Adm. Harry Harris
Commander, U.S. Pacific Command
North Carolina State University, NC
May 11, 2018
As Prepared for Delivery
Thanks, Marc, for that nice introduction.
Before getting started:
It's truly an honor – and very cool I might add – to stand here this morning in the company of heroes – veterans, service members, midshipmen, and the loved ones who support our military – patriots all.
- I’d like to say thank you to North Carolina’s Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps for the warm welcome;
- And special thanks to Major Steinfels and Lieutenant Whitmore for organizing this event, and to all those who had a hand in its planning;
- I was invited here to speak today by Midshipman Liam Taylor … that was a bold move and I admire boldness. In Naval Aviation, where Liam is headed, we’re fond of saying ‘fortune favors the bold.’ Great job, Liam.
- Distinguished guests … ladies and gentlemen … Midshipmen …
As you can tell, I’m excited to be here today … because this institution is special, both for its preeminent faculty and its reputation for academic excellence … and, of course, its love of football. As you may know, I’m from Tennessee … another place where folks take their sports seriously.
Last year, a good friend of mine … a football nut, I might add … was enjoying himself at a packed game here at Carter-Finley Stadium when he noticed an empty seat down in front. He decided to take a chance and made his way through the stadium to the empty seat.
As my friend sits down, he asks the older gentleman next to him if he knew whose seat it was. The guy said, ‘Yes, that's my wife's seat. We’ve never missed a game since Bill Cowher was a freshman, but sadly she’s passed away.’
My friend offered his sympathy and said it was really too bad that he couldn't find some relative to give the ticket to and enjoy the game together.
‘Oh no.’ the guy said. ‘They're all at the funeral.’
It’s great to be here in God’s country with you all today. As the last speaker before the commissioning ceremony, I hope my speech will keep you on the edge of your seats. Hopefully that’ll be because you're interested, not because you're trying to get up the nerve to leave.
Though, I come here to NC State for the first time, I have long admired this university. As a Captain, I was a speechwriter for General Hugh Shelton, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and a proud member of the Wolfpack Nation. General Shelton is a man of extraordinary intellect and decisive action, and he gave much credit to his formative years here in Raleigh.
In fact, General Shelton is a perfect example of THINK and DO in action. This university understands that to meet global challenges, you need more than good ideas … you need practical solutions. If you live by those words, you’re on track for a meaningful, productive, and rewarding life.
North Carolina has some deep connections to our military. Fort Bragg, Camp Lejeune, Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, and Seymour Johnson Air Force Base are some of America’s premier facilities playing a vital role in our national defense.
Incidentally, Seymour Johnson is the only Air Force Base named after a Naval officer. Seymour Johnson, a Goldsboro native, initially went to that light blue school across town, but then he transitioned to Annapolis, where he discovered the right shade of blue – Navy blue.
And despite being on the East Coast, North Carolina has deep Navy ties to the Indo-Pacific, where I work. USS North Carolina, the battleship which is now a museum ship in Wilmington, was the first new battleship to arrive in Hawaii since the beginning of World War II. When the ship arrived at Pearl Harbor on July 11, 1942, sailors described North Carolina as ‘the most beautiful thing they had ever seen.’ Her arrival in Hawaii greatly increased the morale and capability of the Pacific Fleet.
The aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk, named for the spot on the North Carolina coast where the Wright brothers first flew, served in the Indo-Pacific for 48 years. Kitty Hawk’s last 10 years were as our forward-deployed carrier in Yokosuka, Japan, where I was born.
Today, there’s a new USS North Carolina operating in the Indo-Pacific theater, SSN 777, one of our newest Virginia-class submarines. And this new North Carolina serves with two Los Angeles-class submarines with ties to the state, USS Asheville and USS Charlotte. And the Seventh Fleet Flagship is the command ship USS Blue Ridge.
Now technically, the Blue Ridge Mountains extend across seven states from Pennsylvania to Georgia. But since Mount Mitchell is the highest point in the Blue Ridge Mountains – in fact, the highest point east of the Mississippi – I think North Carolina can safely lay claim to USS Blue Ridge as well.
I find it fascinating that all of the current ships with North Carolina ties are operating as part of the U.S. Pacific Fleet. And I’m very glad they are there, and that some of you will be serving on them soon.
In my current job, I’m the commander of United States Pacific Command, or PACOM, America’s oldest and largest military combatant command that is headquartered in Honolulu, Hawaii.
We’re made up of about 375,000 personnel – Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, Coast Guard, and Department of Defense civilians – who stand the watch over half the Earth. I always say it goes from Hollywood to Bollywood, and from polar bears to penguins.
