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Public Papers - 1989 - January

Remarks to the Crew of the U.S.S. America and Naval Shipyard Employees in Norfolk, Virginia


Admiral Dunleavy, thank you very much, sir, for that welcome to America, and thank all of you for that response. Admiral Trost, and to our Secretary of the Navy, and all involved in this wonderful day, I say thank you. I want to single out to Members of Congress who are here, many members of the Armed Services Committee, and others who've been strong backers -- have a strong military for this country, and I'm delighted to see them here. I'm pleased to be on one of the greatest ships in the world, with a crew that knows the meaning of the words, ``my ship, my country,'' the crew of the America.

You know, as an old carrier pilot, today is a very special day for me -- the Admiral touching on that. I can't help thinking of the carrier I once sailed on, the U.S.S. San Jacinto, namesake of which is right next door here. Carriers weren't as big in those days. Technology was very different: narrow deck; slower planes; strictly visual contact with the LSO, the landing signal officer; no electronics. But some things stayed the same. And Admiral Dunleavy touched on it; and I've, as Vice President, had a chance to visit the fleet. And you can't help but sense that same spirit of camaraderie, devotion to duty, patriotism, service to country. We knew then, in those days, just as you know now, how much we owed to the men and women in the bases, in the shipyards. And from the day of the Revolutionary-era sloops to the most modern supercarriers, none have written a prouder chapter in the history of the United States Navy than the Norfolk Naval Base. All over the world, those who love the sea and the ships that sail on it know that Norfolk, or Hampton Roads, if you will, stands for excellence -- a national treasure. And let me just say to all assembled: We are going to keep it that way!

My visit today is the final stop on what you might call an inaugural trip. For the past several days I've been visiting with the men and women who are my colleagues in service to our nation, from senior appointments in the administration to rank-and-file civil servants. Most are outstanding; most do a superb job. But still you might say, with no disrespect to others, that I've saved for last those whose service demands the most. And I mean you, the men and women who keep our ships and guard our shores, the men and women who serve with the Armed Forces of the United States.

In the months ahead, I'll be taking a great deal of time to talk about service, not service that is compelled but service that is given freely and openly, the service of the strong heart and the questing soul. I will speak about those who give their time and love to their communities, to help those who cannot fully help themselves. Long ago it was written that the quality of mercy is not strained, and I will speak of those who dedicate a portion of their lives to mercy for humanity. And I'll speak about you, in a way that every American knows and every man, woman and child in our land salutes. You stand here today setting an example for our nation's standard of service.

And let me start right now by recognizing one of your own, your Sailor of the Year, Aviation Ordinanceman 1st Class Joseph Robinson. Joseph was awarded this honor for two reasons. First, for his contributions to the running of this ship, but Joseph has also been recognized for his contributions to his community, where he helped establish a Neighborhood Watch -- called it a watch program and devoted over 100 hours to its success. Now, Joseph is right here, and if you'll come forward, sir, I'd be proud to shake your hand and present you with a letter of commendation. Congratulations!

What a wonderful example for us all. All of you keep the peace on the frontiers of freedom around the world. And in every corner of the globe, millions recognize you, and the flag you carry is their symbol of hope. And, yes, wherever you go, you take America and all it represents with you; and you do it with a pride and dedication that few have ever matched. I know some say that it's just a job. But when a sailor must put to sea for 6 months or more at a time and come home to find that a child who could barely crawl, can walk and say a few words, that's more than a job -- that is service and, more importantly, sacrifice. When a soldier spends long hours on cold night's sentry duty at the DMZ or at Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin, he's not just filling a job, but he's answering the call of service. And the mechanic who inspects the plane's engine or ship's power plant one last time and makes double and triple sure that every screw, every hose, every weld is as it should be, that mechanic is dedicating himself or herself not simply to a job but to a concept of service to country that is the highest in the world. Around the world, others have seen and know what your dedication to service means.

You remember, maybe, last year the Soviet Union's top military man at the time, Marshal Akhromeyev, visited the United States. He spent a day on a carrier, not unlike yours, as it went through exercises in these waters. And he visited installations across our nation. And he saw much of the amazing weaponry and machinery in our arsenal, and when he finally came to visit the White House, he let it be known that he was impressed. And what most impressed him was not our miraculous technology or incredible firepower but the enlisted men and women that he had met on these tours. He couldn't believe that we gave our enlisted men and women jobs that only officers would be permitted to handle in his own military. He couldn't believe the obvious dedication of America's enlisted men and women to their jobs, their knowledge of the machinery they handled and their readiness and ability to answer questions. In short, he couldn't believe your dedication to service.

I know you've heard it from your parents. Those of you who are married have heard it from your husbands or wives and from your children; but it goes from everyone across the country. Let me just say that we are all very, very proud of you and of the job you're doing. In the years ahead, I want to make sure that those who build our ships, planes, and weapons live up to the standards of service and dedication and duty that this crew and this base has set.

I've been inside a submerged submarine while depth charges were going off all around it. And I know what it's like to hear the vessel strain and shake and pray to God that the people in charge of buying and building cared as much about the vessel as you do. And I believe that the overwhelming majority of procurement officers and defense contractors do care that much. And I am determined to make sure that every single one of them does. My message to them will be just this simple: Don't think it's just anyone out there. Think it's your son or daughter and remember that their lives depend on the things you make. And if you're not ready to care that much and work that hard, you are not ready to do business with the United States Government.

Let me give you an example: cost overruns. Overruns didn't start just yesterday. The first dry dock ever built for our Navy is still operating, I'm told, not far from here, in this yard. And it was finished more than a century and a half ago. And the actual final cost was three times the original estimate. But even if overruns are not new, they are still wrong and hurt the national security, particularly when budgets are tight. We want tighter controls and higher standards in weapons procurement, and we will get tighter controls and higher standards in weapons procurement. You deserve the very best equipment and weapons. You are getting them most of the time now, and we're determined that you will get them all of the time.

And one other thing: I am determined to expand the national consensus that is necessary for proper support for our nation's defense. I'll do this because the first bulwark of our national defense is our national will. And if our will is ruptured, our ship of state cannot sail, or at least sail safely. I firmly believe that the vital first step to broadening our national consensus on defense is to wring the last drop of waste and mismanagement out of the way we buy our weapons. And that's what we intend to do. It's what you might call my bond to you. When a family sends a son or husband to sea or to boot camp or to flight school to defend our nation, they are making a sacrifice, and it is a great and noble sacrifice. Think of all the good all those sacrifices added up to together and what they have meant around the world in the last few years.

When the record of our time is finally written, I hope it will be the story of the final triumph of peace and freedom throughout the globe, the story of the sunrise in the day of mankind's age-old aspirations. And on that day, ``Who were the heroes?'' -- generations to come will ask. ``Who drove the chariots of fire across the sky? Who brought the day to the Earth?'' And the answer will be you. During the next 4 years, I will not be just your Commander in Chief but your friend. And together we will work to spin the gossamer thread of human dreams into a sturdy fabric of peace that will last for generations to come.

Thank you for your incredible service to this, the greatest, freest, and most wonderful country on the face of the Earth. God bless you all.

Note: The President spoke at 11:01 a.m. on the deck of the U.S.S. ``America.'' He was introduced by Adm. Richard Dunleavy, Commander of Naval Air Forces, Atlantic Fleet. In his opening remarks, the President referred to Adm. Carlisle A.H. Trost, Chief of Naval Operations, and Secretary of the Navy William L. Ball III.

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