Question: What do you get when you combine ballistic missile defense technology imported from Moorestown, New Jersey, with a former Soviet-Bloc Air Base in Deveselu, Romania?
Answer: The beginning of the next phase of a 135-year bilateral relationship with Romania and a brand new Aegis Ashore site designed to provide for the ballistic missile defense of NATO Allies in Europe.
Deveselu is part of the European Phased Adaptive Approach and the newest responsibility of U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa/U.S. 6th Fleet. The drive southeast of Craiova, Romania takes you through what has rightly been called Europe’s breadbasket. At harvest time, the crops are piled up in sheaves. Bucolic fields stretch like waves as far as the eye can see. Then a gray mass looms on the horizon, and you do a double-take at what appears to be an actual ship steaming on the horizon, its hull obscured by a sea of green. What you are looking at is the profile of the Aegis Ashore Missile Defense System usually associated with the Aegis DDG but now firmly planted in Romanian soil, a concrete example of our commitment to collective defense in Europe.
Aegis Ashore is essentially the Aegis Weapon System built on land instead of on a U.S. Navy destroyer at sea. A major difference between the ship-based and shore-based systems is space. Hull space, size, weight, balance, and ballast are not limiting factors when installing equipment on a concrete pad in a warehouse that is quite literally in the middle of an old Warsaw Pact airbase.
This odd shaped deckhouse building is filled with the latest technologically and highlights the adaptive part of European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA). The deckhouse was originally built in Moorestown, New Jersey, then packed into 156 forty-foot containers and shipped across the Atlantic Ocean. The pre-fabricated pieces meant that assembly of the 900 tons of steel occurred faster than it normally would when building a U.S. Navy warship.
On December 18, 2015, my good friend and one of the finest engineers in the world, VADM Jim Syring, Director, Missile Defense Agency formally reached the Technical Capability Declaration (TCD) milestone and handed the “keys” to Aegis Ashore over to the Navy. Sailors will now be the ones operating the equipment and testing the systems, instead of contractors. Sailors will train and conduct exercises until they and the systems are fully certified, similar to conducting “sea trails” with a new ship.
Aegis Ashore-Romania has one extremely important mission: ballistic missile defense of the population and infrastructure of U.S. and NATO allies. We hope that we will never need to fire a missile from Deveselu because that would imply a ballistic missile from Iran had been launched against a target in Europe. That said, the US military and our NATO allies must always be prepared to conduct this sort of mission precisely because we hope we never need to execute them. Capabilities, equipment, and training give credence to the words of diplomacy. Aegis Ashore is a major component of EPAA, which is the U.S. national contribution to NATO Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) and the collective defense of Europe.
The singularity of purpose of Aegis Ashore means that it must always be ready. The designed redundancy is robust, taking advantage of the large space to add more backup equipment. The technology is impressive, but like anything in the U.S. Navy, Sailors are the true heart of the mission. The Sailors who live and work in Deveselu are pioneers in the purest form. They are simultaneously standing up the first Aegis weapons system at a new base–Naval Support Facility Deveselu–and training to operationalize this system into EPAA and the NATO Alliance. And they are doing an impressive job!!!
There has been a dramatic amount of progress made in the support facilities as well as the Aegis Ashore system since my last visit to Deveselu in February 2015. This month, Sailors are moving from CLUs (Containerized Living Units, pronounced “clues”) into new two-person barracks rooms that are comfortable but austere. Three of the nine rotational Aegis Ashore crews will be in Deveselu at any given time for six-month deployments.
The Sailors I met serving in Deveselu are extremely competent and highly motivated. I am confident that the perseverance they showed during the construction phase will continue as we move into the operational phase. I am proud of these Sailors, and appreciate all that they do on a daily basis to protect the United States and our allies. Think about them over the Christmas holidays. They are unaccompanied, away from family and friends, and keeping us safe. They have the watch…
Just a week after the horrific attack on ordinary citizens in Paris, the United States has been unequivocal in its support of our French allies. The motto of Paris is Fluctuat nec mergitur, which translates as “tossed but not sunk.” The crest of the city shows a ship in stormy waters. What an appropriate reflection of the strength and optimism that defines the spirit of a city that has endured so much in the last week. The tenacity of Parisians reminds me of that of New Yorkers after 9/11.
Before this incident, I would have told you that the bonds of friendship and partnership between the United States Navy and the French Navy have never been stronger. In fact, just a few days before the attack in Paris, I was in Toulon, France on a counterpart visit with VADM Yves Joly, French Commander of the Mediterranean Maritime Defence Region (CECMED). We discussed plans for exercises between our two Fleets in 2016 and the highlight of my visit included a trip to the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle, operating in the Mediterranean not far from Toulon. During my visit on 10 November, the seas were still calm… This would all change in a couple of days.
Those familiar with the Nimitz class might be surprised how at home they would feel aboard the French carrier. Although somewhat smaller than USS Harry S. Truman, also currently in route to the Mediterranean, the bones of the French carrier show a common pedigree: the way the flight deck control is arranged, the quality of the maintenance, the arresting gear and catapults which are fully compatible with US aircraft and even the jersey colors on the flight deck. I saw the French E2C Hawkeyes, Super Etendards and Rafale jet aircraft launch and recover onboard. As I stood next to the Air Boss during flight deck operations, I felt like I was on an American carrier. Likewise, I met with American pilots on exchange tours—two of whom were airborne that day—fully integrated into the air wing. I also met French pilots who had passed through Pensacola, the cradle of Naval Aviation, proud to be Top Guns in their own air wing. Just days before the attacks in Paris, the entire crew impressed me with their professionalism and unity of purpose, as they prepared for their third Arabian Gulf deployment in as many years. The French Sailors and Airmen had the same unwavering determination that characterizes the best of our breed regardless of which flag is stitched on their flight suits.
Beyond flight ops, I observed an impressive display of interoperability with the United States and allies at a time when the Global Network of Navies is needed now more than ever. The US Navy does not have a monopoly on power projection; it is heartening to know that the French Navy is also willing and able to set sail at a moment’s notice in defense of common interests and values.
The day after my visit to the Charles de Gaulle, I attended a solemn ceremony at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris that underscored the esprit de corps that was so evident aboard the carrier. On 11 November 2015 the Champs de Elysee was closed to traffic, an act akin to shutting down Broadway in New York City. The Arc which is usually an island in a turbulent sea of cars and honking horns stood eerily quiet, the giant Tricolour hung from the middle of the Arc and ranks of veterans stood as solemn guards around the eternal flame. Circling the monument, representatives from around the world stood out of respect in front of rows of unused seats. A video flashed images of French soldiers who had recently given their lives in the war on terror, followed by four solemn words: mort pour la France. President Francois Hollande arrived, but he offered no speeches, simply himself as a representative of the Republic and a witness to the human sacrifice that her citizens have made through the years. He laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and shook hands, pausing to speak with friends and family members of those who had fallen. In the United States, we call this day Veterans Day; in Europe it is called Armistice Day or Remembrance Day. Je me souviens…
Following the national ceremony, our delegation laid a wreath in a private event at the Suresnes American Cemetery overlooking the skyline of the city of Paris. Above the white crosses and stars of David the words are etched, “This memorial has been erected by the United States of America as a sacred rendezvous of a grateful people with its immortal dead.” Our rendezvous was one of generations. We were met by members of the VFW and boys and girls from the local scout troops. The veterans were Americans who had settled in France. One landed on D-Day plus three (D + 3) and stayed in France ever since. Many of the scouts had dual French and American citizenship. The skies were cloudy and a storm was coming, but as I looked over these young faces in the foreground and the crosses in the background, it was obvious that the future of the friendship that has bound our two countries together is bright. It is a friendship based on common ideals. It is a friendship that has been tested many times and will be tested again.
