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Home : Press Room : Transcripts
SPEECH | July 13, 2020

On the Horizon: Navigating the European and African Theaters Episode 19

Presenter:  Admiral James G. Foggo III, Commander, CNE-CNA

Guest: Ambassador Kenneth Braithwaite, Secretary of the Navy

Host: LT Bobby Dixon, NAVEUR PA Action Officer

Recorded: June 23, 2020

Released: June 29, 2020


LT. DIXON: Welcome to the 19th episode of "On the Horizon:  Navigating the European and African Theaters."  In this episode, Admiral Foggo talks about BALTOPS and Black Sea operations.  In addition, he welcomes the 77th secretary of the Navy, to discuss the importance of naval presence in Europe.


LT. DIXON: Admiral, great to see you again.

ADM. FOGGO:  Bobby, it's great to be back for number 19.

LT. DIXON:  Sir, we have a lot to cover as our Navy and Marine Corps teams have been busy training with our NATO allies and partners throughout Europe and Africa.

For our first segment, Exercise BALTOPS 2020 recently concluded with 19 countries participating.  What can you tell us about this year's exercise?

ADM. FOGGO:  Well, first of all, one of my favorite exercises.  BALTOPS 2020 was the 49th iteration of this exercise this year.  And what a huge achievement for one of the longest running maritime exercises in history.

In the midst of a global pandemic, we demonstrated our ability and our commitment to Baltic nations and to all of our partners, that the United States Navy is able to operate anywhere, at any time, and under any conditions

As you noted, this year's exercise included participation from 19 nations who provided 28 maritime units, 28 aircraft and 3,000 personnel. 

Now, unlike previous BALTOPS, this year, to ensure the health and safety of our crews, we had to do things differently.  So the entire exercise was held at sea, where maritime security begins and the global economy flourishes.

And every year since the inception of the exercise, the exercise flexes maritime and air forces to enhance the alliance's ability to work together in a very challenging environment in the Baltic Sea.  You know, it may be summertime, but it's cold up there.

And, Lieutenant Dixon, a great question that you might ask is, Well, why is the Baltic Sea so important and why is naval presence so important up there?

It is a constricted waterway by the Danish straits.  But you know, it's a critical artery of commerce, with up to 15 percent of the world's cargo traffic transiting through that region, and a lot of nations bordering on the sea, many of them our friends.

So this dynamic security environment in the Baltic demands cooperation to ensure freedom of movement and consequently economic prosperity, and that requires a commitment from regional partners and allies and certainly from NATO.

I think, once again, BALTOPS 2020, the 49th iteration under Admiral Franchetti's leadership, was a terrific opportunity for allies and partners to improve interoperability and warfighting skills while learning from each other. 

And thanks for the opportunity to comment on that.

LT. DIXON:  Thank you, sir, for that rundown on BALTOPS.

Moving to the Black Sea, what can you tell us about recent operations in the Black Sea and why we continually send ships and aircraft into that area of the world?

ADM. FOGGO:  Hey, great question, Bobby.  Another place like the Baltic Sea, but in a different geographic location, separated by a lot of land in between.

So we recently had USS Porter, one of our Rota-based forward-deployed destroyers, and USS Oak Hill, a member of the Bataan Amphibious Readiness Group which by the way is here in the Mediterranean right now and two of these ships were operating in the Black Sea at the same time as a demonstration of our continued commitment to NATO allies and partners in the region.

So, it's the third and fourth time a U.S. Navy ship has conducted operations in the Black Sea in 2020, and the second time that Porter has operated in the Black Sea.

So, while in the Black Sea and with the support of partners and allies, Porter and Oak Hill remained safely at sea, focusing on operational requirements and executing national tasking during the COVID-19 response.

As I've said about BALTOPS, our Black Sea operations show that the United States Navy is able to operate anywhere and at any time under any conditions.  The ships' operations in the Black Sea strengthen interoperability with NATO allies and partners, and demonstrates our collective resolve to maintain Black Sea security. 

