Adm. Gary Roughead On The Modern Navy

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Admiral Gary Roughead in WBUR's Studio 3 (Andrew Phelps/WBUR)
Admiral Gary Roughead in WBUR's Studio 3 (Andrew Phelps/WBUR)

Admiral Gary Roughead is the Navy's highest ranking military officer and the principal naval adviser to President Obama as a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Roughead is a 1973 graduate of U.S. Naval Academy, where he served as commandant. He is one of only two officers ever to have commanded both the U.S. Pacific and Atlantic fleets.

Roughead is in Boston for Navy Week, a celebration of the Bay State's rich maritime history and a chance for the public to meet service members.

Radio Boston's Meghna Chakrabarti interviewed Roughead in WBUR's Studio 3. Here are highlights of their conversation. Read on or jump to a section:

Interview Highlights

On Relieving Gen. Stanley McChrystal

One of the tenets of our profession, the profession of arms, whether you're in the Army or the Navy, the Air Force, Marines or Coast Guard, is the civilian control of the military. And the position that we hold is to support that civilian control of the military. And as a result of the things that took place in Gen. McChrystal's staff, I think it was not surprising, to me at least, and totally appropriate that he was relieved of his command.

Gen. Petraeus is a great commander. I know him well. The fact that he has moved to that position, I think, speaks volumes about him as a leader, as a commander and as a public servant. And I can't think of anyone better to move into that position. But I think the president's decision to replace Gen. McChrystal was absolutely on target.

On Fighting Piracy

It's a new mission, but it's the oldest mission we have, because that's the beginning of the United States Navy, was going after the pirates in the Mediterranean on the Barbary Coast. That's our origin, and it's kind of ironic we've gone full circle in 200-plus years.

"The secret to stamping out piracy is ashore; it’s not at sea."

What we are doing with many other countries is patrolling an area off the east coast of Africa. The area that we're patrolling is not small. It's 130 times the size of the state of Massachusetts. The coastline is the same as the coastline that runs from Maine to Florida. And we have come together with other countries and other navies that have an interest in ensuring that flow of commerce in that part of the world to patrol against the pirates.

On any given day there'll  be about 20 to 25 ships out there. And it's a very rich partnership. It's kind of an unusual partnership. China is involved, Russia is involved, NATO, the European Union, of course the United States. Malaysia has had ships, Korea has had ships, Japan has had ships. So it's a gathering of countries that otherwise would not normally be working together, but we find that with this common threat to commerce that we do come together. ... Navy's role is really to allow the oceans of the world to be used for the prosperity of nations.

Pirates don't live at sea. Pirates live ashore. That's where business is conducted. That's where they do their monetary transactions. That's where they outfit themselves. And until there's rule of law ashore, where you can go and interrupt the criminal business cycle, we're going to be continue to be patrolling offshore. The secret to stamping out piracy is ashore; it's not at sea.

On Women Serving Aboard Submarines

In this past year we made the decision that we would open our submarine force to young women. We have recently completed the interviews for the first group of young women that go through — and everyone who comes into the submarine force and into our nuclear power program goes through an interview process.

We have selected the first young women to begin the nuclear training. They will complete that nuclear training and then move on to submarine school. And they'll be walking aboard our submarines in the fall of 2011.

"Was there some apprehension? There was. But we're headed in that direction."

The four young women that we have selected are absolutely extraordinary. We've had more volunteers than we have openings, because we have size constraints, and we're working our way through that on the accommodations on submarines. But I'm very eager to see those first young women report aboard our boats.

The leadership of our submarine force, they are the ones that are leading the introduction of women into our submarines. I think that there was angst about that, but in my case, I had the privilege of integrating young women into a ship that I commanded. And I'd be the first to admit it's not a submarine, and it's not as confined. But what I saw with the quality of the young women who came aboard — their dedication, their competence — it made it a better ship.

I believe that when the young women get aboard the submarines, and indeed as they go through their training, they're going to demonstrate that they are at the top of the game. Was there some apprehension? There was. But we're headed in that direction.

On Revoking 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'

I believe that the path that we are on to do the assessment that we now have underway — and it's taking a couple of different forms — is something we must do. Because we're an all-volunteer force, we're not necessarily the carbon copy of the nation. We have never taken a pulse of the force that serves to determine where the force is on this issue and ... find out what some of the policy issues and personal considerations are that have to be addressed. So I believe that we need to do the assessment to determine that.  And this assessment is going to inform us as to the things that we as leaders need to think about so that we can make our best recommendation.

"Because we're an all-volunteer force, we're not necessarily the carbon copy of the nation. We have never taken a pulse of the force that serves to determine where the force is on this issue."

Ultimately, the decision on the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is a matter of law, and that will be up to the Congress to decide. But what I tell my sailors is to participate in this assessment, to give your answer — don't give your spouse's answer or your friend's answer or your chief's answer. We need to hear from you.

In the case of the young women who will be going aboard submarines, we now have a fairly significant history of young women who have served, indeed, who are rising to the highest levels of our navy. It is something that is not unknown. But when we talk about "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and the service of homosexuals in the military, we need to better understand the attitudes, the policy implications, and that is why we need to learn from the force and to understand that force much better. We in the military, as a matter of practice, do not go out and poll our sailors and soliders as to what laws they like or dom't like. So this is our first opportunity to really understand.

On Retiring USS John F. Kennedy In Boston

The carrier John F. Kennedy has served our country so well for so many decades, and of course, just the name is a source of pride for the Navy, because, as you know, President Kennedy was a Navy veteran and I think you've probably heard of his quote, when he said: "Ask any man in this century what he did to make his life worthwhile, he can say with a great deal of pride and satisfaction, 'I served in the United States Navy.' " So that just kind of typifies the value that we have in John F. Kennedy.

When the ship is no longer in service, communities that are interested will make proposals to the Navy to take the ship and bring it to their community and use it as memorial, and it will be up to the citizens of Boston and perhaps other communities, as well, but I think the aircraft carrier, John F. Kennedy, that served us so well, can continue to be an inspiration for young men and women for decades to come.

This program aired on July 1, 2010.


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