When America was attacked in 2001, France came to our aid. At the Arc, many of the images of the departed soldiers listed “Afghanistan” as the place of death. The Charles de Gaulle will soon sail in harm’s way, filling a gap in carrier presence. Frenchmen and Americans have fought side by side ever since our Revolution. Like the United States, France defines itself by ideals. Ours are summed up in the Declaration of Independence. The French identity is crystalized in the Declaration des Droits de l’Hommes with the simple words liberté, égalité, and fraternité. These values, values which we as Americans share, are what were brazenly attacked last week. The flags in American outposts and ships at sea (see the yardarm of USS Carney below) have stood at half-mast in solidarity with our close ally. We mourn with our friends. We stand with our friends. And we in Sixth Fleet set sail with our friends in defense of what we hold dear.
The reason the American Army does so well in wartime, is that war is chaos, and the American Army practices it on a daily basis.
– from a post-war debriefing of a German General
Operation Avalanche—the code name alone gives an idea of the chaos surrounding the Allied invasion of Salerno and mainland Italy in September 1943. Earlier this summer my two commands at Strike Force NATO and the U.S. 6th Fleet experienced a small fraction of the fog of an actual conflict during BALTOPS 2015 which included a full-blown amphibious landings on the beaches of Sweden and Poland. Although we had an opposing “red force” operating against us in Poland, this was an exercise—no live rounds, no injuries, and a host of lessons learned for next year. An exercise can only take you so far; sometimes you need to walk the sand and taste the salty air of a battlefield’s beachhead to get a sense of the tactical decisions that affected a conflict’s outcome.
In an increasingly chaotic world, time is well spent to break from current ops and to gain insight into the way armies and navies confronted uncertainty in the past. The 72nd anniversary of the landings at Salerno, led by Lt. Gen. Mark Clark, offered 6th Fleet just such an opportunity.
Borrowing from the Army tradition of a Staff Ride, I accompanied 50 members of my staff on a tour of the Salerno battlefields. After hours of self-study and a classroom academic session, we walked the terrain and discussed the different phases of the battle to gain a glimpse of what the average Soldier or Sailor would have experienced 72 years ago. The mental exercise of putting ourselves inside the Commander’s decision cycle and thinking through the choices made, and potential alternate outcomes, was value added in honing our skillset in amphibious warfare.
Knowing what happened historically, it is sometimes easy to forget that military outcomes could have turned out much differently. In 1943, there was no guarantee that Operation Avalanche would succeed.
The political environment in 1943 contributed to the operational and tactical confusion of Operation Avalanche. In late July 1943, the Leader of the National Fascist Party and Italian Prime Minister Benito Mussolini was deposed. Marshall Pietro Badoglio was appointed Prime Minister of Italy. Throughout August 1943, new Italian leaders met covertly with the Allies to discuss an armistice, which they signed in secret on Sept. 3, 1943.
It was not until 6 p.m. Sept. 8, just nine hours prior to the start of Operation Avalanche, that both Italian Prime Minister Badoglio and Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower announced the armistice by radio. The German troops in Italy were surprised but acted quickly to disarm and neutralize the Italian forces. Thinking that the Italian surrender meant little or no resistance, and wanting to limit collateral damage, Lt. Gen. Clark made the decision not to prepare the battlespace with naval fires. This decision cost him dearly. The Germans were entrenched, well-armed, and waiting. Allied forces entered this cauldron when they waded ashore along the 23 miles of Salerno Bay.
The Salerno coastline is dramatic and vibrant. Although it makes for a beautiful postcard, this scene presented a formidable challenge to a Soldier or Sailor conducting an amphibious assault. In 1943, the Germans had the high ground, and could fire at will on the Allies below–long before they reached the beach while the Allies were spread across a large area fighting their way uphill. Luftwaffe forward operating bases were just 20 minutes away, providing near continuous air cover for bombardment and strafing of Allied forces.
At one point the Allied forces considered withdrawal, but like a dramatic movie plot, reinforcements arrived just in time. But this was not a movie; this was war at its most brutal. Salerno was the battleground and the last scene was still unwritten.
In the campaign maps of textbooks the blue and red lines always look matter-of-fact and determined. Standing in the sand of what was then Blue Beach and peering into the pillbox that was bristling with German firepower gives one a better sense of just what the Allies encountered. Here a group of “knee-deep Sailors” (so named because their amphibious boats got stuck on a sandbar, forcing them to wade ashore in withering fire) were stranded when armor and artillery could not make it on shore. The men fixed bayonets, awaiting the German infantry attack which was sure to come. Thankfully, it did not, because the German’s were blocked by their minefields. With the German tanks less than a football field from the surf, the Soldiers and Sailors were able to warn their comrades before more landing craft were lost.
Then, radio silence. Hours passed and the destroyers in the bay, assuming Blue Beach had been lost, concentrated their fire. In actuality, the waterlogged radio had died and the Sailors were caught between the German Panzers and friendly fire. In desperation Signalman Bingaman courageously stood up and used semaphore with white handkerchiefs to alert our ships. With their aim corrected, the naval gunners held off the tanks and protected the beachhead. Bingaman was awarded the Silver Star.
The human cost was high for both sides at Salerno: 5,500 British, 3,500 American, and 3,500 German soldiers died. The setbacks at Salerno resulted in a Normandy invasion that looked quite different—Gen. Eisenhower determined not to allow the same mistakes in Operation Overlord.
As soon as the Allies had secured the area, the town of Salerno became one of the most strategically important cities is Italy. Within a month, 190,000 troops, 30,000 vehicles and 120,000 tons of supplies we brought ashore at Salerno. With the benefit of hindsight, we see how important the beaches of Salerno were to the liberation of Italy. The allies secured Salerno, then Naples, then Rome, and the rest is history.
The staff ride was not the only way the command commemorated the anniversary of Salerno’s liberation. The U.S. Naval Forces Europe Band band showed our appreciation to the Italian host nation with a concert featuring the music of Benny Goodman, Count Basie and Glen Miller of the “Big Band Era.” The Italians picked the venue–Teatro Augusteo–home of the first headquarters to Lt. Gen. Clark’s Army and the seat of the first Italian government post WWII. The crowd sang along as the entire ensemble and a duet of trumpets–one Italian and one American—played “O Sole Mio.” As the Sailors stepped off the stage and mingled with the crowd after the performance, the scene reminded me of black and white photos of the citizens of Salerno greeting their Allied liberators in 1943.
