USS Chafee The Power of Integrity

Sailors assigned to the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Chafee (DDG 90) haul in line during a replenishment-at-sea with the dry cargo and ammunition ship USNS Wally Schirra (T-AKE-8). U.S. Navy photo by MC1 Benjamin A. Lewis

Rear Adm. Brian Fort
Commander, Navy Region Hawaii and
Naval Surface Group Middle Pacific

A modern U.S. Navy destroyer weighs approximately 9000 tons. The anchor (not including the weight of the chain), which is designed to hold the ship safely in place, weighs only 2 tons. Amazing! When anchored offshore, Navy commanders depend on their anchor to hold fast when the weather or tide turns, and when leaving or entering port they depend on their anchor in an emergency.

So when it comes to your leadership, what’s your anchor? Ask yourself this question, what do you want most from your leaders and what do those you lead want most from you?

The answer is simple — integrity. That’s your anchor.

This week, our guided-missile destroyer USS Chafee (DDG 90) returns to homeport at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam following a seven-month deployment. Sailors aboard Chafee served throughout the span of the Pacific, from WestPac to South America. They demonstrated warfighting readiness, speed, precision and reach.

I am very proud of Team Chafee, not only for their command of the seas but also for the honor and integrity they showed throughout their deployment. And, by the way, check out their YouTube video at watch?v=7BCQvPSdEgc with a particular shout-out to their namesake — John H. Chafee!

John Chafee epitomized integrity. He was a 19-year-old sophomore on the wrestling team at Yale University on Dec. 7, 1941 when Oahu was attacked.

Two months later he enlisted as a private in the United States Marine Corps. Six months later he was in combat with the original invasion force at Guadalcanal — just over 75 years ago.

During World War II, Chafee was selected for officer candidate school. He was commissioned a second lieutenant and returned to lead and fight with the Sixth Marine Division in the Battle of Okinawa. He also served in Ting Tao, China at the end of 1945.

In 1946 Chafee returned to Yale and became captain of the wrestling team. He then took the initiative to study at Harvard Law School.

In 1950, war ignited on the Korean Peninsula when the North invaded the South and duty called once more. Chafee returned to service as a captain and a company commander with the First Marine Division. His young Marines loved him because he led with integrity. His lieutenant, James Brady, who would author a book called “The Coldest War,” called Chafee “the most admirable man I’ve ever known.”

One day when Chafee’s rifle company had to cross a snow-covered ground believed to be a minefield, he took point and led his men across. The Marines, trusting their leader’s judgment, followed precisely in his footsteps. When they looked back, they saw one set of footprints in the snow.

Following his tour in Korea, Chafee served in the Marine Corps Legal office in Pearl Harbor until his release from active service in 1953.

After his military service, Chafee served as a local legislator and then as governor of Rhode Island. President Richard Nixon appointed Chafee as Secretary of the Navy in 1969. As SECNAV,

Chafee chose Adm. Elmo Zumwalt to be Chief of Naval Operations, which accelerated our Navy’s integration of minorities and women. Chafee championed modernization of naval forces as a top priority. He also oversaw the USS Pueblo incident with statesmanship and diplomacy.

Chafee was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1976 and helped bring about the Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act. He was an architect of the Superfund program to clean up hazardous waste sites. He advocated construction of Interstate-95, expanded Medicare, and developed parks throughout his state. He demonstrated a lifelong commitment to physical fitness, the environment and support of the military.

In other words, he served people, and he served with integrity. Fellow Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas said John Chafee set “a standard of decency, civility and kindness, remembering how to disagree without rancor … He exemplified everything that was good and decent and honorable about our country.”

Our Sailors expect us, as leaders, to take care of our people, including family members. They expect us to be trained in decision making, to be masters of communication, to be skilled in critical self-assessment, and to be willing to rise to the challenge in a crisis. Sailors — and Marines — gravitate to integrity and the chance to make a difference as leaders themselves.

The Honorable John Chafee is the namesake for USS Chafee, but he is an icon of leadership and integrity for our entire Navy.

Honor, Courage and Commitment are our core values. Integrity is our leadership anchor.

Editor’s note: Due to Ho’okele’s three-week hiatus, two commentaries are published in this week’s issue.

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Category: News