximum flexibility to deal with the widest-possible range of scenarios and adversaries,” he said.