The devastation of World War II has been erased by the passing decades. Today Salerno’s tree lined promenade and glorious waterfront are as beautiful as ever. Where the dark hulls of ships and landing craft once blocked the view of the water is today a pristine bay. The bucolic fields around the temples of Paestum, where GIs marched in the shadow of Greece, are quiet again. But the people of Salerno have not forgotten the lessons of September 1943, and it behooves us to heed their example.
Now 72 years later, the U.S. 6th Fleet maintains its headquarters less than an hour from Salerno in Naples, Italy. We now face many different threats that impact our national security and that of our Allies, including a resurgent Russia, illegal trafficking, terrorism on multiple fronts, lawlessness, and ungoverned spaces in North Africa and the Eastern Mediterranean, which have contributed to a refugee crisis of epic proportions.
We train rigorously to address each of these contingencies. Using the lessons from the great battles of the past, we will boldly face our future challenges.
Odessa, Ukraine, is known as the “Pearl of the Black Sea.” As the Commander of the US Sixth Fleet, I was in this beautiful city for the opening ceremony of Sea Breeze 2015, a two week, multi-national maritime exercise co-hosted by the US and Ukraine. The choice of locations reiterated the purpose of the exercise, to promote security and stability within a region where these goals are under threat. The commitment of likeminded nations to these common goals becomes increasingly important in time of crisis.
The size of the exercise speaks for itself: eleven nations (Bulgaria, Germany, Greece, Italy, Moldova, Romania, Sweden, Turkey, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, and the United States), 1300 personnel, and 18 ships. The Sixth Fleet contribution includes divers, Marines, staff support, a P-3 Orion aircraft, and the USS DONALD COOK (DDG 75), one of our Forward Deployed Naval Forces (FDNF) based in Rota, Spain. Equally important to the size is the complexity of the events. Participants will undertake rigorous training both ashore and at sea.
The at-sea phase focuses on maritime interdiction operations as a primary means to enhance maritime security. Other warfare areas to be tested include air defense, damage control, search and rescue, anti-submarine warfare and tactical maneuvers to enhance interoperability. The increased complexity of Sea Breeze 2015 is another indicator of how important maritime security is to the Black Sea region.
Joining the opening ceremony were the Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenuik, who still made the time to travel to Odessa despite the tragic events in Kyiv the night before; U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt; Ukrainian Minister of Defense General-Colonel Stepan Poltorak; and Commander of the Ukrainian Naval Forces Vice Admiral Serhiy Haiduk.
Together we toured the Ukrainian flag ship, HETMAN SAHAYDACHNIY (U130) and the guided missile destroyer USS DONALD COOK (DDG 75). Throughout my career, every ship I have embarked has its own personality shaped by its history and its crew. These two ships were no different. Each embodied the strong characters of their respective namesakes and of the sailors aboard.
DONALD COOK was named after a Marine Captain who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his unwavering resolve to protect his fellow prisoners of war in Vietnam. Throughout his time as a POW, Cook’s motto, “FAITH WITHOUT FEAR,” helped him maintain his personal integrity in the most difficult of conditions.
The ship’s motto, “FAITH WITHOUT FEAR,” came to mind frequently during my visit to Ukraine as I thought about the challenges confronting the Ukrainian people and the Ukrainian armed forces. Ukraine’s Minster of Defense General-Colonel Poltorak said it best when he summarized what Ukrainian armed forces face today, “protecting Ukrainian boarders, fighting in the East, reforming, and training… all at the same time.”
The Ukrainian flagship’s namesake was a military leader of the 1600s who united Ukraine’s Cossacks into a regular army. Hetman Sahaydachniy’s vision is alive today as his nation hosts the participants of Sea Breeze 2015 as they work to ensure security and stability in the Black Sea.
Ukraine is a maritime nation with agricultural roots. Looking out the aircraft on the way in, the patchwork quilt of green, amber, and tan farmland reminded me of the U.S. Midwest. The yellow and blue colors of the Ukrainian flag symbolize wheat fields waving under clear blue skies and a potential that is just as expansive. With 40% of the country’s exports flowing through the port of Odessa, the importance of Ukraine’s Navy to the nation is clear.
Regional security and stability provides the environment necessary for economic prosperity. When there are common goals it makes sense for nations to work together to achieve them. Routine exercises like Sea Breeze are valuable for this very reason. The experience of operating together as one team enables us to be more interoperable with allies and partners in peace and times of crisis.
The Sea Breeze opening ceremony coincided with the first day of school in Ukraine for all schools including the Ukrainian military academy. Of the 404 cadets who walked thought the academy’s portals on 1 September, over 25% arrived with frontline, combat experience. This bodes well for the enhancement of a professional officer corps. Like the men and women of USS DONALD COOK, these cadets embark the honorable profession of arms with faith, but not fear in the defense of their homeland.
Ukrainian people have endured much hardship throughout the events of the last year. There is a lesson in the determination of the sailors whom I met and in the story of cadets returning from the front lines to study, go back, and lead others. “FAITH WITHOUT FEAR” is a mantra that is not only appropriate for USS DONALD COOK and our partners in Ukraine, but also for all members of the global network of navies as we work together to maintain peace and stability with people who share the same values, the same visions, and the same goals.
Away All Boats! This battle cry met American theater goers in a 1956 movie by the same name, an adaptation of a novel by Kenneth Dodson based on his experience aboard the USS Pierce (APA 50) in World War II. The film stars the crew of a fictional amphibious attack transport Belinda and features one of Clint Eastwood’s first unaccredited roles as a Navy Corpsman. But those who know something about military films remember it for its Technicolor realism and gritty depiction of amphibious warfare in the Pacific. The last few days on the USS San Antonio have felt like a modern reinterpretation of this classic.
The flagship is brimming with Swedish, Finnish, British, and American Marines, their vehicles, boats, and support staff. Some of the Scandinavian forces sport beards worthy of Viking ancestors (one carries an axe as a guide on), the chow lines have been longer than usual, the cooks are working overtime, and all are in good spirits. Finally, today the order all had been waiting for was given, “AWAY ALL BOATS!”
Today, the 700-strong multinational BALTOPS Amphibious Landing Force stormed the beach of the Ravlunda training range in Sweden, one of the largest amphibious exercises ever orchestrated in the Baltic region. Also participating were Soldiers from the 173rd Brigade Combat Team in Vicenza, Italy. The landing force came from a NATO sea base, consisting of the big deck, HMS OCEAN (LPH 12), USS SAN ANTONIO (LPD 17), and POLISH LSTs: LUBLIN (LST 821) and GNIEZO (LST 822). A variety of amphibious vehicles served as connectors to get the Marines ashore from the sea base including fast and maneuverable Combat Boats (CB 90s), Marine Corps Amphibious Assault Vehicles (AAVs), Landing Craft Air Cushioned (LCAC) and numerous other amphibious assault craft.
What we accomplished today on the Ravlunda range is a testament to NATO’s robust amphibious capability—or “amphibiousity.” Demonstrating this capability is just one of the many facets of BALTOPS, a training exercise that is testing NATO’s ability to conduct air defense, undersea warfare, mine countermeasures operations, and maritime interdiction operations, skills that NATO has been practicing ever since the first exercise took place forty-three years ago.
