LeRoy Collins Commentary 225

Commentary #225
4 October 2008

Navy Ball 2008 speech

Navy Ball Address by RADM LeRoy Collins, Jr. USNR (RET) on 4 OCT 2008 in Tampa FL

MY ERA OF NAVY SERVICE WAS DIFFERENT THAN MOST OF YOU HERE TONIGHT, YET THERE ARE ENOUGH SIMILARITIES, TO BE RELEVANT

MY FIRST DAY IN THE NAVY WAS IN 1952 WHEN I BEGAN PLEBE SUMMER AT THE U.S. NAVAL ACADEMY. THE KOREAN WAR WAS ON AND THE U.S. NAVY HAD APPROX 2000 SHIPS. TODAY’S FLEET IS 15% THAT SIZE, YET EACH SHIP IS MUCH MORE CAPABLE, AS ARE THE SAILORS AND MARINES ABOARD THEM TODAY.

MY ACTIVE DUTY SPANNED 10 YRS OF THE COLD WAR … 1956-66, MOST OF WHICH WAS IN SUBMARINES (BOTH DIESEL & NUCLEAR). WHILE WE HAD OUR WAR SCARES, THE OCCASIONS TO SHOOT TO KILL WERE RARE. JANE AND I LOVED OUR TIME IN THE NAVY, ITS TRADITIONS AND HISTORY, BUT ABOVE ALL, ITS PEOPLE. THOSE FRIENDS ARE AMONG OUR CLOSEST STILL TODAY. THE SEPARATIONS WERE PAINFUL, BUT THE HOMECOMINGS WERE SUBLIME.

I LEFT ACTIVE DUTY BECAUSE MY FATHER WAS RUNNING FOR THE U.S. SENATE IN 1968 AND I WANTED TO PARTICIPATE IN HIS ADVENTURE. HE WAS UNSUCCESSFUL, BUT I LEARNED FROM HIS EFFORTS, THEN I SETTLED IN MY JOB AS A STAFFER IN A MAJOR FLORIDA CORPORATION, AND CONCURRENTLY BEGAN A NAVAL RESERVE CAREER INCLUDING COMMAND OF A NAVAL RESERVE MINEWEEPER HOMEPORTED IN MIAMI BEACH. WHILE THERE I OPENED UP BIMINI AS A NAVY LIBERTY PORT.

BUT VIET NAM WAS RAGING RED HOT IN 1968 AND I WAS DISMAYED BY THE PUBLIC ATTITUDE TOWARD THE PRESIDENT, OUR TROOPS (OR ANYBODY IN A U.S. MILITARY UNIFORM), THE ASSASINATION OF BOBBY KENNEDY RUNNING FOR PRESIDENT, AND THEN DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING JR. WHO WAS ON THE STREETS ADVOCATING NON-VIOLENT CIVIL RIGHTS PROTESTS. SO 1968 WAS A VERY UGLY YEAR FOR AMERICA. AS A DRILLING RESERVIST, AND WITH OVER ½ MILLION AMERICAN TROOPS IN VIET NAM, I COULD NEVER UNDERSTAND WHY NONE OF US WERE BEING ACTIVATED.

AFTER 3 YRS IN BIG BUSINESS, I HAD THE OPPORTUNITY TO START A SMALL SERVICE CORP SERVING 37 BANKS IN FLORIDA WITH PROCESSING FOR THE NEW MASTER CHARGE BANK CREDIT CARD......ALL ON BORROWED MONEY. IN THOSE DAYS THERE WAS STRINGENT OVERSIGHT OF BANK LENDING PRACTICES; THEIR LOANS TO ME WERE CLASSIFIED AS SUBSTANDARD, WHICH PROVOKED ME TO RAISE MONEY FROM PRIVATE SOURCES TO PAY OFF EACH PARTICIPATING BANK TO SATISFY THE BANK EXAMINERS. IT WOULD APPEAR FROM THE BANK BAILOUT PASSED YESTERDAY, THAT ALL THOSE BANK EXAMINERS FROM MY PAST HAVE RETIRED……AND THEY MUST HAVE TAKEN THE OLD PLAYBOOK WITH THEM.

