He’s proud that he made tough decisions, regrets none of them and believes history will vindicate his often rocky 7 1/2 years in office, Navy secretary Raymond “Ray” told The San Diego Union-Tribune during an exclusive Wednesday morning interview aboard the amphibious assault ship America.
“If you’re not getting criticized, you’re not doing anything,” said , 68, a former Navy officer aboard the missile cruiser Little Rock in the early 1970s who rose to become Mississippi’s governor and an ambassador to Saudi Arabia.
He said that deceased Adm. Elmo Russell “Bud” Zumwalt, Jr., the Chief of Naval Operations when was a young officer, summed it up best.
“He used to say, ‘I’ve got a long list of friends and a long list of enemies, and I’m equally proud of both.’ And that’s sort of the way I am. I don’t stay up late at night over criticism,” said during what will likely be his last visit toSan Diego before leaving office in January.
“If I’m doing my job, if I’m making the changes, if I’m not standing still, if I’m making decisions, I’m going to get criticized. That’s part of it, but if I’m not getting criticized then I’m probably not doing much. I’m probably sitting around.”It’s always astounded me that people work all their lives to get into a leadership position and then they don’t lead. They don’t make the decisions that you need to make. And I think that when history looks back at the actions taken and the decisions made, we’re going to be viewed pretty favorably.”
America’s longest serving Navy secretary since World War I, has been a lightning rod of criticism since he arrived with President Barack Obama’s administration in 2009.
He prodded the Pentagon to end its Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy that banned openly homosexual men and women from serving in uniform, angering social conservatives who thought he put political correctness before the wishes of combat commanders.
He opened jobs to women on submarines, riverine patrol boats, Navy SEAL commando teams and even Marine infantry rifle companies. When the Corps produced a detailed study suggesting that gender integration eroded combat capabilities, dismissed it and pressed on with his plan.
He tripled paid maternity leave to 18 weeks — later trimmed by the Pentagon to six weeks — unveiled unisex uniforms and unleashed a crack down on alcohol and sexual abuse in the ranks.
told the Union-Tribune those were some of the decisions he’s most proud of making.
“We’re getting a more diverse force, which makes us a stronger force,” said , who oversees 190,000 uniformed and civilian personnel, 3.5 million acres of land and a $170 billion annual budget.
To combat global climate change and halve the military’s dependency on fossil fuels, launched an ambitious project to exploit renewable sources such as solar and wind power.
That triggered a failed 2012 counter-attack on Capitol Hill to cut the flow of biofuels to warships.
“When we went to the floor of the Senate, we got 62 votes to keep it, including 12 Republican votes,” said . “So it’s not a partisan thing.”
The interview aboard the America came in the middle of a busy day for America’s 75th Secretary of the Navy, with visits to workers at the General Dynamics-NASSCO shipyard and Marines at Camp Pendleton.
He capped the evening with a of the reserve officer commissioning programs at UCLA and the University of Southern California.
His morning began with a “State of the Navy” address to the San Diego Military Advisory Council, a group of defense contractors, local government agencies and nonprofits that advocate for increased military spending in Southern California.
The packed audience at the Admiral Kidd Club and Conference Center inside the Navy’s Point Loma base cheered for spearheading a shipbuilding drive that should lead to a 308-ship Navy by early 2021.
But when concluded his talk by defending a recent decision to nix the Navy’s rating system for enlisted sailors, a handful of retirees denounced him with salty language and refused to stand or clap as he left the room.
Combining both a sailor’s rank and job specialty in one long title, the Navy’s rating system predates the founding of the republic. Scrapping it has caused dissension in the ranks, but told the Union-Tribune that neither he nor his admirals brainstormed the plan.
Recently retired Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy, Mike Steven, unveiled it after meeting with the service’s highest ranking enlisted sailors worldwide, said.
chided the “retired community” for a misplaced and unhistorical nostalgia: “‘When we left the Navy, when we left the Marine Corps, everything was fine. Now you guys have gone and changed it and messed it up,'” said, imitating them.
“We’re at the beginning of the process. We want a lot of feedback from the fleet, but this is to make it easier to promote, easier to move to your next duty station and an easier transition out of the Navy. I don’t think those are three bad things to do,” he said.
The Navy’s combat medics — called “Corpsmen” today — were once known as Pharmacy Mates or Loblolly Boys, titles that would be absurd now, according to .
“I hear the things about tradition, ‘The Navy’s been doing this for 241 years.’ Well, that’s just not the case,” he said. “When I was in, the people in my division were radiomen and signalmen. How many of those have we got today? None.”
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