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SPEECH | Sept. 3, 2015

TF 134 Change of Command Ceremony


Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, state leaders, fellow Flag and General Officers, family and friends, men and women of the Pacific Submarine Force  – Good morning and “Aloha!”

It’s great to be back in the “Aloha” state.  I certainly miss paradise – I miss the warm climate, year-round tropical breeze, and of course the warm and passionate people here.

I will really miss it as the temperature starts to drop here in Nebraska during the “Husker” football season, as I call it.

But Phil, thank you for that kind introduction, and it’s really an honor to be here for you and for Lisa.  It’s hard to believe that it has been two years since your change of command back in August of 2013.

Fritz and Julie, I couldn’t be happier to welcome you both back to the “Ohana” here. And just think from Nebraska, to Naples, to D.C., and then to Hawaii, still sort of “globetrotting” you might say.

Well, this large crowd assembled is indicative of the significance and importance of the submarine force operations and of course our continued focus on our rebalance to the Pacific, as emphasized in the 2015 National Security Strategy.

Adm. Swift, given the complexity and diversity of naval operations in this dynamic region, I am pleased you are here with us also. Thank you and Trish for your extraordinary leadership and of course your friendship. By now, you’ve had enough time as the Fleet Commander to straighten the bent rudder that (Adm.) Harry Harris and I left for you. (inaudible) as well.

Adm. Fargo and Sarah, as well as Adm. Zlatoper – great to know that you’re here in the audience with us today. I can’t thank you for your leadership, your mentorship, etc., here that you’ve provided me personally, as well as others here on the stage.

And also, I want to give a shout out and appreciation for all the submarine veterans that are here today.

A special thanks to the family and the friends who have supported both the Sawyers and the Roegge families over the years, and especially those who have journeyed particularly to the middle of the world’s largest ocean, to share this special day with them – what a fantastic, historic setting, (inaudible) even here in this building.

If we would be on the pier there near the USS Mississippi, as this was originally planned, you would know that very close and you could perhaps barely see it, the “Mighty Mo,” the Missouri, battleship that 70 years ago yesterday, was anchored near Tokyo Bay as General Douglas MacArthur stood on the deck and accepted the Empire of Japan’s surrender ending years of hard, atrocious, and bloody major power war. But we won’t see that here, I would just suggest you drive by it.  I jogged past it last night after getting in, and it’s great to see the history here.

Although much has changed since then – of course Japan now is one of our closest allies. We just had the Chairman there, Joint Chiefs visit, here at Strategic Command, Adm. Kawano, not that long ago, and the U.S. and our partners have maintained this 70-year record of deterring major power war.

Peace and stability though in this region is not a given, it’s challenged by the tyranny of distance and significant disagreements and disputes. Yet this region is so dependent on the freedom of navigation and access and adherence to international norms – which has implications for the broader Indo Asia-Pacific region; and I would say, even the world.

For example, we see China’s efforts to assert regional dominance in the East and South China Seas, while at the same time, they’re operating a new ballistic missile submarine force, modernizing its mobile and fixed intercontinental ballistic missiles, and conducting persistent cyber activities and counter-space demonstrations.

Tensions between North and South Korea are continuing sporadically.  Under Kim Jung Un, North Korea is advancing its nuclear capabilities, not only parading a road mobile intercontinental ballistic missile, but showing ambitions to develop an at-sea ballistic missile program, and it was not that long ago they conducted a serious cyber-attack against the Sony Production Enterprise.

Clearly, there is a lot of activity in this region, and this barely scratches the surface – or, rather for this crowd, I should say the sub-surface. 

As the commander of U.S. Strategic Command with global responsibilities, I am interested in, and also watching Russia – which maintains a capable presence in the Pacific.

Russia is modernizing its strategic nuclear deterrence force including a new generation of strategic and conventional submarines, and it is also behaving in ways challenging international norms that are below the threshold that would ordinarily propel the international community to take action, such as with Crimea and Ukraine; its selective compliance with treaties and accords; and it’s conduct in both cyberspace and outer-space.

