Decommissioning speech by Adm Jordon
Decommissioning USS Nicholson
December 18, 2002
Commodore Holloway, Captain Harvey, former Commanding Officers, distinguished guests, families, friends, and the Officers and Crew of the Nicholson,
It's always an honor to be asked to speak at a Navy event -- but this is a sad duty --- I didn't expect this day to come so soon. Commissioning the Nicholson was one of the greatest honors in my life and I watched her with pride down through the years, as she was systematically upgraded and was compiling a record the envy of any other ship in the Navy. The Nicholson has held a special place for many of us - most of the commissioning wardroom is here today - and the officer in charge of our fleet introduction team - we have gotten together more often than most, to reminisce over our great days on the Nick and to admire the accomplishments of those who have followed.
It doesn't seem like 23 years plus, but -- time moves on. The Nicholson is a product of the seventies - those were challenging times. The Navy was stretched thin. At the same time the Soviet fleet was growing increasingly aggressive and had embarked on the greatest submarine building program in history. The Spruances were being rolled out to replace an aging surface fleet and to provide new ASW capabilities to counter the new Soviet submarines.
The commissioning crew began to assemble here in Norfolk in 1978 and the ship was commissioned in Pascagoula, Mississippi the following May. Our home port was Charleston. Although it seems like yesterday to me - over half the men and women in the Navy today weren't even born then.
It was the post Vietnam era. The cult movie of that year was "The Deer Hunter" with Robert Deniro and Meryl Streep. It was quite the rage. To our delight, there was an important scene with a toast to a key character -
"To Nick". The hot singing group was the Doobie Brothers - I won't give you a description - ask your parents.
The commissioning was spectacular - a balmy Mississippi spring day - It rained most of the morning but, to everyone's relief, it stopped ? hour before the ceremony - the sun broke out - it was a good omen.
We had appointed the Electronic's Material Officer "Balloon Officer" with the task of releasing "a thousand red, white, and blue balloons" when the pennant went up. There were balloons in nets everywhere on the upper levels. We hadn't planned on a Mississippi gully washer and I can't imagine what would have happened to those balloons in a down pour - so from the get go, as per our motto - "fortune was favoring the brave."
As for me - I lost my voice yelling over the band at the ship's commissioning party which had gone long into the night. I had the new X.O. come over to tell him he would have to read my speech. In typical fashion, he called the new ship's Corpsman and told him that if he had to read that speech, then the Corpsman was dead. The new Corpsman showed up at my room with a glass and said - "drink this and don't say anything until you have to start reading." With the X.O. standing beside me, I delivered the speech. Wouldn't you like to know what was in that stuff? I sure don't!
The commissioning crew was great but very green. The post Vietnam era was a tough recruiting environment for the relatively new "all volunteer force." The Spruance deliveries were being accelerated and the training pipeline was long, due to all the new systems. A Spruance sailor could easily be up for second class having never been to sea.
So when we got underway from Pascagoula, more than half the crew had never been to sea before. Except for trials, I don't think any of us had been to sea on a Spruance.
It was exciting to say the least.
But, as you can see - we made it. And the ship began shake-down leading to Nicholson's first deployment in the fall of 1980. The first wardroom and crew were spectacular. A record score of 95 in refresher training, a Naval gunfire support record, a clean sweep and battle efficiency "E" in her first competitive year. After a lot of deliberation the ship had adopted a bumper sticker which proclaimed that "there's none finer" and it seemed at every turn the crew was determined to prove it.
The first cruise was to the Mediterranean. There were several solid interactions with Soviet submarines as well as one of the first Freedom of Navigation Operations off of Libya. Those operations were a precursor to operation "El Dorado Canyon" - the punitive strikes on Tripoli in 1986. It was also part of the extended operations against various Arab regimes which continue today. Extended operations to which Nicholson has extensively contributed throughout her length of service.
Nicholson returned home from her first cruise in 1981, settling into years of service, which end today.
The Nicholson was a Cold War product - her early service was with the fast Carrier Task Groups operating on the northern and southern flanks of NATO holding strategic Soviet targets at risk. A front line ASW ship capable of mixing it up with a new breed of 2nd generation Soviet submarines the
C,V II's. In those early years, the laudatory messages of Nicholson's ASW prowess were frequent.