This is nothing new, and there's nothing escalatory about it.  Our forces routinely participate in named exercises in the Black Sea such as the U.S.-Ukrainian-cohosted Exercise Sea Breeze, the Bulgarian-led Exercise Breeze and the Romanian-led exercises such as Sea Shield and Spring and Fall Storm. 

At every opportunity we seek to conduct bilateral and multilateral training and evolutions with our regional allies and partners when we have U.S. assets in the Black Sea.

So examples of these opportunities include replenishment at sea or RAS with Turkish oilers, pass access or passing exercises with our Georgian partners and operations across the maritime spectrum with all of our Black Sea partners. 

Our commitment to promoting peace and stability in this region is unmatched and steadfast.

LT. DIXON:  And sir, if I may, we have a big news item coming out of the Black Sea in the recent days with a change in status for Ukraine in relation to NATO and the U.S. releasing military aid to Ukraine.  A lot going on there.  Sir, what can you tell us about this?

ADM. FOGGO:  Well, Bobby, that's correct.  So the U.S. commitment to Ukrainian progress and growth as a nation is steadfast, and recently, the U.S. government approved $250 million in aid packages for Ukraine. 

This funding will improve maritime and air situational awareness by improving naval infrastructure, command-and-control capabilities, cyber defense and much more.  And as the U.S. naval commander for Europe, I'm excited to see us move forward with the provision of this aid, which will help strengthen the Ukrainian navy. 

And you may recall, we've mentioned it before on this podcast, that our own chief of staff for NAVEUR, Rear Admiral Matt Zirkle attended the commissioning ceremony of two former U.S. Coast Guard cutters being turned over to the Ukrainian navy in November of 2019. 

The commissioning of these 110-foot patrol craft expanded the Ukrainian navy's operational capacity and response to potentially have to defend the nation's sovereignty and territorial integrity.

This commitment from Naval Forces Europe and U.S. Sixth Fleet is aligned with NATO's recognition of the Ukraine as an enhanced opportunities partner on June 12, 2020, which aims to maintain and deepen cooperation between allies and partners such as the Ukraine. 

Ukraine will benefit greatly from this change in its status, and it brings tailored opportunities to help sustain their military.  That includes enhanced access to interoperability programs and exercises, and more sharing of information, including lessons learned.

So, Ukraine is now one of six enhanced-opportunity partner nations for NATO, alongside Australia, Finland, Georgia, Jordan and Sweden, and I might add, that's pretty good company.  Each of these partners has a tailor-made relationship with NATO based on its areas of mutual interest.

So bottom line, Bobby: security in the Black Sea remains one of our mutual interests.  This is why we regularly operate in the Black Sea.  Both U.S. and NATO forces routinely operate there to send a message that we will uphold international law and norms.  Our collective efforts will lead to a better and safer Ukraine, which means a better and safer Black Sea for all of us.

LT. DIXON:  Thank you Sir, And now to the highlight of our podcast.  Joining us today is a special guest all the way from Washington, D.C., the 77th secretary of the Navy.

Mr. Secretary, welcome to the podcast.

AMB. BRAITHWAITE:  Thank you, Bobby, it's a real pleasure to be here, to join my dear friend and shipmate Admiral Foggo for this opportunity to speak to your audience.

ADM. FOGGO:  Hey, Mr. Secretary, Jamie Foggo, sir.  It's a great honor to have you on the podcast and I'm really looking forward to our discussion.  And for our audience, who may not know, the newest secretary of the Navy graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 1984, with a bachelor's degree in naval engineering and political science. 

I am a 1981 graduate of the academy, so we were there at the same time.  But we have something else in common too, and that is that both of our fathers fought on the continent of Europe in World War II, starting in Normandy.  And, sir, would you mind telling our listening audience about your dad's role in D-Day?

AMB. BRAITHWAITE:  Certainly, Admiral.  But before we go there, I would be remiss, not to talk about the great Class of 1981.  Literally, I learned what it was to be a naval officer from your classmates very early on, and I hold the Class of 1981 in very high esteem.

Those that I've had the honor and pleasure to serve with since graduation have been some of the greatest naval officers that I've ever shared with, Jamie, and I mean that most sincerely from my heart.  So from the Class of 1984, the great class of 1984, to the great class of 1981, we salute you.

