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Midshipmen to select ships, further U.S. control of the seas

Op-ed: The midshipmen commitment to service at sea is critical to ensure the security and prosperity of our ma

Thursday evening in Annapolis, a group of senior midshipmen who have spent the past three-plus years dedicating their lives to becoming morally, mentally and physically prepared for active duty in the U.S. Navy, will select their first ship assignments in an annual tradition that, at least among our five U.S. service academies, rivals the NFL draft for excitement. Upon graduation from the Naval Academy in Annapolis this spring, these rising leaders will go on to represent the next generation of Navy Surface Warfare Officers (SWO).

The commitment to service at sea of these young men and women couldn't be more relevant or more needed to ensure the security and prosperity of our maritime nation. Because the oceans remain the lifeblood to global commerce, with 90 percent of trade traveling across them, freedom of navigation is an imperative and the ability to control the sea is essential. The security interests of the United States and those of our allies are increasingly challenged by near-peer competitors, confrontational foreign governments and well-armed, non-state militant groups.

I'm reminded of a time in the early '80s when I was training as a midshipman, and I had the opportunity to meet one of our great naval leaders, Vice Adm. "Hank" Mustin, aboard the frigate USS Miller. During our interaction, he left me with guidance that has stuck with me to this day. He simply said, "The United States Navy exists to control the sea." More than 30 years later, his words could not ring more true.

We must acknowledge that the world has become dramatically more globalized, and this trend is accelerating as international sea lanes are becoming more congested. The new reality in this changing security environment is that state and non-state actors, who may not be as devoted to the rule-based system of international norms that have shaped our world for the last 70 years, are becoming more influential through improving technologies, systems and networks. The next generation of SWOs will be faced with great responsibilities and challenges as they seek to preserve and protect the freedom of the seas and our security interests around the world.

Today, the Navy remains committed to putting the most advanced ships in the hands of the most capable sailors — including those midshipmen selecting their ships this week. We understand that the nation cannot protect our sovereignty, support free and open commerce, nor counter terrorism and transnational crime — and if required, project power — from seas we do not control. Sea control is the sole enabler of all other naval missions necessary to securing the maritime commons, maintaining regional stability and protecting our security interests. A mission these young midshipmen will soon be a critical part of across the globe.

Much will be asked of this class of '17 as part of the Naval Surface Force. Regardless of the ship selected from the "big board" of assignments, when each midshipman commissions, he or she will be challenged to become a surface warfighting expert with a view toward building the depth, breadth and experience to ensure the future of sea control.

I look forward to welcoming every future SWO to our surface community as we enter this new age of maritime challenges. My commitment to them is that they will be provided with the tactics, tools and training needed to ensure our Surface Force can establish and maintain control of the seas, and to enable our Navy and Joint Force to project power when called upon. I am certain these midshipmen will be up to the task, just like the thousands who have gone before them.

Addressing the crew from the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk in 1963, President John F. Kennedy said, "Control of the seas can mean peace. Control of the seas can mean victory. The United States must control the seas if it is to protect your security and those countries which stretch thousands of miles away that look to you on this ship and the sister ships of the United States Navy." I know that upon reporting to their ships, these future Navy leaders will embody President Kennedy's words with honor, courage and commitment.

Vice Adm. Tom Rowden is commander of the Naval Surface Forces. Twitter: @NAVSURFOR.

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