What makes this BALTOPS different, though, is that it is being conducted under a NATO flag. I am joined here by my deputy Read Admiral Tim Lowe of the Royal Navy and Chief of Staff of Operations Rear Admiral Juan Garat of the Spanish Navy who have built an amazing team. My Lisbon-based staff of Striking and Support Forces NATO is aboard the command ship USS SAN ANTONIO, working diligently to ensure that we maximize training opportunities for the entire force.
The exercise is part of NATO’s broader goal to show its commitment to regional security. From the very beginning the numbers alone attest to this unwavering resolve. BALTOPS 2015 is larger than ever, a multi-national exercise conducted in a joint environment by 14 NATO and three partner nations throughout the Baltic Sea and Baltic region at large. We come with 49 ships of all varieties large and small, over 60 aircraft, 5,600 air, ground and maritime personnel.
We are grateful that Sweden and Finland could join us in this exercise – because regional security is a collective effort and requires us to communicate, understand each other, and establish lasting relationships. These relationships are built on common values and interests.
Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate Swedish Prince Carl Philip and his wife to be, Ms. Sofia Hellqvist on their wedding day. The Prince serves his country as a Major in the Amphibious Forces of Sweden. We hope that the newlywed couple will view today’s events in Ravlunda as a token of Alliance appreciation for Sweden’s partnership and a significant contribution to the peace and security of the Baltic Region.
What I saw today was not a Technicolor movie. There were no actors. It was not art. It was life. What the cameras caught and what you see in pixels on Youtube is the force of ideals truly embodied in the young men and women who serve our individual nations and who are willing to protect and defend our values.
“A good Navy is not a provocation of war. It is the surest guarantee of peace.” -Theodore Roosevelt
On 8 June I reported in this media forum on the launch of 49 ships from the port of Gdynia, Poland for the largest BALTOPS exercise ever — BALTOPS 2015.
The reason we are assembled as the maritime arm of the NATO alliance for this exercise is to show unity of effort and purpose, and to strengthen the combined response capabilities of our NATO allies and partners in the Baltic Sea region.
We come with 49 ships of all varieties large and small, over 60 aircraft, 5,600 air, ground and maritime forces from 17 participating nations to include 700 Marines from Finland, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States.
During the first day of operations, we were over-flown by Russian Air Force and shadowed by three Russian Navy surface ships. This was not unexpected based on recent experience.
The Russian planes made a few passes and then a couple of Russian Corvettes came up on either side of the formation as we were conducting our exercises – nothing untoward, just showing interest and an acknowledgement that they know we are here.
As Navies have done for centuries, we have taken a dual track approach to maritime security. What do I mean by that?
While BALTOPS 2015 is demonstrating a sizeable and highly capable force at sea, we are pursuing other avenues to assure security in this and other maritime regions in Europe. As an example, we invited a Russian Navy delegation for the annual Prevention of Incidents On and Over the High Seas (INCSEA) review, which took place yesterday at the U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa/U.S. 6th Fleet Headquarters in Naples, Italy. The Russian delegation was headed by Vice Adm. Oleg Burtsev and the U.S. delegation by Rear Adm. John Nowell, Chief of Staff, U.S. 6th Fleet.
Discussions between the two delegations were frank and professional with the intent of alleviating any miscues, misunderstandings or miscalculations between our two naval and air forces wherever they might encounter one another.
Established in 1972, the bilateral INCSEA agreement between our two countries codified the mutual interest of both sides in promoting safety of navigation and safety of flight when operating on and over international waters and specified an annual meeting to review compliance with the articles of the agreement.
The last time our two navies met was in November 2013, in St. Petersburg, Russia.
BALTOPS 2015 and the subsequent INCSEA review is a good example of naval forces and naval officers acting as an extension of diplomacy.
For me, as Commander of BALTOPS, I look forward to the positive outcome of the INCSEA discussions filtering down to the deck plate level of the Baltic Fleet. The true measure of success will be when ALL Navies operate ships, submarines and aircraft safely and professionally not just here in the Baltic Sea, but elsewhere around the world. Stay tuned…
Today, June 8, a fleet of Allied and partner ships set sail from Gdynia, Poland, in one of the largest naval exercises the Baltic Sea and greater Atlantic Ocean area has seen in the 21st Century. In its forty-three year history, BALTOPS has been a means by which NATO and its partners have demonstrated an enduring commitment to regional stability and a Europe that is safe, secure, and prosperous.
In 1971, fewer than a dozen ships and only a handful of nations participated in the exercise. BALTOPS 2015 has 49 ships representing seventeen nations participating. I am often asked by European Allies what impact, if any, the rebalance to the Pacific will have on Europe? To put those numbers in perspective, last year, the Pacific Rim of the ocean exercise (RIMPAC), the world’s largest naval exercise, also had 49 participating ships. What is happening right now in the Baltic Sea is NATO’s own version “RIMPAC.”
NATO’s integral role in the exercise is seen in BALTOPS from the top down. For the first time in recent memory, the exercise is led by a NATO headquarters. As Commander of Striking and Support Forces NATO, I am now embarked on USS SAN ANTONIO (LPD 17), which is serving as the command ship for my STRIKFORNATO staff. The STRIKFORNATO staff has been mobilized from Lisbon and is operating from both here onboard SAN ANTONIO and HMS OCEAN, a testament for their expeditionary headquarters staff capabilities.
This, however, is not my first time to sail in these waters. As a Lieutenant onboard USS SEA DEVIL (SSN 664), I deployed to the Arctic Ocean in 1985. On our way home, we scheduled a port visit in Kiel, Germany. I was one of the primary OODs on the bridge for the long maneuvering watch through the Straits of Denmark, also known as the Kattegat, Skaggerak and Storr Belts. It was the best surface OOD training a JO could ever have with a completely different kind of traffic separation scheme, two superb chain-smoking Danish pilots, whose mantra was “speed equals safety,” as we maneuvered the boat through a multitude of ferries crisscrossing the channel at right angles to our track.
We made it safely into Kiel, but this was a different era and a different geo-political situation at the time. The Berlin Wall would not come down for four years and Germany was still divided. Many of the NATO Allies and partners participating in BALTOPS 2015 today were reluctant members of the Warsaw Pact in 1985. My how times have changed! Today’s BALTOPS includes 14 NATO Allies and three Partnership for Peace (PfP) nations aligned and unified for a common purpose—peace and security in the Baltic Region. The crowds of people that greeted our BALTOPS Fleet just days ago for the pre-sail in Gdynia, Poland were a clear sign that these relationships are solid and enduring.
BALTOPS is just one of the many ways NATO and its partners demonstrate a continued commitment to the foundational principle of mutual defense. While the number and type of ships have changed, it is this consistent message over the last nearly half century that has guided the exercise. When we talk about reassurance we are not just talking about capabilities, but a commitment that has been consistent throughout the years.
BALTOPS represents an excellent example of a global network of navies, a concept based on participation, robust exercises, relationship building, communication, and interoperability. BALTOPS demonstrates how these global priorities are expressed in a regional context, each participant contributing to the success of the whole.
