Admiral James G. Stavridis currently serves as Commander, U.S. European Command, and NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander, Europe. A 1976 Naval Academy graduate and surface warfare officer, ADM Stavridis skippered a destroyer, the U.S.S. Barry, and commanded Destroyer Squadron 21. From 2006 to 2009, he commanded U.S. Southern Command.
Out of each USNA class, only a small number graduates achieve flag rank. What did you do differently to command two geographic unified commands?
Simply persistence. Although I spent my first five years thinking quite seriously about getting out of the navy to go to law school, I always looked honestly at all my options both in and out of uniform. In the end, what kept me in was the great people I was able to work with every day, both USNA graduates and other colleagues. So much else is luck and timing.
Do you have any advice to current midshipmen or junior officers?
Read lots of novels. Every time you imagine another life, you expand your own. And learn another language—to learn another person’s language is to learn their life.
How did your experience at the Naval Academy help you throughout your career? Was there anything the Academy did not prepare you for?
Overall, my time at Annapolis gave me a cadre of close friends, a sense of humor, a grounding in French and Spanish, and a lifetime of memories. Nothing can really prepare a person for life after college, but the academy came close.
Any memorable or notable stories from your time at the Academy?
I was a proud editor of the Log Magazine and Salty Sam, class of 1976. The editor of the west point equivalent, the pointer, was recently retired general and close friend Stan McChrystal. We remain good friends today—it is a perfect reminder of how the relationships forged at the academy transcend career and time.
How do your graduate degree in international relations and your PhD in law and diplomacy help you in your current command?
International affairs is the novel that never ends. Every single day we all get to read the next chapter on the front pages of the newspaper (downloaded to our iPads). To be involved in that daily, from serving in the crew of a ballistic missile destroyer to being a combatant commander or the leader of NATO operations globally is fascinating and an honor.
On your facebook page, you have a varsity letterman jacket with three gold stars. What sport did you play at the Academy and do you believe that athletics helps develop military officers?
I played varsity squash and tennis. Our squash team finished in the top five nationally each year. The travel and interaction was invaluable and the chance to play both sports all over the world in the years since has been wonderful.
EUCOM was originally created in 1952 to streamline America’s defense of Soviet aggression. What would you consider EUCOM’s current purpose?
Supporting our NATO allies as we work together in Afghanistan, Russia, the Balkans, piracy, narcotics, and defense reform. The vast majority of our allies come from EUCOM and NATO, and together we are far stronger than any of us along. We are also working hard on interagency and private-public partnerships.
How is EUCOM adapting to China’s rise in military power?
Working with them in piracy off the horn of Africa and seeking zones of cooperation in other global security challenges, e.g. in Iran and Afghanistan, for example.
As Supreme Allied Commander, NATO, what are the difficulties in aligning the goals and needs of twenty-eight separate militaries?
The challenge is connecting all the different cultures, languages, and national approaches—but the only thing harder than tackling security challenge with allies is trying to solve them alone.
General Alexander, Commander, U.S. Cyber Command, recently spoke to the Brigade of Midshipmen about cyber warfare. You successfully “hacked in” to General Alexander’s power-point presentation. Do you believe cyber warfare is the future of warfare, and how prepared is the United States and NATO to win a cyber war?
I do believe two important areas of future engagement for all of us are in cyber and alliance engagement. Keith is a good friend and a brilliant strategic thinker, and our nation is lucky to have him leading the new cyber command.
How has the recent entry of former Soviet states into NATO affected the dynamics of NATO?
It is a very positive development, expanding the alliance from a dozen countries to 28 today—all dedicated to common defense, operations in Afghanistan and the Balkans, and focused on defending freedom, democracy, and individual liberty.
How is EUCOM supporting the Global War on Terror as well as Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom?
We send 30% of our 100,000 people forward to Iraq and Afghanistan at any given time, we help train the 40+ countries in our region that are part of the coalitions there, we work closely with the interagency partners from the drug enforcement agency to the agency for international development, and we sustain the diplomatic pressure in concert with state department.
On a more serious note, how badly will Navy beat Army this year?
Seriously, let me say that in 1976, my senior year, we beat them 51-0. This year, we’re going to beat them easily (again); but when the final whistle blows, there won’t be another group of people in the world with whom we are more proud to stand shoulder to shoulder in defense of this nation.
ADM Stavridis, Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to answer these interview questions.