Well, good evening, and thank you for that kind, but long, introduction. And congratulations – and I can’t say this enough – to the class of 2018. So, graduates, families and friends – I am honored to be with you tonight for your graduation from one of the finest apprenticeship programs in the world.
I thank you for allowing me to be part of the conclusion of this chapter of your lives and the beginning of the next. And what an exciting night! I know you would agree with me. I can sense the electricity in the room, especially coming from your loved ones, who are extremely proud of what you have accomplished and what you will accomplish in support of your nation’s security.
And let me take a moment to address the families and friends directly…your love and support was essential to our graduates throughout this demanding program. And in many ways, you serve every bit as much as they do, and I thank you for your continued encouragement as their careers flourish. Now, how about a round of applause for the families and friends of the class of 2018!
I would also like to thank Mayor John Rowe from the City of Portsmouth and other distinguished guests for being here to celebrate such an important milestone. Thank you for not only being here to honor these graduates, but also for your tremendous partnership ensuring this critical mission success for these craftsmen, for the Navy, and for the nation.
Tonight, we celebrate a success that is four years in the making – an achievement where you earned your journeyman status through dedication and hard work – involving substantial technical education, valuable, real-world waterfront experience, and comprehensive examination. Thus, it was important to me, personally, to be with you tonight so that I could relate the special significance of this achievement to each and every one of you. You are part of something truly special. No one else can do what our naval shipyards do – anywhere in the world.
No one else is able to sustain a combat fleet of warships which operate, nuclear-powered, at such a high tempo over the course of 30, 40 or even 50 years. No one else is critical to our ability to deliver deterrence, sea control, and power projection. It’s impossible to witness the work of Norfolk Naval Shipyard and not feel really good about our country. It’s not only because of the mind-boggling scope and pace of repairs to the world’s most sophisticated and lethal instruments of military power, it’s also because of the people that work there.
The sense of pride is palpable. You know that what you do matters. And I think the pride is also because you know you are part of a family. Through four years, you’ve built a strong relationship with each other, with those in your trade, and with the wider shipyard family. Now, you are also part of something special because you represent the fantastic opportunity this apprentice program provides to those willing to step up to the challenge.
You know you are making a better life for yourself through a rewarding career at America’s shipyard. A great example of this is the 2009 apprentice class valedictorian. She did not graduate from high school and was a single mom working hard waiting tables at a restaurant prior to joining the apprentice program and excelling. As I said, she was the class valedictorian. And after joining the team, she received an instant pay raise, paid annual leave, sick leave to take care of herself and her loved ones, a world-class retirement plan, healthcare and life insurance. But more importantly, she had found a true vocation, not just a job, but a mission.
And so for each of you, that vocation, that mission, provides a vast array of opportunities as you continue to progress as an artisan and craftsman. You can advance into positions as work leaders or inspectors, foremen, training instructors, planners, zone managers, production or resource managers, and even up to general foremen or superintendents.
Now, your vocation – your mission – creates a positive and lasting fighting difference in our ships and submarines…and most importantly, for our Sailors of the fleet who sail in them around the world, 24/7, 356. So, yours is a noble pursuit. It matters to your community because your work keeps our local economy humming and the fleet fighting. And it matters to our nation because that fleet can be present where it matters, when it matters, to defend U.S. interests around the world.
How many other apprentices or journey can claim the strategic security impact that you can? None, I’m telling you now – none. No other institution contributes so directly or so significantly to the nation’s defense. For as long as the Navy has been America’s team – America’s global team – Norfolk Naval Shipyard has been the heart of our fleet; the readiness engine that revitalizes our ships, making [us] ready to fight and win.
So, let’s take the recent example of the carrier Harry S. Truman. Following an 8-month deployment in support of Operation Inherent Resolve fighting ISIS in 2016, the highly trained artisans and craftsmen of Norfolk Naval Shipyard executed a 10-month availability on Truman, delivering her back to the fleet two days early.
Truman then completed a 6-month workup and deployed in April of this year – and she spent three months overseas, again striking ISIS in Syria before returning to Norfolk for a month-long mid-deployment visit. And now, she is yet again making headlines around the world because she is conducting flight operations north of the Arctic Circle – the first time since the Cold War – as part of the NATO exercise Trident Juncture off the coast of Norway.
Truman is just one example of how what you do, allows the United States to dynamically employ your Navy around the world to defend our interests. So, your work is absolutely critical to our national security at a time when the world around us is changing rapidly. The world security environment is increasingly complex and volatile. We are now facing overt challenges to the long-standing rules-based international order establishment by America and her allies following World War II.
An inter-state strategic competition, no terrorism, is not the primary concern in the United States national security. It is a fitting way, then, that Norfolk Navy [Shipyard]’s most recent success story just transitioned from fighting violent extremists to deterring through nation-state adversaries through a demonstration of inherent naval maneuverability and combat lethality within the same deployment.
The conditions we operate our Navy in are characterized by rapid technological change; challenges from adversaries in every operating domain, and the impact on current readiness, [to] the longest continuous stretch of armed conflict in our nation’s history.
Over the last 17 years, we have operated our ships and submarines at an incredible tempo, which places additional responsibility on you – our hardhat heroes – on you to fight back against the inescapable effects of these prolonged operations. Now, in this environment, there can be no complacency – we must fight every day to continue to field a lethal, ready force to preserve peace through strength, because put simply, your Navy has no preordained right to victory, but your dedication will get us there.
In this era of long-term of Great Power Competition, we may find ourselves in confrontation or outright combat with little or no notice. And this places a premium on maintaining our preparedness for war continuously – on always being resolute, ready and lethal on arrival. Because of this, I urge you to treat every day on the shipyard waterfront as if it were the last day of peace.
I urge you to ask yourself:
Is every ship and submarine combat-ready the day we return it to the fleet and we send it forward to our numbered fleet and combatant commanders?
Do we maintain our non-deployed forces as ready as possible for unforeseen contingencies?
Are you prepared – as if it were Dec. 8, 1941 – to contribute meaningfully to, or even lead, a flyaway team conducting expeditionary battle damage repair to one of our carriers or submarines?
That is what we are asking of you.
So, celebrate tonight’s occasion, because it is worth enjoying. And we know that happiness in life is about enjoying its great experiences with those that you love and admire, and with those that support you. But now begins the next chapter of your lives. You are at an important milestone on a journey towards mastery. And I challenge you to continue to aggressively pursue excellence by becoming a master craftsman of the highest order. You certainly have learned much over the course of the last four years, but as the famous American journalist and author – Thomas Friedman – has observed, “The most enduring skill you can bring to the workplace…is the ability to learn how to learn.”
So, in closing, I would argue that your journey is where you will find genuine fulfillment and passion for your career. All of the necessary ingredients are there. And your apprenticeship program has you off to a very fast start, imbuing you with a powerful combination of comprehensive knowledge and superior craftsmanship.
Take advantage of every opportunity going forward to become better at what you do. And I assure you that over time – through the course of every job you may encounter – your professional pride will grow. Growing mastery of something so challenging will provide you with a very genuine form of fulfillment, which few people will ever attain. You will work hard, dedicated to a career that has real meaning – real meaning to your family, to your community, to your Navy and nation, and to the world.
So I urge you to stay connect with the why behind what we do. Keep up with the latest happenings of the ships you have breathed new life into. After all, when you see them doing great things, like what Truman is out there doing right now, you will have the privilege of telling yourself and your loved ones, and everyone who should listen to you – “I did that. I helped make my country safe and secure today. I do it every day.”
Thank you and congratulations to the class of 2018!
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