Today’s BALTOPS Photo-Ex captured an image of this unified effort for all to see. A picture is worth a thousand words…
Yesterday, under a beautiful sky and with the Navy Memorial in downtown Washington, D.C. as back drop, hundreds of uniformed officers, Navy civilians and members of the retired community gathered to say goodbye to an American icon–Mr. Trip Barber. Mr. Barber bid farewell to the Navy he loved with a simple ceremony–no pomp and circumstance–and one that was commensurate with the manner in which he conducted business in the halls of the Pentagon over the course of his 41 year career. They say that in any organization, no one person is indispensable, but Trip Barber will be hard to replace.
Trip has been the Navy’s shepherd for the last 26 Program Objective Memorandum (POM) cycles. In short, the POM is the final product of the budget process or programming cycle that dictates how we spend the Navy’s money. Executing 26 POMS is an absolutely amazing statistic and Trip Barber has done so with tenacity and steely-eyed determination over the years. As analysts go, he’s the best of the best. In his humble remarks, he thanked some of the great Senior Executive Service (SES) Civilians like Mr. Ken Miller or Mr. Irv Blickstein and one of the finest uniformed officers in the realm of programmatics–the late Admiral Don Pilling–for teaching him his tradecraft. In my opinion, Trip joined the ranks of these giants in the Planning, Programming and Budgeting and Evaluation (PPB&E) world long ago and we learned much from him
Before becoming a Senior Executive himself, Trip enjoyed a highly successful career in the Surface Navy, culminating in his stewardship and command of one of the largest Fleet Concentration areas in the world–Naval Base, Norfolk, Virginia. That is where I first met him, while I was in command of an SSN on the waterfront. Trip’s leadership and management skills were highly effective at sea or ashore, so it is no surprise that he rose to be one of the most respected and revered SES in the Department of the Navy.
In his farewell address, Trip made a statement that was an inspiration to all of us when he said, ” I did not come to N81 to be a faceless bureaucrat, I came to build a team that could analyze with technical rigor and operational skill how to make our Navy better, and I intended to be as relentlessly forceful as that team’s spokesman as it took to use their work to roll over any obstacles to making the Navy the most capable that it could be within the funds it had.” That statement is the very essence of what Trip Barber stands for and he leaves an important legacy in his wake for all of us to follow.
Trip trained and mentored 10 different Admirals in the last 12 years as the Deputy Director of the Assessments Branch, N81. I was one of the fortunate recipients of his training, mentorship, and friendship. There were many “Trip-isms” that will live in infamy after his departure. RADM Herm Shelanski relayed one today that we all subscribe to in the makings of a good briefer and the mark of a good brief. First, the Senior Leader (and recipient of the brief) should remain in the room for the duration of the brief. Second, under NO circumstances should there be any “back-up” slides included in the brief. Third and finally, if the brief is “stand-alone,” then there should be NO follow-on taskers associated with the brief. ‘Nuff said.
We ALL emulated this model, but few of us could ever get there on our own… Trip would often say in our morning meetings, “That’s OK, HARD is authorized!”
Trip didn’t train just the Admirals, he trained scores of the best Operations Analysts and Operations Researchers ever to wear a Navy uniform. He said, ” I see it as my duty as the senior continuity in N81 and as the Navy’s senior analyst to nurture a culture of intellectual excellence and energy in all who work in N81, to focus us on the right issues, and to provide a logical structure to our efforts.” When I served with Trip at N81, I used to joke with the young officers going into their first encounter with Trip to present a briefing that they believed was ready for scrutiny by our venerable Deputy. I would say, you are about to make your first trip to the “Barber” Shop, and you won’t go in just once. This was an iterative process and part of Trip’s training and mentoring of future analysts. Graduate school doesn’t teach you everything and being the best at what you do requires on-the-job training and experience under the watchful eye of a good mentor. If the briefing was really really good, you might just get a “trim.” If it needs rework, you might end up with a “high and tight.” If the brief just doesn’t pass muster, you could get “scalped,” but Trip always did so with a grandfatherly touch. His aim was to make us better. We all learned so much from him.
Trip opined that when he came to N81 over a decade ago, he found an organization that operated behind closed doors with a very high opinion of itself. He evoked the memory of Admiral Sam Locklear, one of his former bosses, who put N81 on a different path that he called “Excellence without arrogance.” Trip, Admiral Locklear and the N81 team embraced and inculcated this new approach. Trip eradicated the term “honest broker” from N81’s vernacular, because he thought it implied that others on the Navy staff were somehow dishonest or unwilling to face the truth–just simply not the case. Trip preferred the mantra that N81 was “dispassionate” because although N81 does not own programs, it has a duty to analyze programs with all due rigor, so that the Navy gets the best bang for the buck, and dollars are precious nowadays.
By his own choosing, Trip is departing the pattern here on a high note. He could have stayed and continued to be very effective, but he recalled the words of his MIT classmate and NASA astronaut, Jay Apt, who described the standards in his community as follows, “90 percent is just not good enough.”
If you run the risk of running out of new ideas and becoming just another part of the bureaucracy, it’s time to go.
So we say goodbye to a great American and a patriot. Once upon a time, CAPT Trip Barber worked alongside CAPT Jon Greenert in the “Bullpen” of OPNAV N80, and so it was fitting that Admiral Jon Greenert shared the dais with SES Trip Barber at the Navy Memorial today. Admiral Greenert’s remarks were moving and appropriate to honor a man who has given so much to the nation and our Navy.
Fair winds and following seas Trip. Enjoy your well-earned retirement! You’ve earned it!
Ladies and Gentlemen, the “Barber” Shop is now officially closed.
On Dec. 18, 2008, Jim Garamone of the American Forces Press Service wrote, “The bombs that severely damaged the Golden Mosque in this city on the Tigris River almost destroyed the foundations of the nation, but the Golden Mosque is rising again, just like Iraq.”
Jim Garamone and I were traveling with ADM Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, during one of his battlefield circulation tours, at the time. As the Chairman’s Executive Assistant, I had the distinct privilege of accompanying him all over the world. The places I went and the things I saw left an indelible mark in my memory. This place was no exception.
The Golden Mosque is a Holy Shi’a Shrine in the city of Samarra on the Tigris River in Salahuddin province.
In February 2006, the Golden Dome of the Mosque was destroyed in a bombing perpetrated by the affiliates of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Zarqawi’s brutal tactics were intended to drive a wedge between Sunni and Shi’a Muslims in Iraq and the attack on this holy site precipitated a near civil war leaving scores of dead behind and the city of Samarra in ruins.
General Stan McChrystal, Commander of Joint Special Operations Command, tells the story of the hunt for and eventual killing of Zarqawi in June 2006, by U.S. Special Forces in his book, My Share of the Task. Zarqawi was public enemy number one and for good reason. With his downfall and the simultaneous Sunni Awakening in neighboring Al-Anbar Province, the reconstruction of Samarra and the Golden Mosque was undertaken.
Realizing the importance of this place and the special role that U.S. Forces played in the restoration of the rule of law which enabled reconstruction, ADM Mullen decided to pay a visit to Samarra, this time with 60 Minutes and reporter David Martin and his cameraman in tow.