While I won’t elaborate further, know that the reach and the endurance of our submarine force – as part of our whole-of-government rebalance to the Asia-Pacific – is vital to regional stability, maritime security, the world’s economic engine and assuring our allies, both in and beyond this region.

For example, USS Seawolf and her crew, based out of Bremerton, Washington recently made news upon returning from a mission in the Arctic – she’s not alone. Our Pacific Fleet submarines routinely conduct operations around the globe, supporting multiple combatant commanders, such as European Command, Central Command, and Southern Command.

Now due to the “liquid Aloha,” we’re not able to conduct the ceremony on the bow of the USS Mississippi.  This submarine, like the rest of the Pacific submarine force, has been extremely busy carrying out global missions vital to preserving our freedoms and our democratic way of life.

So I’d like to salute, even though we’re not close to that submarine Mississippi – Commander Eric Rozek, the commanding officer, and of course the Chief of the Boat, “COB” McMillan – and the elite crew that prepared to host us today; and I know there was a lot of energy and work done to get ready for that. But I’d also like to salute all the Sailors and our civilian workforce, who operate, maintain and provide security for our submarines day in and day out for our nation.  They are the best in the world!

How about a round of applause?

Now given the importance of this undersea domain, our nation is blessed to have the leadership of both Phil and Fritz.

Phil, again thank you for inviting me here. It’s a personal honor and privilege, having worked with you on just so many occasions that start back in 2002 when you were the skipper of USS La Jolla and you taught me the intricacies of deploying Special Operating Forces – our SEALS – from the dry-deck shelter of the Los Angeles class submarines.

And while I welcome the opportunity to be back on the Hawaiian waterfront, albeit short, what really brings me here is Phil’s role as my commander for Task Force 134, and the work that he does with his team to ensure survivable at-sea strategic deterrence and assurance so that any nation that might think that they can escalate their way out of a failed conflict, will know that restraint is a better option.

Coincidentally, you also contribute significantly to what we call ISR – Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance – another one of my assigned missions.  So important to our nation’s deeper understanding of adversaries and potential adversaries, while providing unique conventional strike capabilities and undersea dominance.

I should be clear, however, as you can tell from this stage setting, that Phil is a dual-hatted commander; Commander of Submarine Pacific Fleet too, so he’s had this unique privilege of working for not just one, but two four-star bosses. Not exactly an easy task, I can assure you – but he has handled it with magnificence – like everything else he does!

Now Phil is a stellar flag officer and has done remarkable work in both of his roles. As you will hear in his award citation, his leadership, his focus, and his drive guaranteed the warfighting readiness of the Pacific fleet – approximately 60% of our nation’s submarine force – resulting in a credible, safe, secure and effective nuclear strategic deterrent and generating forward presence around the globe.

As you listen to the citation, you’ll hear phrases like “constant focus on forward operations and warfighting,” and “continued process of exercise and analysis,” and “projecting power.”

I am mindful that this military speak isn’t always as meaningful to those of you who don’t live in that world day in and day out.

Simply put though, Phil has made a difference.

But quite frankly, that citation really won’t do it enough justice in illustrating his superb ability to see the 360 degree picture despite the periscope’s somewhat limited field of view. You submariners know what I’m talking about.

His innovative thinking ensured the effective employment of the Pacific submarine assets and associated support activities, including improving the readiness of the Undersea Surveillance and Rescue Capability.

He also promoted teamwork and cooperative spirit among our allies and our partners, so it’s not a surprise to see just this number of Consular Generals that are mustered here from Japan, the Republic of Korea, Philippines, and the Kingdom of Tonga. And we also have here in the audience Vice Adm. Kaji who most recently led the Japanese Submarine Force.