ADM. FOGGO:  Thank you, sir.

AMB. BRAITHWAITE:  My father, Kenneth J. Braithwaite Sr., was a young 18-year-old private, first class who came ashore in the very first wave at Normandy on June 6th of 1944.  I've traced it back, and realized that he came ashore in the third landing craft, touched the beach that morning sometime around 6:35 a.m.

You know, my father never really spoke a lot about it as a child growing up, but we went back for the 50th anniversary of the landing on June 6th of 1994, and he shared with me some of his perspective at that time.

And, you know, as I stood there on the beach with him and we looked out, I said, "Dad, I don't understand, you know, how you could have done that."  You know, I'd seen the movie "Saving Private Ryan" and of course you're there with the immensity of that piece of hallowed ground.

And he looked at me and he said, "Well, it was my duty, son."

He said, "I certainly wasn't going to let down anybody on that landing craft, nor your grandma and grandpa.  So, you know, that's what duty and service to them was all about. 

And I'm very proud, as I know you are, Admiral, with your father also being at Normandy, of what that meant and the message that it communicated to the people in Europe, that the United States was there on the European continent, to beat back Nazi tyranny and to reclaim the freedom for the peoples of Europe. 

And I continue to be very proud of my father's service, setting a course forward for me that I've always tried hard to follow.

ADM. FOGGO:  Sir, that's absolutely amazing.  And here we are, 39 years later, with the legacy of our fathers.  My dad got to the beach at D+45, it wasn't until July 19th.  Your dad did the hard job of clearing the beach.  Mine got into combat pretty soon after leaving the beachhead, he was actually in the 4th Canadian Armored Division.

But just to continue a little bit, sir, with your background for our audience, you went on from the Naval Academy to flight school, you flew anti-submarine missions in the Pacific, in the Indian Ocean, you re-designated as a public affairs officer and subsequently served on USS America, which deployed to the European theater.  And in 1993, you departed the active service and joined the reserve, serving with numerous commands and completed your service in uniform as the Vice Chief of Information.

And following your distinguished military career, you continue to serve our country as the U.S. Ambassador to Norway and now the Secretary of the Navy.  So Mr. Secretary, I got to say, sir, you've seen it all and with that said, again, welcome to the podcast.

And after your first 30 days or so in office, has there anything that has struck you as unique or anything that has surprised you?

AMB. BRAITHWAITE:  It's a great question, Admiral.  There's a lot of uniqueness to being able to serve at this role but the thing that continues to impress me, I've been here three weeks serving as the 77th Secretary of the Navy and twice I've been able to get outside the Pentagon, which as you and I both know, is a gift for anybody who serves inside this five-sided building.

And in my very first week here, on my fourth day I flew out aboard the Harry S. Truman, which has just concluded a deployment to your AOR and was coming back earlier but of course was delayed because of the COVID virus and her battle group had to stay at sea for an additional two, two and a half months.

So, I felt it was important that I go out and speak to the sailors and the Marines aboard the battle group and tell them how proud the nation was.  Having been a sailor and knowing how you look forward to coming home and being with your family and then imagining their disappointment as they got closer to the American coast and were delayed and had to stay at sea.  I felt that that should be recognized.

So when I got out there, Jamie, I surprised them by awarding them the Meritorious Unit Commendation for their sacrifice, for their service.

So very pleased to be able to do that and I took away an appreciation for no matter what era, what generation or what time we serve, our sailors and Marines are the most professional of any of the services and I continue to be so proud to be able to be back home, as I've said here, in the building with our Navy and Marine Corps team.

So that's been the thing that I think I have taken away from my very early days here in this office.

ADM. FOGGO:  Sir, that's a fantastic story and, you know, we know those guys on the Harry S. Truman, Rear Admiral "Bucket" Loiselle and Skipper Kavon Hakimzadeh, both really interesting stories.  They came through the theater back in November, they came back out, and we saw them before they departed the theater.

