The Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Admiral Mullen wrote a nice piece on the importance and value of public diplomacy, exchange, and awareness (hat tip to Eddie at FDNF).
The attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, renewed our sense of what it means to be citizens of the United States. But as we prepare to observe the fifth anniversary of that terrible day, I believe it's also time for us to consider our role as citizens of the world.
To be sure, Sailors have always reflected well upon America wherever we put in or wherever we are based. Nearly 100 years ago, President Theodore Roosevelt welcomed home the Great White Fleet from its year-long cruise around the world by lauding its Sailors as "the best of all possible ambassadors and heralds of peace."
We still are. Just look at some recent headlines: "USNS Mercy Crewmembers Work with Non-governmental Health Organizations to Heal the Sick in Indonesia," Patriot Sailors Bring Smiles to the Children of Brunei," "Seabees act as Ambassadors of Compassion in Horn of Africa." This last article told the story of UT2 Josener Jean Louis, a Haitian-born Sailor fluent in French, who by both his skill and ability to communicate directly with the Djiboutian people is having an enormous impact on their lives and their sense of security.
We are doing great things out there, and we are making a difference. Like Louis, we must take a broader view of the people with whom we conduct such good work. We must try harder to understand their cultures, norms and values. We must be able to look at life, with all its heartache and joy, from their perspective.
A month or so ago I was in Australia visiting my counterpart, Vice Adm. Russ Shalders, Chief of the Royal Australian Navy. During a briefing about the state of his nation's military forces, Shalders showed me a slide labeled "Current Operations." Smack dab in the middle of that slide was a picture of Australia with small silver stars speckled all around it, depicting where their forces were deployed. There was a star over East Timor, where some 1,800 Australian soldiers and marines are conducting vital peacekeeping operations. There was one in India, one in Japan and, of course, there was a star indicating the more than 1,300 Aussies deployed as part of joint and coalition efforts in the Middle East.
There was even a little star way up in the upper right corner next to the letters "U.S." It was impressive to see just how engaged the Australians are, but I was struck by the picture on the slide itself.
Quite frankly, I am not used to seeing Australia at the center of things - or any other country for that matter. I'm used to hearing about where WE are engaged and about what WE are doing. We just can't afford to be so single focused anymore. The world is a small place and getting smaller every day. Thanks to the blinding pace of globalization, the old walls of the industrial age that Teddy Roosevelt helped usher in are literally crashing down around us. Call for technical support for your home computer, and you're likely to speak to an expert in India. Make reservations for that weekend getaway with your spouse, and your ticket agent could very well be someone working from home in Colorado or even Singapore. We live in a world far more interconnected and interdependent than ever before. We need each other.
In fact, I'd go so far as to say that the challenges we face today cannot be overcome by any one nation. They are transnational in scope. Threats like piracy, smuggling, weapons of mass destruction (WMD) proliferation, human trafficking and yes, terrorism, affect us all - everywhere. Removing these threats, and preventing the conditions from which they flourish is not only vital, it's a team effort.
That's why I have been such a staunch advocate of the "1,000-ship Navy" concept, a fleet-in-being of like-minded navies and coast guards that can come together as needed to improve maritime security. Everyone brings what they can, when they can, for the greater good. It's based on a realization that the economic tide of all nations rises - not when the seas are controlled by one - but rather when they are made safe and free for all. Safe and free for all. That's a much bigger vision than we have typically sought in the Navy. For us, defending the interests of the United States has mostly been about putting ordnance on target or delivering and supporting ground forces ashore. Today, in many cases, we ARE those ground forces.
And even though we'll still need to be able to strike offensively at our enemies, I think we've all come to realize what UT2 Louis already knows: that in some places we defend the interests of the United States best by defending the right of others to live free, by seeing the world through their eyes and by being the best of all possible ambassadors.