Phil directed numerous high priority missions, delivering intelligence that on many occasions was briefed to top national security leadership – stuff I can’t discuss in this public forum.  I think that’s a good thing.

As impressive as that list is, he didn’t stop there.  His tireless energy was clear when it came to taking care of our most precious asset – the people.

Well known for his genuine appreciation and support of our Sailors, his “always having time for anyone no matter the rank,” and his ability to inspire greatness led to outstanding morale and unprecedented retention rates.

He led from the front – incorporating women officers in our Ohio-class platforms, and establishing the groundwork for female officers and enlisted crewmembers joining the ranks of our Virginia-class submarines. (inaudible)

Phil, you have had a tremendous impact and knowing the dedication and passion you have put into every assignment, it is no surprise that you were chosen as the next deputy of the U.S. Pacific Fleet.

I know that your deliberate and common sense approach, as well as your personal commitment to the mission will serve you and Adm. Scott Swift well!

Fritz – you are joining this elite team at a critical time; and I know you’re a strategic thinker, not just because you worked for U.S. Strategic Command, but because you were able to escape the Washington, D.C. beltway and got a job here in paradise – Hawaii.

Seriously, I look forward to your critical thought because you are taking command when our nation is facing significant challenges and increasing uncertainty. I am confident that you are the right leader, at the right time to assume the responsibilities of this command.

For those of you in the crowd who don’t know Adm. Fritz Roegge, you should know you’re getting one of the most humble and down to earth leaders you will ever meet. 

He’s a leader who mentors and develops, and who believes in creating more leaders. He’s a straight shooter and will always treat you fair and with respect.

I have no doubt he will continue the outstanding work that Adm. Phil Sawyer has achieved.

I can say with absolute confidence that officers like Fritz and Phil and the professional men and women they lead are prepared and will continue to do what the mission demands, as the submarine force continues to build upon its World War II legacy.

But they need the right tools to do the job. We must for example, have more of these new Virginia-class submarines. We must also recapitalize our sea-based strategic deterrent. Our Ohio-class submarines have been sustained beyond their original 30-year service life to an unprecedented 42 years. Timely and stable investments are needed to support the Ohio Replacement Program; and there is no margin left – I say no margin left – to extend this Ohio-class submarine. 

While our Sailors – our real heroes – are ensuring we keep the advantage we enjoy over our adversaries under the sea, we cannot afford to assume it is given, even in today’s constrained budget environment.

Phil – I sincerely appreciate the outstanding work you have done. Over the years, you’ve been a trusted confidant, an advisor, and a friend. Now Phil here even inspired me to go out and get some golf clubs and start playing golf in Hawaii on my last tour here with Fritz, and we both lament a little bit that we haven’t been on the golf course or not these days in our capacity.  Perhaps Adm. Swift will help me with that.

Phil, you are really a true shipmate and I have been blessed to have benefited from your wisdom over the years.

Lisa – Bonny and I want to personally thank you for your support of all our families and sacrifices over the years, because you too have served our country and continue to do so. Although you are not going far this time, Ms. Bonny often reminds me that it’s not easy being a military spouse – getting up and moving every couple of years – and I can assure you I don’t take that for granted. You are representative of the sacrifices and demands of our joint military families at large. 

Phil, I wish you and Lisa the best of luck in your new adventure and of course just across the street.

Fritz and Julie, Bonny and I also welcome you back to the U.S. Strategic Command “Ohana.” I look forward to working with you and the stellar professionals here at Pacific Submarine Forces.

I want to thank you all for being here this morning. May God continue to bless these leaders, our Navy, and the United States of America. And you know you may lament a little bit about being inside these confines, but you know I look at it as a Hawaiian blessing – this rain business. Because I was very recently at Vandenberg, California, and they would wish they had some of what you’re receiving today.

“Mahalo” and “Mahalo Nui Loa.”

Now – Phil, would you please join me on the stage for some well-deserved recognition.