THE NAVAL RESERVE ENABLED ME TO GET BACK WITH THE SUBMARINE FORCE AND FRIENDS FROM MY PAST. BUT I DID HAVE ONE YEAR AS NAVAL LIAISON OFFICER WITH THE FLORIDA NATIONAL GUARD. THERE I LEARNED OF THE EXTRAORDINARY DEDICATION OF THESE 12,000 TROOPS TO OUR STATE’S SECURITY DURING TIMES OF NATURAL DISASTERS AND CIVIL STRIFE (NOW THE NATIONAL GUARDS OF ALL STATES ARE SHOULDERING ALMOST HALF THE COMBAT LOAD IN AFGHANISTAN AND IRAQ).

BUSINESS OPPORTUNITIES ARISING FROM MY STARTUP OF THE ARMED FORCES FINANCIAL NETWORK IN 1985 AFFORDED SOME INTERESTING COLLATERAL DUTIES WITH NATO, EUCOM, SOUTHCOM, SUBLANT, SUBPAC, CINCLANT FLT, AND LOTS OF TIME IN THE PENTAGON (WHERE I NEVER HAD TO STAY LONG ENOUGH TO COMMUTE BEYOND A HOTEL ROOM IN CENTURY CITY). WORKING ALL THESE ENDPOINTS ENABLED ME TO MEET SOME GREAT LEADERS FROM OUR NAVY PAST, E.G. ARLEIGH BURKE, JERAULD WRIGHT, ELMO ZUMWALT, BOB LONG, KIN MCKEE, FRANK KELSO, AND MANY OTHERS.

MY NAVY RETIREMENT IN 1990 WAS DURING THE BUILDUP FOR DESERT STORM; I THOUGHT MY SERVICE AS DCNO LOGISTICS (RES) WAS SO ESSENTIAL THE WAR COULD NOT BE CONDUCTED WITHOUT ME. ALAS, I RETIRED SADLY AFTER 10 YEARS ACTIVE, AND 24 YEARS RESERVE. LOOKING BACK I SEE MY NAVY DUTY AS THE MOST MEANINGFUL TIME IN MY LIFE. WHERE ELSE WOULD THE MOST POWERFUL NATION ON EARTH TRUST A YOUNG LAD LIKE ME, IN HIS LATE 20s STANDING WATCH ON A BILLION DOLLAR SUBMARINE, WITH SIGNED CUSTODY OF 49 NUCLEAR WARHEADS, AND IN A CREW OF 140 OF THE FINEST SAILORS IN THE FLEET,........ UNDERWATER AND OUT OF CONTACT WITH THE WORLD FOR 2+ MOS AT A TIME?

THAT INSPIRED ME THEN, AND OUR SAILORS, MARINES, COAST GUARDSMEN, AIRMEN, & SOLDIERS TODAY INSPIRE ME NOW. BACK THEN WE KNEW WHO THE ENEMIES WERE. TODAY IT IS NOT AS CLEAR BECAUSE SOME OF OUR MOST SINISTER ENEMIES ARE HERE AT HOME. SUCH CONCERNS INSPIRED ME TO RUN FOR THE U.S. SENATE TWO YEARS AGO ON VERY SHORT NOTICE (THE LAST DAY FOR QUALIFYING AS A CANDIDATE). WHILE I DID NOT PREVAIL, IT WAS ONE OF THE GREAT EXPERIENCES OF MY LIFE. THE PRESS LIKED ME, BUT NOT ENOUGH VOTERS DID. THE TURNOUT IN THE PRIMARY WAS ONLY 20%.....A SAD COMMENTARY ON PUBLIC ATTITUDE,…..AND MY ABILITY TO INSPIRE THEM TO VOTE FOR ME.....OR ANYBODY.

CAMPAIGNING STATEWIDE IS HARD WORK. I NEEDED TO BE IN 50 DIFFERENT PLACES AT ONE TIME. ON OCCASIONS, MY WIFE JANE, MY SON ROY III, AND I HAD DIFFERENT SPEAKING ENGAGEMENTS AT THE SAME TIME.