Although many refer to this area as the Asia-Pacific, you’ve heard me refer to it several times now as the Indo-Pacific. This term, in my opinion, more accurately captures the fact that the Indian and Pacific Oceans are the economic lifeblood to the nations that surround them, linking India, Australia, Southeast Asia, Northeast Asia, Oceania and the United States.
Since 1947, PACOM has been responsible for all U.S. military operations in this area of responsibility – all designed to reinforce our alliances, expand our partnerships, and ensure our outstanding diplomats can negotiate from a position of strength. And if diplomacy fails, we must ensure our Joint forces can fight and win in any conflict.
Over the past 70 years, the Indo-Pacific has been one of the world’s great success stories. Completely transformed since the end of World War II, the region is now home to the world’s three largest economies and seven of the eight fastest growing markets. But even so, the world is changing. Looking at the challenges we face today in the context of history, I firmly believe we are at a critical point where our Nation’s future is at stake.
The 2018 National Defense Strategy, signed in January by Defense Secretary Mattis, does not mince words, stating quote, ‘Today, we are emerging from a period of strategic atrophy, aware that our competitive military advantage has been eroding. We are facing increased global disorder, characterized by decline in the long-standing rules-based international order—creating a security environment more complex and volatile than any we have experienced in recent memory. Inter-state strategic competition, not terrorism, is now the primary concern in U.S. national security.’
The NDS also adds that: China is a strategic competitor using predatory economics to intimidate its neighbors while militarizing features in the South China Sea; Russia has violated the borders of nearby nations and pursues veto power over the economic, diplomatic, and security decisions of its neighbors; North Korea’s outlaw actions and reckless rhetoric continue despite United Nation’s censure and sanction; and despite the defeat of ISIS’s physical caliphate, threats to stability remain as terrorist groups with long reach continue to murder the innocent and threaten peace more broadly.
In other words … welcome to PACOM!
In fact, of the five security challenges identified in the NDS, four of them – China, Russia, North Korea, and ISIS – are in the PACOM AOR.
Those challenges are not deterred by words alone. Diplomacy must always be at the forefront of international relations. And diplomacy must be backed by credible military power that matters. My job as a military commander is to develop those hard power options for our National Command Authority.
Ladies and gentlemen, despite these global challenges, America remains the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world. And we owe a debt of gratitude to our Armed Forces who’ve given much to ensure that this great nation stays free, especially those who made the ultimate sacrifice.
Our strength as a nation continues to draw from those who’ve served in the past … and those who are serving today. And our nation will continue to draw strength from those who will serve tomorrow … an unbroken chain, linking Americans, generation to generation. Indeed, our nation’s brave men and women … the intrepid souls who’ve chosen the warrior’s path … are the cherished lifeblood that fuels the heart of the greatest nation on Earth.
Thankfully, our nation has always been blessed to have strong men and women with exceptional courage. People willing and able to defend America whenever Lady Liberty is threatened. And they’ve answered that clarion call to defend our nation time and time again, on every front and in every battle.
For 242 years, the men and women of our nation have stepped forward to serve in our armed forces and defend our freedoms. They have risked their lives for the land, for the people, and for the ideals that we all cherish.
Our battles, our victories, indeed our way of life, are owed not to great moments or important dates. They are owed to the actions and sacrifices of these men and women who were willing to step into the breach for their country and for the cause of freedom.
America is the country she is because of her heroes, past and present. People who put the nation’s interest above self-interest … who put patriotism above profit … and who put love of country above love of self.
Now, more than ever, America needs men and women who are willing to forego wearing a business suit, forego strolling down Easy Street, and forego living the good life. To wear instead the cloth of the nation. To travel instead along an uncertain road fraught with peril. To live instead a life on the ragged edge of danger. To live lives that matter. The Midshipmen here today made that conscious choice to live a life of sacrifice and service for the greater cause. They chose to join our United States Armed Forces, and for our nation, that makes all the difference.
And while they each walked a different road, they all faced challenges, and they’ve proven themselves well-equipped to meet those challenges. President Ronald Reagan once said, ‘When life gets tough and the crisis is undeniably at hand … we will find nothing inside ourselves that we have not already put there.’
I’m not talking about physical strength and courage, though they will surely need that in abundance. I’m talking about strength of character and integrity beyond reproach. Those ethical values cannot be transplanted into us … they cannot be crammed into our brains during an all-nighter … they cannot be e-mailed into the hard drive of our souls. Ethics education is a life-long process that begins in our homes, continues throughout our education, and matures on active duty.
As Albert Einstein said ‘Try not to become a person of success, but rather, try to become a person of value.’