We arrived that morning in a Mine Resistant Ambush Penetrant (MRAP) vehicle on the outskirts of town and were escorted by Major General Bob Caslen, Commander of the 25th Infantry Division charged with the responsibility for security in the region. It was a long walk up a straight road to the Golden Mosque and ADM Mullen relished to opportunity to see the city and speak to some of the Iraqi inhabitants about their lives in this war ravaged region. As we walked up the street in full body armor and Kevlar helmets, ADM Mullen felt a little awkward when compared to the residents of Samarra staring at us from both sides of the street. It was an unfortunate necessity to ensure the safety of the senior U.S. military officer on active duty.
Our plan was to walk through the market in Samarra, in broad daylight, in order to take in the sense of the reconstruction. As I looked down the side streets at several intersections we passed, I could see the fields of fire and incredible damage that the war had inflicted on this little town. That said, the market section was teeming with merchants and locals alike. In a word, it was “vibrant.” Shops were full of merchandise–clothing, kids toys, spices, poultry, meat, eggs–and the smells of street vendors cooking foodstuffs of all variety filled the air. Despite the remnants of war, to me, it seemed that the city was very much alive and well.
With my friend John Tigmo, NCIS agent and senior member of ADM Mullen’s security detail at his side, the Chairman felt unconstrained and undeterred when he stopped to talk with normal Iraqis in the street. Surrounded by soldiers, he ordered them to stand aside as he went over to talk with some Iraqi children. A father with his son came over to thank Admiral Mullen. I don’t think he had any idea who the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs was, but it was clear he was someone important and ultimately a party to the restoration of order in this city. I remember one man, wearing a long black dishdasha who worked his way in to talk to AMD Mullen through his interpreter. This man was a merchant and he was not shy. He unloaded on the Chairman about the lack of reliable electricity, poor city services and unhealthy water and sewage systems near his shop. The Chairman listened carefully to the complaints and said, “Do you know this man? He is Major General Bob Caslen and he is in charge of this region.” He then asked MG Caslen to give the merchant his contact information. Then he asked the merchant for his name. The man wrote it down on a piece of paper and handed it to the Chairman. ADM Mullen said, “I will see Prime Minister Maliki tonight in Bagdad and I will tell him of our conversation and give him your name.” As always, the Chairman was true to his word.
As we continued our walk up the street, someone said, “The Mayor may come out to receive you as we get closer to the Golden Mosque.” We were told that the Mayor was a former Iraqi Air Force pilot, in the Sadaam Hussein-era, who left the service to run for mayor. He was forced to evacuate after the bombing and the ensuing civil unrest, but returned to regain the confidence of the people and be reelected as Mayor of Samarra. Sure enough, after a few more paces up the street, Mayor Mahmood Khalef Ahmed appeared, looking very dapper in a fitted blue suit, blue tie and characteristic aviator sun glasses. It had to be over a hundred degrees outside and we were drenched but the mayor wasn’t even breaking a sweat. He accompanied the Chairman the rest of the way up the street to the Mosque and regaled him with stories of the war and the reconstruction of Samarra. The mayor had high hopes for his city and it showed in his enthusiasm. He looked forward to the day when thousands of pilgrims would return to Samarra to appreciate the Golden Mosque as we had.
As we approached the Golden Mosque, I was stunned by its beauty. As non-Muslims, we were not allowed inside and instead, viewed the reconstruction from the roof of an abandoned apartment building next door. While on the roof, we heard the story of the Twelfth or “hidden” Imam. It was in this place where Imam al-Mahdi went into concealment, known as the Minor Occultation in Islam. Twelver Shi’a Muslims believe that one day, the Mahdi will re-emerge with Isa or Jesus Christ to complete their mission of bringing peace to the world. Wow, that was a powerful story… so powerful that while listening, the 60 Minutes cameraman focused only on Admiral Mullen, MG Caslen and David Martin and forgot to pan around to get the Golden Dome in the background. This created a little consternation with the producer reviewing the raw footage on the way home, but somehow 60 Minutes recovered the image as the camera’s digital field of view was much wider than that seen through the lens of the videographer.
That was six years ago and fortunately, the images in my mind and those that you see in this Blog were preserved by the venerable Combat Cameraman, Petty Officer First Class Chad McNeely, always with and out front of Chairman Mullen on his many trips overseas.
Now fast forward to the present day. As I watch the events unfold on the ground in Iraq I harken back to the many visits I made to this country and Jim Garamone’s opening sentence of his byline on 18 December 2006: “…the Golden Mosque is rising again, just like Iraq.”
The USS GEORGE H.W. BUSH Strike Group was positioned forward and ready at the time that this crisis unfolded. Her presence gives the President and our national leaders options, but as we have heard recounted time and again on the news, the best option is for a political solution by Shi’a, Sunni and Kurdish leaders on the ground in Iraq.
A SOLDIER’S STORY
On Friday, the 6th of June, we will observe the 70th Anniversary of one of the greatest endeavors ever undertaken—Operation Overlord—the Allied invasion of Normandy which was the beginning of the end of World War II. Many veterans are already flowing into Washington, D.C. for ceremonies at the WWII Memorial, and others, including the President of the United States, will pay homage to those who paid the ultimate sacrifice on the beaches of Normandy. As Tom Brokaw is famous for saying, the men and women that made this happen are part of The Greatest Generation in our history.
My father was a veteran of World War II. He originally joined the Winnipeg Grenadiers, in his hometown of Winnipeg, Manitoba at the outbreak of the war. This was his father’s regiment which won acclaim in WWI. My grandfather was a Captain of the Grenadiers and won the Military Cross at the Battle of Bourlon Wood. My dad’s picture, in uniform, shortly after he joined up is attached with the characteristic regimental emblem of a flaming grenade.
After my dad joined up, he was supposed to ship out for Hong Kong with the Regiment. He missed the boat. He never talked about it much… something about a train not getting to the port of Vancouver on time. As fate would have it, the entire regiment was wiped out in the defense of Hong Kong. Those not killed in action spent the rest of the war in Japanese POW camps. This had to be painful for him as, in the Regimental system, the ranks were composed of young men and officers who grew up together.
So my dad became part of a new unit, The Lake Superior [Scottish] Regiment of the 4th Canadian Infantry Division. As a kid, I was always interested in what happened during the war, but my Dad didn’t talk much about it. I suppose I was a bit of a pest and I always wanted to know what he kept in his soldier’s leather shaving kit in the top drawer of his dresser. I’d often see him looking at his keepsakes of the war but he chose to keep them private. Like most combat veterans, he abhorred war and used to tell me that it was something he hoped I would never have to experience. In the run up to Allied invasion, my dad found himself in England with his new regiment. While there, he attended an officer training course and was commissioned. He enjoyed the camaraderie of his army buddies in England and after he passed away I finally got the chance to take a peek inside that shaving kit. I found a signed, 10 Shilling note, labeled Short Snorter and dated March 1944, but I had no idea what it symbolized. Turns out, the Short Snorter was the “challenge coin” of its time. Your friends signed it and you kept it with you at all times. If asked for it in a bar, you had to produce it or buy everyone a drink.