And I have to say, Mr. Secretary, you've certainly cut through the red tape on the awards board by that Meritorious Unit Commendation to the ship and I know they appreciate it very much so thank you for doing that.  That's absolutely fantastic.

Sir, as you may know, naval leadership here in Europe, myself and Admiral Franchetti and our fleet master chiefs, released a letter addressing some of the recent incidents that have taken place back home and, you know, talking about it in terms of diversity and equal opportunity with our sailors and Marines that are stationed here overseas.  That, of course, in light of the wrongful death of George Floyd and, the public protests, the American people and their freedom of speech to talk about it.

So, I wondered, do you have anything that you might want to talk about with sailors and family members here in Europe about how we as a Navy family can move forward and ensure diversity in the ranks and equal opportunity for all?

AMB. BRAITHWAITE:  Yeah, Jamie, this one is near and dear to my heart.  You know, I have seen segregation up close, both through my days of schooling before I joined the Navy and unfortunately even in the service itself, although I do feel that the military and the Navy and the Marine Corps have come a long way.

One thing I'm very proud of is in graduate school, I had the honor of learning from a gentleman by the name of Professor Leon Higginbotham, who was a Circuit Court Justice, he was a candidate to be a Supreme Court Justice, he had served with Thurgood Marshall during the 1950s and was his associate counsel for the Brown v. Board of Education case.

And I learned a lot from Justice Higginbotham but I also learned of what he had mentioned to me, the proud service of African Americans who served in the military and President Truman's decision following the conclusion of the Second World War to desegregate the military.

So in my discussions with the Secretary of Defense and the other service secretaries here, we want to make sure that the department builds off that record of recognizing the importance of one whole service.  You and I, we don't think about when we are in combat, you know, what color anyone's skin is.

And I remember my father talking about this, as well.  You know, whether you're green or purple or whatever color, race, creed, religion, it doesn't matter.  If you are my shipmate and I'm going into combat and you have my best interests, you have my back and I have yours, that's all that matters.

And I think we have the opportunity to really highlight that as being part of the Department of the Navy.

I am very proud of the record of what the Department of Defense has done, and the desegregation of the military in the late-1940s eventually led to the Civil Rights movements in the 1960s, and we still, you know, have come this much farther forward, 50 years later, and we still have more work to do.

But we need to be dedicated to that work, we need to be dedicated, you know, to what it means to serve in our military as one team, one fight.  Those aren't just words that we should be speaking, they are words that we need to be living.

ADM. FOGGO:  Sir, absolutely.  Fantastic words, and that means a lot to us and it will mean a lot to our sailors and Marines out here.  I know you're on it, you're all over this with the chief of Naval Operations, and we thank you for your interest and your thoughtfulness and your perseverance with regards to the issue of diversity and equal opportunity for all in the Navy.

Sir, I'd like to tell our listeners that you and I worked together from day one of my tenure as the commander of Naval Forces Europe and commander of Joint Force Command Naples here.  And your tenure from day one as ambassador to Norway, before you became the secretary of the Navy.

You were there when we went to sea, and I commanded Exercise Trident Juncture, which still remains the largest NATO exercise since the end of the Cold War: 50,000 soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines.  And from your time as the ambassador to Norway, you have a unique perspective on the U.S. and European relations over here.

So, I wondered if you could tell our listening audience why maritime security is critical to the European theater and to the American people.

AMB. BRAITHWAITE:  Yes, so first of all, you know, I'd like to re-emphasize the importance of the alliance that we have.  I'm a big NATOist.  I have, up until becoming ambassador of Norway, I taught at the NATO School in Oberammergau Germany. 

And you know when you come up to visit me in Norway, about how strong of an opinion I have about this transatlantic partnership.  In fact, I'm on my way back to Europe here, later this week.  And then following that, in a few weeks, I'll be over with you back in Italy.

You know, it's very easy to get caught up in, you know, all of the tension around the globe, and kind of forget about coming back and reassuring your best friends and your partners about how important they are to you. 

I don't think there's any more important message that we can send to the nations in Europe that, you know, we stood with you and I spoke about just a few minutes ago, back in the dark days of World War II and we continue to stand with you for whatever challenges emerge, not just in Europe but around the globe.

