Branch Named President-Elect;
Phillips Accepts Burke Award
By AMY L. WITTMAN, Editor in Chief
The presentation of the Adm. Arleigh Burke Award for Exceptional Leadership to Capt. Richard Phillips, master of the MV
Maersk Alabama, capped three
busy days for the Navy League’s
Board of Directors.
During its spring meeting June
11-13 in Arlington, Va., board
members also heard several guest
speakers, adopted some changes to
the Navy League bylaws and named
Daniel B. Branch president-elect.
National President J. Michael McGrath presided over the meeting.
As master of the U.S.-flag merchant ship Maersk Alabama, Phillips
and his crew thwarted an attack by
four pirates in the Indian Ocean off
Somalia April 8. During the confrontation, Phillips offered himself as
hostage and the Maersk Alabama
crew captured one of the pirates. After an exchange was arranged, the crew returned their
captive but the pirates kept Phillips and held him hostage
on a lifeboat for four days until his rescue by USS
Bainbridge and a team of Navy SEALs.
At the closing dinner June 13, at which Phillips was
the guest of honor, Vice Adm. Michael Vitale, commander, Navy Installations Command, said Phillips’
dramatic April 12 rescue “is one for our history books,
no question about it.”
Vitale, who was the dinner’s keynote speaker, said
Phillips “displayed honor, courage and commitment in
a very difficult time. You surrendered yourself to ensure
the safety of your crew, as any good naval officer would,
and you represented all that is good about America.
This is leadership at its finest. Thank you, sir.”
Vitale also praised the crew of Bainbridge and the
“What a team,” he said. “Isn’t it great to know that
your Navy hasn’t lost its edge during its 235 years and
it still knows how to defeat pirates?”
The U.S. Navy has changed a great deal in that time,
and Vitale charged the service and the Navy League to
“continue to talk about the great story of our Navy.”
Vice Adm. Michael Vitale, commander, Navy Installations Command, and Navy
League National President J. Michael McGrath, at left, and Navy League National
Director Albert J. Herberger, far right, present Capt. Richard Phillips, master of
the MV Maersk Alabama, with the Adm. Arleigh Burke Award for Exceptional
Leadership during the June 13 dinner that closed the Navy League Board of
Directors meeting in Arlington, Va. Vitale was guest speaker at the dinner.
The Navy today has “about 285 ships, 46 percent of
which are deployed. There are 331,000 men and women
in uniform today; about 180,000 civilians support that
Navy,” he said. “There are about 115,000 reserve personnel serving throughout the world and there are
about 63,000 on deployment today, with 10,000 serving
as Individual Augmentees, deployed mostly to Iraq,
Afghanistan or to the Horn of Africa.
“In 1985,” Vitale said, “we had close to a 600-ship
Navy, employed about 450,000 Sailors and the Navy was
operational about 33 percent of the time. Times have
changed, but our capability as a Navy has gotten better.
We are more effective and more lethal than ever before.
“The rescue of Capt. Phillips is testimony to our
ability to operate forward, quickly respond to any crisis and professionally demonstrate operational excellence,” he said.
Despite this tradition of operational excellence, the
service faces several challenges that put future funding
at risk, including “a sagging economy, no peer competitor, and other national priorities like health care
reform and infrastructure recapitalization,” Vitale said.
There also is the problem of perception.
SEAPOWER / AUGUST 2009