Words to live by. But how do you actually do that?
For the Midshipmen in the audience, I can assure you that when I was sitting in your shoes, the last thing I needed was to listen to another gnarly old Admiral tell sea stories about the way he remembered it was.
So, in my attempt to help bring Albert Einstein’s words to life, I thought I'd avoid sea stories and, instead, give you five lessons I've learned along my journey in the United States Navy. Oscar Wilde once defined ‘experience’ as the name we give our mistakes. I hope you find these ‘experiences’ useful. Take 'em or leave 'em.
First, there’s the old joke that the lowest-ranked graduate from medical school is called Doctor. This holds true for ROTC as well – no matter if you are the distinguished graduate or the anchor man, you will all soon be Ensigns and Second Lieutenants. All of you start with the same gold bar on your collar.
So what matters? Sustained superior performance. That’s a phrase you’ll hear throughout your career and it’s absolutely true. And most of what you need to demonstrate sustained superior performance is completely within your power.
So that’s my first takeaway: Your college career does not define you. Y’all are at the same starting line. You get to set the course and speed for your career starting today. Take advantage of that.
Second, fully commit to your career field. Go all in on your profession. If you are going to be a Naval Aviator, focus on being the best pilot you can be. If you are going to drive ships or submarines, aim to be the most capable mariner or submariner you can be. Focus your energy on mastering your profession. Become technically and tactically proficient. Become known as an officer of consequence and character.
It takes a lot of study, attitude, focus, and discipline. Don’t be the person who just gets by. When you commit to being the best, you will find your personal satisfaction increase dramatically. Your work will drive your success … and your success will hopefully inspire you to continue to be your best. It’s a virtuous cycle.
Number 3 is about time management. No one should care about your time more than you. You can’t delegate PT, or mentoring, or time with family and friends. Now, I get it that as an Ensign or 2nd Lt, someone else is going to manage your time, but as you get more senior, remember that time is your most precious commodity. And your priorities define what you get done.
The fourth lesson is a story I call ‘Thanks, King’. At the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm, after Jim Thorpe won both the decathlon and the pentathlon, the King of Sweden said, ‘You, sir, are the greatest athlete in the world. I would consider it an honor to shake your hand.’ Jim Thorpe simply replied, ‘Thanks, King.’ The lesson here is to say ‘thanks’, say it often, say it like you mean it, say it to your troops, peers, and seniors. Say it to your parents. Say it to your teachers. You can't say thanks enough.
The final lesson I’ve learned many times … in many ways. I promised not to tell sea stories, but will share one more ‘experience’ that has the added benefit of actually being true. A couple of months ago, my aide and I were on business in New York City. I recall that night vividly … dressed in choker whites … onboard USS Intrepid … giving a speech about the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Coral Sea … in front of President Trump and Australian Prime Minister Turnbull … pretty heady stuff.
Later that evening on the ride back to the hotel, I looked back at Adrienne and said, ‘well, it doesn’t get better’n this.’ When we got to the hotel in our tricked-out black S-U-V … I noticed a woman staring at me … I thought she might be drawn by my dress uniform, wings of gold, and Naval aviation swagger. Then she turned to her friend and said … ‘is that our Uber driver?’
So that’s the final lesson: Be humble … or be humbled. We live in a world where the nation needs us to contemplate the unimaginable, to foresee threats on the horizon, to develop the capability to counter and defeat those threats, and to be prepared to fight to the last American to defend this precious nation of ours.
But we also live in a world where our fellow citizens have the freedom to hail a ride on their phone, and the luxury to be ignorant of the uniforms and ranks of the people who preserve that freedom. We serve at the pleasure of the President of the United States and by the grace of our country’s citizens … so humble yourself or life will do it for you.
Ladies and gentlemen, it’s now time for me to take my own advice and say thanks to all of you for including me in your Commissioning Ceremony. I do hope you enjoyed my speech … and if you did not … I hope you had a good nap.
Let me close with a final thought.
We are a Nation at war, and many of the Midshipmen in this audience will be in combat within a year of graduation, if not sooner.
‘Whom shall I send?’ – the Good Book asks. ‘Who will go for us?’
‘Here am I. Send me’ – the prophet replied. ‘Send me.’
When Lady Liberty looks at the destruction our enemies would cause us to suffer, she, too, asks ‘whom shall I send?’ … ‘who will go for me?’
By wearing the Cloth of the Nation, you are saying, ‘Here am I. Send me.’
I'm proud of each of you for what you do and for what you are about to do.
May God bless you all, and all who have served before us.
And may God bless this land of liberty we call the United States of America. Thank you very much.