DURING ONE I MET A RETIRED USAF COLONEL WHO WAS MAYOR OF A SMALL TOWN IN CENTRAL FLORIDA. TOM WAS A FORMER USAF PILOT WHO FLEW ONE OF THE F111s DURING THE LIBYAN RAID IN THE LATE 1980S. I SAID “TOM, WHY DON’T MORE FORMER MILITARY OFFICERS RUN FOR PUBLIC OFFICE?’”. HIS ANSWER WAS OBLIQUE, BUT REVEALING; “ADMIRAL, IF I SIT AROUND A TABLE OF MILITARY PEOPLE AND ASK A BASC QUESTION, EACH RESPONSE WILL BE TO THE BEST OF EACH PERSON’S ABILITY TO TELL IT ALL. IF I AM WITH CIVILIANS……WELL, I HAD BETTER ASK THE RIGHT QUESTIONS”. THEREIN LIES PART OF THE ANSWER WHY THE PUBLIC HOLDS OUR U.S. MILITARY IS SUCH HIGH ESTEEM…..AMIDST THE DISMAL RATINGS FOR OUR POLITICIANS, WALL STREET GURUS, SALESPERSONS, LAWYERS, AND EVEN SOME CLERGY OF LATE. I SUBMIT THAT IS WHY MORE OF OUR FORMER MILITARY SHOULD RUN……ESPECIALLY NOW!

ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL I MET OTHER CANDIDATES, MOST OF WHOM WERE RUNNING FOR THE RIGHT REASON, I.E. SERVICE TO THE PUBLIC. ONE OF THOSE CANDIDATES WAS OUR INCUMBENT GOVERNOR CHARLIE CHRIST. AFTER HE WON THE GENERAL ELECTION FOR GOVERNOR, HE CALLED ME TO ASK IF I STILL WANTED TO DO SOME PUBLIC SERVICE. I SAID YES IF IT INVOLVED HIM. A FEW DAYS FOLLOWING CHRISTMAS I WAS SITTING AROUND A TABLE IN TALLAHASSEE WITH GOVERNOR-ELECT CRIST, THE LT GOV-ELECT, AND THEIR RESPECTIVE CHIEFS OF STAFF. THEY MENTIONED SEVERAL JOBS, BUT I SAID I WANTED TO SERVE VETERANS.

THEIR FIRST QUESTION WAS WHY DID I RUN FOR THE U.S. SENATE? I REPLIED…..BECAUSE I THOUGHT I WAS MORE QUALIFIED THAN MY OPPONENTS AND I THINK THE U.S. GOVT’S PRINCIPAL JOB IS NATIONAL SECURITY. THEY AGREED. I WAS CONFIRMED BY THE FLORIDA CABINET IN JANUARY 2007, AND WENT TO WORK IN A NEW JOB AT AGE 72.

MY MILITARY AND BUSINESS EXPERIENCES HAVE BEEN GOOD PREPARATION FOR MY NEW CAREER AS A BUREAUCRAT. MOST OF MY STAFF ARE FORMER MILITARY, AND DAILY I AM IMPRESSED BY THEIR DEVOTION TO FLORIDA’S 1.8 MILLION VETERANS (2nd ONLY TO CALIFORNIA’S 2.2 MILLION). AS BUDGETS GO, MY DEPT IS VERY SMALL YET WE ARE GIVEN AMPLE DEFERENCE BECAUSE EVERYONE WANTS TO HELP VETERANS.

OUR DEPARTMENT EXISTS FOR THE PURPOSE OF RUNNING 6 STATE VETERANS NURSING HOMES, AND TO ACT AS FREE ADVOCATES FOR THOSE SEEKING VETERANS BENEFITS, SOME OF WHICH ARE FUNDED BY THE STATE, AND MOST OF WHICH ARE FUNDED BY THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS, WHICH IS SECOND ONLY TO THE DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE IN ITS ANNUAL BUDGET (NOW $100B/YR…..DOUBLED IN THE PAST 8 YEARS!). AMONG MY BIGGEST PROBLEMS IS KNOWING THE IDENTITY OF ALL FLORIDA VETERANS. MANY DO NOT WANT US TO KNOW…..THEIR DETRIMENT OF BENEFITS NOTWITHSTANDING. LAST YEAR A HOMELESS FLORIDA VETERAN WAS AWARDED BENEFITS AGGREGATING OVER $600,000!

SIX MONTHS INTO THIS JOB GOV CRIST ASKED IF I WAS HAVING FUN. I REPLIED “FUN” IS NOT QUITE THE RIGHT WORD; I AM INSPIRED BY THE SERVICE RENDERED BY OUR VETERANS SO I SIMPLY ANSWERED “GOVERNOR, IT IS A NEW LESSON OF NATIONAL HISTORY EVERY DAY, SPOKEN TO ME BY THOSE WHO HAVE LIVED IT!”.

/s/ LeRoy Collins, Jr.
www.leroycollins.org


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