You know, that we have many of the nations of Europe serving with us around the world in crisis situations each and every day, and they go into harm's way with us, you know, as our sisters and brothers in arms.  And, again, I think it's important to recognize that.  I think it's important to speak to that, which, again, is why, you know, I want to go over and reassure our allies, you know, throughout Europe, of our commitment.

You know, Trident Juncture was an incredible success under your leadership, and I think the entire world owes you, you know, a great debt of gratitude in carrying that off with such professionalism.  It demonstrated our fortitude as well as reminding those that would challenge, you know, our interests on the seas as well as shoreside, of what our interests and intent is, to ensure that, you know, freedom rings true to those who embrace democracy.

You know, I was up there with you, I saw it firsthand.  Unfortunately, the Arctic is a changing environment in many ways.  And one, it is becoming more contested because of that.  So having a presence there and again reminding any who would challenge our rights to be there, is extremely important. And I think you will see that continue, to play out in the near term.

You know, with the United States, we continue to have a presence in the High North to ensure that, we maintain freedom of the seas, and ensure those who would challenge us recognize our right and the right of our allies and our partners to be there.

ADM. FOGGO:  Fantastic, sir, thank you very much. As the new secretary of the Navy, would you mind sharing with us some of the first things that you'd like to accomplish here as you launch your time back in the Pentagon?

AMB. BRAITHWAITE:  Absolutely.  So, the first and most important thing is to take pride in our service.  You and I and all the sailors and Marines are part of the greatest Navy the world has ever known, and we need to remember that.

As you and I both know, the Navy's had some missteps recently, and we need to build past those, we need to understand the lessons learned from those and we need to take from that, recognizing, you know, what a special service it is to be part of the Navy and the Marine Corps.

So that's been and will continue to be kind of the underlying focus of my tenure as the secretary of the Navy.

Also, I believe that it begins with people, I always have.  It's because of great leaders like you, Jamie, and others, who I've learned about deck-plate leadership and understanding that, you know, we can have all of the most fantastic, capable ships, airplanes, submarines that the people of America can give to us but if we don't have the people to be able and the capable, educated people to serve aboard those platforms then we're not as capable a service.

And thankfully for us, we do have those unbelievably committed patriots serving and we need to remember them and we need to take care of them and we need to recognize them. 

Just as I mentioned about the sailors and Marines aboard the Harry S. Truman, if I could give them all a decoration today, I would because I believe in the commitment, the service that they give to us and to the people of America each and every day goes above and beyond what anybody else does and they need to be recognized for that. 

I mean, you and I have both been on ships at sea.  We know what a sacrifice that is to be away from our families.  It's borne of people from who they are and where they came from and the service attracts the best and the brightest so I want to make sure that I take care of them.

And then looking to the future, I want to make sure that we build the right fleet to meet the challenges and threats of the future.  That's been a big part of my early time here for the last couple of weeks, is clearly and directly looking at, you know, do we have the resources that we need, are we directing, you know, our vision in the right manner to ensure that we achieve that.

So I've started with a blank sheet of paper, Jamie, and I'm looking at how we can redirect and reorganize the Navy in a way that is much more effective, much more efficient and much more capable for those challenges in the future.

So those are my three big takeaways.  And somewhere in there, I intend to get out to the fleet to meet with sailors and Marines and to thank them personally, from Ken to them, for what they do each and every day serving on behalf of all of the people in America to protect our interests, not just in Europe but around the globe.

ADM. FOGGO:  Well that's outstanding, sir.  Thanks for sharing those three priorities with us and we're looking forward to using those ships that are in the future fleet design.  We're certainly getting a lot of bang for the buck out of our destroyers over here, our expeditionary patrol frigates, our submarines.

Mr. Secretary, just one last question, sir, based on your experience in the active component as an aviator, also extensive experience in the reserves as a public affairs officer, do you have a favorite sea story that you'd like to share with the audience?

