You are here
The past, present, and future links with Spain: My trip to Minorca and my reflections on our strong military bond
A young, tenacious immigrant and mariner from Spain arrived on our shores before we were a country. He joined the revolutionary cause as a naval officer in the South Carolina Navy and was quickly given his own ship to command. During the Siege of Charleston in 1780, a cannonball broke his arm, and he was captured. After a prisoner exchange, he volunteered to fight alongside General Washington. Ultimately, he helped the United States earn its independence. He settled in the new country and started a family. His name: Jordi Farragut, born in Minorca, Spain.
Besides giving our country selfless heroism, unwavering patriotism, and irrefutable courage, Farragut and his Scottish-Irish-American wife Elizabeth also gave us their son, who would become our first admiral and a U.S. Civil War hero: David Glasgow Farragut. And Minorca – besides giving us Jordi Farragut – gave us our base at Port Mahón for our Mediterranean Squadron (the predecessor of U.S. 6th Fleet) and a floating naval school (the predecessor of the U.S. Naval Academy).
For this reason, my trip to Minorca was to celebrate the strong historical links between our great countries. Along with my friend and Chief of the Spanish Navy, Adm. Gen. López Calderón, we attended events organized by The Legacy aimed at celebrating the naval bond between our two countries. We also hosted our friends aboard USS Donald Cook. The Legacy’s website aptly capture the spirit of this past weekend: “encourage and promote ties between the two countries based on the cherished relationship that has united us since before the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America.”
I had the opportunity to personally thank the Commanding General of the Balearic Islands, as well as Adm. Gen. López Calderón for their unflinching support to the security of Europe, the collective defense of NATO and to the United States.
Our conjoined naval history began with the Farragut family and Minorca, but over the past 200 years it has continued to strengthen and expand, particularly after we became NATO allies and shared common strategic national security goals that paved the way for Spain to welcome our Sailors and ships in Rota and our service members to the Morón Air Base.
In the 1960s, Rota became an important port for our submarines. Today, Rota is the home away from home for our Sailors stationed on our four Forward-Deployed Naval Forces Europe multi-mission, Arleigh Burke-class Aegis destroyers: USS Carney, USS Donald Cook, USS Porter, and USS Ross. Our four ships are part of the European Phased Adaptive Approach. They’re able to immediately respond to any crisis in the region and participate in exercises. I consider them among my top priorities as commander of U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa and Allied Joint Force Command Naples.
Our forces in Rota are a key element to our mutual national security and maintaining stability in the region. In 2017, USS Porter, along with USS Ross, launched 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at Al Shayrat airbase in Syria in response to the Assad regime’s chemical weapon attack on its own civilians, thereby degrading the regime’s ability to conduct future chemical attacks from that location. In the Spring, Rota-based ships once again played a role in a combined attack to degrade Syria’s chemical weapons, research and storage facilities.
In recognition of history, it seems appropriate USS Porter is forward deployed to Spain. The ship’s namesake, Commodore David Porter, was Adm. Farragut’s foster father. When Farragut’s mother succumbed to yellow fever when he was young, Jordi Farragut asked Porter, who was a close personal friend, to watch over his son. In fact, Adm. Farragut’s birth name was James, but he changed it to David, in honor of David Porter.
Beyond graciously hosting our ships that are part of NATO’s integrated air and missile defense (IAMD) capability, Spain’s direct contributions to NATO’s IAMD are noteworthy. This past October, the Spanish frigate SPS Álvaro de Bazán (F 101) successfully fired an Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile against an incoming anti-ship cruise missile during the live-fire IAMD exercise Formidable Shield.
This was the first time NATO’s smart defense concept was demonstrated with ships serving as air defense units protecting naval ballistic missile defense units. We look forward to Spain’s participation in Formidable Shield 2019. IAMD is another top priority.
As a Southern European NATO Ally, Spain is a particularly critical partner in another of my top priorities: the NATO Strategic Direction South Hub. It is the Alliance’s bold new initiative to connect, consult and coordinate with countries across the Middle East and North Africa. It brings together willing participants to devise holistic and collaborative approaches to monitor and assess destablizing conditions that proliferate violent extremism. I firmly believe that if we can assist in stabilizing some of these regions and give people a reason to stay in their home countries, they will not feel compelled to leave. It can help prevent future refugee crises, and avoid the significant burden mass migrations can have on the economies of Europe. This is a security priority but also a humanitarian one.
While our military-to-military relationship with Spain is strong and healthy, and our commitment to NATO is rock solid, our strongest bond is simply as people coming together around similar principles and values.
The last time I visited Spain about a month ago, I was in Valencia to thank and recognize Spanish surgeon Dr. Pedro Cavadas. Dr. Cavadas and his outstanding medical team were able to reattach one of our Sailor’s right hand that was severed during an industrial accident at sea. Given the precious amount of time lost in transporting the Sailor from the submarine to Hospital de Manises in Valencia, it required an extremely talented team to move quickly to save his hand. Today, our Sailor is expected to make a full recovery.
Of course, I also can’t pass up the opportunity to highlight a personal connection with someone who is considered a hero in Spain and to the United States: Alejandro Villanueva – a decorated war hero and a pro football player with the Pittsburgh Steelers, whose parents are Spanish. My son went to West Point with Alejandro, and my wife Cindy and I know his parents well. Villanueva served three tours in Afghanistan as a U.S. Army Ranger and paratrooper. Today, he traded the battlefield for a football field.
These are the type of stories that endure, and we must never forget the links that form the strong bond between our countries and our great navies. Our relationships are strengthened by our history, our integrations today, and the engagements we are planning for the future. The U.S. Navy has a great legacy with Spain that began with a young Minorcan mariner that helped us win our independence. I am thankful this legacy continues with heroes like the Valencian surgeon who gave one of our Sailors a chance to live a normal life. Long live Spanish-American Friendship!