Ultimately, my dad made the trip across the English Channel to Normandy, but not with the main thrust of the invading force. A humble man, he was quick to say that he arrived in Normandy on D + 44 (days)–the 19th of July 1944, well after the initial onslaught took place on the beaches. He also maintained that he was never a hero, just a soldier doing his job for his country and his band of brothers. I found something else in his shaving kit after he passed away. It was a printed clipping with a small cellophane bag stapled to the back which contained sand. A photo is attached. He never mentioned it, but I presume this was from Resistance Forces in France and distributed amongst the troops as a souvenir or good luck charm before they departed England. My dad kept the sand until he passed away. When I found it, I was reminded of Tom Sizemore’s character in Saving Private Ryan. You’ll recall that he collected dirt in small canisters from all the battlefields he fought on.
My dad may have arrived on D +44, but when I stare at his personal copy of the 4th Canadian Infantry Division War Map, which hangs in my study, it is clear that the Division quickly entered the fray with the German Army (Wehrmacht) shortly after their arrival. As he worked his way through France, it was a slog. The dots on the map were spaced very closely together–a clustering early on around the places that he and his fellow Canadians fought and stopped to resupply, regroup and move on–Crepon, Caen, Vauchelles, Chateau de Mondeville, Verrieres, Cintheaux, Garcelles de Sequeville, Saint Sylvan, Falaise (where fierce fighting took place). Casualties were heavy on both sides.
My Dad often commented that the Germans fought hard against the Allies and in the beginning, they were not prone to giving up easily. Many of the units that he engaged were SS Panzergrenadiers–very capable troops. Trained as a “gunner” in the Winnipeg Grenadiers, I presume this skill set carried over in the Lake Superior Regiment. During combat, one of the things my dad told me he did as a young Sub-Leftenant was to order up lorries with .50 caliber machine gun mounts to bring to bear on Wehrmacht forces ensconced in the infamous “hedgerows” of Northern France. These weapons were effective and as enemy fires were suppressed, the unit moved on, not stopping to count the dead.
As logistics became a more and more difficult problem for the enemy, the German Army began to retreat towards the homeland or just give up when cut off or met with overwhelming firepower. Instead of hunkering down for the protracted fight, my dad told me that often in the middle of a firefight, some German units would raise a white flag or if they didn’t have one, just stand up in the hedgerows with their hands in the air, signaling the end of their resistance.
Situations like this sometimes presented problems for him. In a lucid moment, he told me the story of the young Sub-Leftenant, faced with a large number of surrendering German soldiers and officers. My dad said, frankly, he and his men lined them up on the road and told them to keep their hands up and start marching to the Allied rear area. He said, we only had a few Canadians on this one particular day, and frankly we were too scared to try to disarm each German soldier and officer. It wasn’t worth the risk of one of them going rogue on the Canadians. Many of the Germans officers still had their side arms but it was clear that the majority of them were finished, or fed-up, and ready to end the fighting in return for a hot meal and some rest. They chose life over death…
I remember mulling that story over and over again in my head as a kid… Wow, the Canadians didn’t confiscate all their weapons? And my Dad scared? My Dad wasn’t scared of anything. How could that be? What happened to them I asked quizzically?
I don’t really know son, we just told them to march along this road with their hands up until they ran in to the major concentration of our forces behind us.
After Falaise and other battles, the Regiment moved quickly through France and into Belgium. My dad was part of the force that liberated Bruges, Belgium. The Allies arrived on the outskirts of Bruges with overwhelming force. The Germans put their artillery in defensive positions around the town and orders came from higher command to flatten Bruges in order to keep it out of Allied hands. The German Commander refused… He did not surrender but he chose not to destroy one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. This story is repeated in the new book and movie, The Monuments Men.
While I was in command and on deployment in 1999, I asked for and received a port visit in Zeebrugge, Belgium. Bruges was just down the road and I told the crew to forego the Irish Pub and learn to appreciate the culture of Europe. To the man, they all loved Bruges. I sent my dad a post card from the town square of Bruges and he later told me that he recalled spending his most memorable night of the war in Bruges just after the Allies liberated the town. It was an all-nighter in the restaurants and bars and the Belgians showed their deep gratitude and generosity for their freedom.
The fighting continued into Holland and ultimately into the heartland of Germany. My dad had a local artist in Holland do a charcoal of him in January 1945 to send home to his mother. He was proud of that picture as the artist did the drawing in return for a carton of cigarettes. What a contrast between the young Winnipeg Grenadier recruit and the combat seasoned soldier six months after landing in Normandy. Although gaunt, mustachioed, and with thinning hair, his face reflects a steely-eyed determination to get this thing over with.
Although my dad didn’t wasn’t big on telling stories, he loved watching movies about the Second World War. It was like he was reliving some of his experiences vicariously through the big screen. So I grew up on a diet of the classics–The Longest Day (one of my favorites); The Great Escape; A Bridge Too Far; The Bridge at Remagen; Patton; The Dirty Dozen; The Guns of Navarone. Richard Burton was one of my dad’s favorite actors. He had gravitas and he brought reality to the big screen. As a kid, I was never as happy as I was when I got to go to a war movie with my Dad. That’s when admission was about a buck fifty and popcorn and a coke only cost less than a dollar at the most. Sometimes, afterward, he’d open up and out would come another great story.
One of my favorites was the story of a German Panzergrenadier Unit that found themselves surrounded and retreated into a church in the middle of a small town. My dad couldn’t remember the town… they all just blended together. The locals were quick to pinpoint the German location and there was no way out. Their choice–fight or give up. My dad found himself in the unenviable position of being the senior officer present so he had the responsibility to offer the Germans “terms.” This time, he said, he was never so scared in his life—he thought he would surely be shot. He marched up to the church under a white flag and knocked on the door. The door opened and he was greeted by a German officer, a Major. There was a short discussion and the Major wanted to know what the terms of surrender would be. My dad told the Germans they were completely surrounded. Leave your weapons behind and come outside. You’ll be escorted to the rear where you will be processed and held as POWs. The Major agreed. On the way out, the Major turned to my father and gave him his ring—a small gold ring with a flat brown stone. He said, this won’t last in a POW camp, you take it. It was, I suppose, a symbol of respect—chivalry between combatants. My dad never attended college, so this ring became his class ring—he was a member of the class of ’45—consisting of all those lucky enough to survive the war. He never took that ring off. He would have his official picture taken with that ring—it meant a lot to him. After the war, he left the Lake Superior Regiment and joined the Lord Strathcona’s Horse Cavalry Regiment. He became Commandant of the Canadian Forces N-B-C Warfare School in Base Borden, Ontario. His picture is attached with swagger stick in one hand and the ring on the other.
