David Larter, Navy Times
20 September 2015
Adm. John Richardson took the helm at a crossroads for the Navy.
Facing looming budget cuts and unrelenting demands for deployed ships and sailors, it falls on Richardson's shoulders to lead the service's 328,186 sailors and to repair and build up a fleet that's seen more wear and tear than intended.
Richardson, 55, plans to hit the deck plates and listen to sailors all over the fleet in a forthcoming world tour that will bring the Navy's new leader to every corner of the globe where sailors are operating, as he takes over for Adm. Jon Greenert.
Navy Times sat down with Richardson in an exclusive interview in his transition office at the Pentagon to talk about his priorities and the challenges facing the service he now leads. Answers have been edited for brevity.
Q. As you have begun your transition, what is the state of the Navy?
A. First and foremost I am just so honored and humbled to be selected for this. I did not see it coming. This comes as a bit of an unexpected surprise. I am just so privileged and grateful to be able to do this for our Navy and to continue to serve at this level.
Another thing that has made itself very clear is that Admiral Greenert has put the Navy on a really solid track. We are right in the middle of the channel. As I look behind us I just think this has been a solid series of decisions through difficult times that have put the Navy in a great spot.
We are not in any need of immediate abrupt change, which is comforting in many ways.
Q. What is your agenda as you take charge?
A. It has never been my style, honestly, to roll out a brand new strategy on day one. I think I am going to take some time to get around the fleet. In fact, within the first 45 days, we are going to take a number of trips down to Norfolk, Jacksonville, Hawaii, Japan, South Korea, and Bahrain - then over to see the team in Naples and come on back. Just so we can meet each other, if the fleet has any interest in seeing their new CNO, which would be great.
I certainly have a keen interest in hearing what is on their minds and getting their perspectives, learning more about the Navy through their eyes, before we say, "Okay here is going to be the new direction or the new emphasis." Their input is very important to me.
Q. You led the Reducing Administrative Distractions campaign and have long been a supporter of creative ideas and the people coming up with them. How do you see that shaping your approach as the CNO?
A. I will do what I can to take that to a higher Navy level. In fact, as we have thought about what might form some areas of emphasis, this whole idea of learning faster.
One other thing that characterizes our environment is the pace of change has really started to pick up. There has been a number of really thoughtful books and articles written on this changing dynamic in the way that people interact with the world with new technological devices, how fast that is changing now.
Our ability to stay relevant and keep pace with that change is going to depend on how fast we innovate and how fast we learn. I think that thinking of ourselves as a learning organization that can keep pace with this dynamic security environment will be a big part of the tone I set.
Q. Can sailors have a reasonable expectation that 8-months and longer deployments will shorten and that ship schedules will be more predictable?
A. Yeah, I think so. I mean this is not easy work that we are doing. As I put my thoughts together, it is really tough to define and achieve a sustainable level of activity for deployments. Our people are a big part of that, our systems are a big part of that. I agree with Adm. Greenert that seven months is I think a sustainable goal. I think it is achievable. I am committed to getting down to this seven-month deployment.
Q. You oversaw the integration of women into the submarine force, an effort that continues and will soon include women enlisted. How many women do you see in the sub force by the end of your CNO tenure in four years?
A. Well, we will just have to see. We do not have control of all of that. Some of it will be how many women want to join the submarine force. Even if we open the spigot fully, well, what is going to be cadre of people who want to come and join the submarine force?
You want to have enough women on board so that nobody is feeling too alone and so that there is a bit of a cadre. That then lays out a nice controlled program that sticks to those sort of fundamentals of success and expands as the volunteer and training base allows.
I would not want to make any predictions. Right now, we are kind of staying on our program, which is growing both in the numbers of crews and in the types of crews. We will see where the numbers take us.
Q. You led the investigation into the Navy Yard shooting and since then, there have been more incidents of gun violence on base. What are your thoughts on ways to better protect sailors and civilians on Navy installations?
A. Well, first I think you cannot decouple the societal issues from the Navy. We are all an all-volunteer force. At our very best, we reflect the society that we raise our right hand and swear to protect and defend.
Any one of those losses, I think is a real tragedy. Our first response has got to be to do everything we can to keep our sailors safe. In the event of these tragic losses, [we need] to make sure that their families are supported and taken care of and they get everything that they need.
Then, as has been done, it is sort of a systematic approach. It is detailed work that needs to be done depending upon the threat analysis and depending upon the situation at every installation. One size will not fit all. The Navy, I think has been vigorous in responding to each one of these. We will continue to do that.
Q. Some inside the lifelines have criticized what they see as a Navy culture built around procedural compliance, to the point of stifling creativity and even
aggression from its leaders. What do you think of that contention?
A. I think that is an over simplification when people say that. It has been forever characteristic of naval warfare that you have to know your business, whether that is through procedural compliance or drills or what have you. There is just a technical dimension to operating a navy that must be respected.
Yet, throughout history, we have found that our leaders and our sailors have always risen to the challenge. It is the defining strength of our Navy that, even within those technical constraints, we still find ways to innovate, still find ways to achieve the mission, adapt, and overcome every challenge. That is the United States Navy. I think it is inherent in a successful Navy. I think that we will be fine going forward when we strike that balance between technical expertise and ingenuity and creativity.