AMB. BRAITHWAITE:  Oh, wow.  Yeah, I've got lots of sea stories.  Probably the one that I think will have the greatest impact was when I was a young midshipman; you had just graduated, Jamie, but the next year, a very famous Admiral came to speak to us. 

He was still on active duty at the time and he graduated from the Naval Academy in 1934.  So you can imagine if you just add up the delta between the numbers, you know, how many years of service.  His name was Vice Admiral John Duncan Bulkeley. 

He had been awarded the Medal of Honor for his service in the South Pacific on PT boats when he was able to evacuate General of the Army Douglas MacArthur from Corregidor in early 1942.  And Admiral Bulkeley came to speak to us and I was fortunate to be amongst a smaller group that he spoke to.

And you can imagine the Admiral standing there and again, he was still on active duty, he was the President of the INSURV Board at the time and his ribbons literally, Jamie, went up all the way to the top of his jacket of his service dress blues and literally over the back side.  That's how highly decorated he was.

And of course, you know, to a young midshipman and you're looking down at all of those stripes that you admirals have on your sleeve, a very impressive sight to be sure, but old Admiral Bulkeley sat there and he told us the following.  He said "ladies and gentlemen, you have embarked on a career that is going to be filled with adventure and opportunity. 

Challenge, yes, but at the same time the unique opportunity to serve our nation in the greatest Navy and Marine Corps the world has ever known."  He said "and others can only read about the history that you're going to write, which will be in the history books of the future and they can only think about and wonder and envy the things and the experiences that you are going to have as you complete your service." 

He said "and as I stand here today, I would trade all of this, everything that I've accomplished, everything that I've done to do it all over again, to trade places with any one of you at this very moment, to be able to live the life that you're about to embark upon."

And I've told that story, Jamie, to many sailors and Marines over the years to make sure that they recognize and understand what it is to serve and what a great honor and privilege it is to be part of something as great as the United States Navy and the United States Marine Corps, that to put service above self, to be part of something that is truly greater than self is something that we all should take immense pride in and as commit ourselves to doing all that we can on behalf of the people of America each and every day.

And coming back here into the Pentagon, I've had many of my classmates in the great Class of 1984 say, you know, "Geez, Ken, you gave up a great job to come back to a job that's going to be much more demanding." 

And it has been much more demanding, Jamie, but there is nothing greater than being part of the United States Navy and the United States Marine Corps, and to be able to be in this role to help lead our service forward with people like you and others has been the greatest privilege of my life.  And as old Admiral Bulkeley said, you know, to be able to live this life is an incredible privilege.

ADM. FOGGO:  Mr. Secretary, what an inspirational story, and what a terrific way to come to a conclusion of "Over The Horizon".  I can't thank you enough for your time today, sir, your candor and the opportunity for our listeners to hear from the 77th secretary of the Navy. 

We wish you fair winds and following seas on the beginning of your journey.

AMB. BRAITHWAITE:  Before we end, I just want to commend you for your incredible service.  I have had the privilege and the honor to serve with you. 

You have done a remarkable job as you get ready to wrap up your service to our country, and I wish with all my heart that we could find some way for you to come back here and work with me again, and maybe we will. 

But I want all of our listeners to know what an incredible job you've done and how communicative you've been with all the peoples of Europe.  I've seen you out and about.  I've noticed your travels.  I've commented on your podcast because I believe you set the bar extremely high for your relief, and I've told him that. 

So, on behalf of all of us in the Navy and the Marine Corps, Admiral, thank you for all that you have done to make our Navy and our Marine Corps that much better.  Bravo Zulu, shipmate.  God bless you, and I'll see you in a few weeks in Naples.

ADM. FOGGO:  Thank you very much, sir.  We salute you.

AMB. BRAITHWAITE:  You too.  Bye now.

ADM. FOGGO: Thank you Bobby, see you next time!

LT DIXON: “We hope you have enjoyed this episode of “On the Horizon; Navigating the European and African Theaters.”  Please share the Podcast with your friends and family.  And don’t forget to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. 

Join us next time to hear what the U.S. Navy is doing throughout Europe and Africa.  Until next time, thank you.

***Closing with music***

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