Living on Walcheren Loop on Base Borden was pretty cool as a kid. Many of my friends’ fathers had also fought in the war. Behind our house, there was an armored proving ground where Centurion Tanks maneuvered. The interior of the loop was a playground and ball field. Saturdays were the best day of the week. The baseball diamond was transformed into the scene of the movie The Sandlot. Kids of all ages and all skills would just show up and self-organize. There was no adult supervision… none was needed. You played all day until you were covered with red dirt, sweaty and exhausted. Sometimes when we tired of baseball, the field would turn into a war zone. Kids brought out every G.I. Joe they owned, all their accessories, all of our plastic helmets and Mattel rifles and set up the lines of battle. Trenches were dug on the perimeter of the field and the pitcher’s mound became a machine gun nest. Close to Dominion Day (Canada’s 4th of July celebration), every kid would come to this mock-war with his private stash of “ordnance.” During the skirmishes, sparklers, firecrackers, cherry bombs and the occasional M-80 were tossed like grenades across no man’s land. Windows would rattle in the Quarters on Walcheren Loop when the M-80s went off. It’s a miracle someone didn’t lose an eye or a finger, but they didn’t. OSHA standards didn’t apply back then. At the end of the day, the Canadians always won… so it is written.
Before the advent of iPads, iPhones, Laptops and Tablets, kids found traditional ways of entertaining themselves. I spent all of my allowance building models of the war machines that fought the campaigns of WWII. I liked airplanes the best. When I visited the Udvar-Hazy museum near Dulles Airport for the first time last year, I spouted off the designations and noun names of nearly all of the aircraft on exhibit: Messerschmitt ME-109; ME-262; ME-163 Komet; Supermarine Spitfire; Hawker Hurricane; P51 Mustang; P-40 Warhawk; F4U Corsair; F6F Hellcat and the Focke-Wulf 190 to name a few. Someone said, How do you know all this stuff?
Because I built them all, I said.
One day when I was putting the finishing touches on Revell’s best scale model of the Focke-Wulf 190, my dad walked in. He did not like the fact that I sometimes dripped Testor’s glue on the blotter of his desk. What are you up to, he asked?
I’m finishing up the Focke-Wulf 190 I said.
He stared at the aircraft and said, Oh, I remember that one… I sensed another great story coming and I was right.
I was walking back from the latrine [stuff always happened on the way back from the latrine] along a road to our camp during the war, he said. Out of nowhere, this single aircraft comes in fast and low and just as I turn around, he goes right over my head. So low, if I hadn’t hit the dirt, he might have hit me!
WOW!!! That’s incredible! What did you do dad? Did you shoot back? What happened?
No, I just lay there trying to regain my composure and I watched as he went over the hill. That guy scared the hell out of me and I have no idea why he didn’t pull the trigger. He could have easily killed me… Then he just turned and walked out of the room.
My dad was a great father to me, but oftentimes, I felt like a soldier in the barracks at home. He reminded me of Darrin McGavin, who played the dad in the movie “A Christmas Story” and I think that’s why the movie was so successful for the contemporaries of my generation. Life imitating art or vice versa. Mom was the one who always bailed me out when I was in trouble.
My dad believed in a balanced diet. He loved Brussels sprouts… I hated them. To me, Brussels sprouts were what broccoli was to President George H.W. Bush when he was growing up. With everything else on my plate gone, the Brussels sprouts always remained. My dad would say, you’re not leaving this table until you eat your Brussels sprouts. I would protest and he would say, sometimes, during the war, that’s all I got son–a plate of Brussels sprouts–now eat every last one of them! I could only manage about three in any one sitting and then my Mom would bail me out. Brussels sprouts are an acquired taste and in my adult years, I’ve learned that Brussels sprouts served with an aged balsamic vinegar sauce and grated parmesan isn’t all that bad. My dad would be happy to know that.
He would also marvel over a simple can of peaches from the commissary. What’s so great about canned peaches I would ask? He would say that these were a real treat during the war. On occasion, when closer to the rear area, the cooks would produce a few cans of peaches for the men. He would crack open that can and skewer one with a knife and slowly chew on that piece of fruit enjoying every savory bit as it slid down the back of his throat. As a kid, I could never comprehend why this was so great…
Then there was his favorite story about Calvados–the apple brandy indigenous to the region of Normandy, France. One day, after a trip back from the latrine, my Dad tripped on something he thought was a tree root in a field on his way back to the company area. When he looked back, he saw the neck of a bottle. He unearthed it and it happened to be the first of many bottles of Calvados buried out there, presumably to keep it out of German hands. My dad was a hero that day to the rest of the men in the company. Calvados remained his favorite liqueur until the day he died. Another acquired taste that I grew to appreciate as an adult myself.
My dad’s last assignment in the army was the one he enjoyed most—Canadian Defence Liaison Officer to Combat Development Command at Fort Belvoir, Virgina. He relieved a contemporary named Lieutenant Colonel Ian MacDougal Grant. Colonel Grant was a great guy. He had the swashbuckling good looks of Errol Flynn and he used to give me a lift around Fort Belvoir in his convertible VW Karmann Ghia. He and my dad were great friends and it wasn’t until my dad died that I noticed the name “I. M. Grant” on his Short Snorter… they had obviously been comrades-in-arms for a very long time.
My dad retired from the Canadian Forces in 1972, after the decision was made to integrate all combined arms into one force and go to one green uniform. My dad had to give up his Crimson Red Mess Dress jacket and his Full Dress Blue Tunic replete with chain mail on the shoulders. All symbols of the Lord Strathcona’s Horse Regiment. Some traditions die hard. He’d done 32 years in the Forces. It was time to go.
He was never so happy when I became an American citizen because he loved America and Americans. He was unhappy when Canada chose not to fight in the Vietnam War because partnerships, alliances and coalitions were very important to him. They are to me too…
When he died in 2000, I was in command and at sea. When I returned to Charleston, SC, to take care of his affairs, I inquired as to the possibility of arranging military honors from the Government of Canada at his funeral. Nothing could be done in the United States. He would have to be returned to Canada and that was not possible. My mom and I were insistent that he receive military honors, so I arranged a memorial service before my next underway on USS OKLAHOMA CITY from Norfolk, VA and I planned a formal burial at sea for his cremains. My dad was a proud Scotsman so I hired the best bagpiper I could find and a Canadian in a tartan kilt to boot! As the ship cast off all lines and pulled off the pier, the piper started to play Amazing Grace, one of my dad’s favorite hymns. The piper’s gait perfectly matched the speed of the ship as he marched in perfect unison alongside USS OKLAHOMA CITY while we backed into the harbor. On the pigstick [submarine flagstaff] of the bridge, my national ensign was accompanied that day by the Canadian Maple Leaf flag of my father. The piper finished his tribute and I ordered All Ahead Standard. It would be our last trip together as we sailed to the dive point.
I ordered the Quartermaster to plot a course to intercept the Gulf Stream, which passed through our assigned waterspace. The Gulf Stream flows out of the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, around Florida and up the east coast towards Canada. The natural power of the sea would take my father home. His service was short and dignified and I laid a wreath in his honor to accompany his ashes on their journey north.
This Friday, I will remember and give thanks for all the members of the Greatest Generation. Many of my friends like RADM Barry Bruner, whose dad was a member of the original Band of Brothers, or RADM Mike Franken, whose dad survived a torpedo attack and the sinking of his ship at the Battle of Savo Island, have similar stories to tell. If you see a WWII Vet around town, please stop and say hello and thank them for their sacrifice.
On this D-Day, the 6th of June, I’m going to go home, put on my DVD of Saving Private Ryan and sit down for a meal of Brussels sprouts, canned peaches and a shot of Calvados. Je me souviens…