The ship became part of the 600 ship Navy of the "80's" ready to surge forward in both Europe and the Pacific to check the Soviet threat. Periodic collisions as the two fleets maneuvered in close proximity - incidents like the downing of the Japanese airliner in the Pacific were indicative of the tension of that period and were constant reminders of a precarious peace.
This was a time when Soviet submarines routinely patrolled off the coast of the United States - but, the Soviet Union was weakening.
Weakening in the face of an unwavering commitment to Peace through Strength - to stay forward and to stay ready for as long as it took. Nicholson was in it all the way. Operations off of Norway, an Arctic Service Ribbon - representatives to the NATO Standing Force - deployments to the Med and by the end of the 80's - 1988 to be exact - the Berlin Wall came down. And the Cold War was ending.
Despite the fact that this ship is a distinguished Cold War Veteran - Nicholson's major contributions lay in the Middle East and South West Asia. The darkening clouds of this continuing unrest began early. The Iranian Hostage Crisis occurred in 1979 not long after commissioning, and this trouble boiled through the 80's as Iran took aggressive actions to interrupt the flow of Middle East oil. By the late 80's the Navy was escorting tankers in the Persian Gulf. These were dangerous times. The "hostile peace" some called it.
The USS Stark was struck by an errant cruise missile. The USS Samuel B. Roberts struck a mine. Ships crews had to be extremely vigilant in a tinder box atmosphere with complex rules of engagement. During this period the Nicholson deployed to the Persian Gulf area three times. The last in 1990 as attention was turning to Iraq and ultimately Desert Storm. Often commended, sound training and alertness, the Nicholson always returned home safely.
The 90's saw four more Nicholson deployments in the Middle East area, as part of Allied quarantine and deterrence operations to hold Saddam Hussein in check in the aftermath of Desert Storm. These operations continue today. During the 1994-1995 time frame, Nicholson received her vertical launcher and SQQ89 upgrades and entered her last years as a fully capable strike platform. This was the type of ship the Navy needed to meet the increasing challenges of regional conflict that we see today. With these awesome new capabilities the Nick was not to disappoint.
In 1999, I was in Norfolk on business and I looked in the newspaper box and there was a picture of the Nicholson returning from deployment - with the headline - "Nicholson Joined Two Air Campaigns". The article went on to explain that the Nicholson had fired multiple Tomahawks against Iraq in December during Operation Desert Fox and then swinging back through the Med 3 months later, was called on again to return and conduct strikes against Kosovo in Yugoslavia during Operation Noble Anvil. The first ship to conduct Tomahawk strikes in two separate theaters in the same cruise.
The commissioning wardroom's twentieth reunion was coming up in just a couple of weeks so you can imagine the surprise when I went into a newsstand and bought all of the newspapers. It was a spectacular accomplishment and we were proud and elated. You had demonstrated what the modern surface combatant was all about. Long endurance - self-sufficiency and a lethal punch - and we could say - "that that was our ship." During those two missions the Nicholson delivered over 40 Tomahawks. Most of all, we were proud of the crew - You were trained - You were ready and - You were there!
During their last deployment in 2001, the Nicholson was called on once again - on the point in the Persian Gulf when the tragic events in the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and Pennsylvania occurred - the Nicholson swung into action in Operation Enduring Freedom and conducted a Tomahawk engagement against Taliban and Al Quaeda positions. It was one of the first units to strike back in what will be a long and one of our country's most challenging wars - the War against Terrorism.
All in all, quite a record, and although I've spoken of many exemplary highlights - the Nicholson story is bigger than that. Twenty-three years plus of continuous excellence and readiness - a can do ship - a "we're on the way" ship.
Twelve deployments, five squadron battle E's, three clean sweeps - the Presidential Unit Citation, a Meritorious Unit Commendation, and three combat actions in three separate campaigns.
The Nicholson operated from the Arctic Circle off of Norway to the tip of South America and the Straits of Magellan - although she transited the Suez many times, she was no stranger to the Panama Canal. From these operations in the Pacific to the coast of Pakistan, Nicholson ranged literally over half the world. A record which exemplifies the global presence of the Navy today.
Veterans were buried at sea from these decks, babies were christened in the ships bell, young officers earned their spurs, and many a crew member achieved his quals. When the ESWS program was instituted, the ships hull number on a small tag, was soldered on the back of the insignia. "When you qualified on the Nicholson it meant more." This hull is going out but, the 982 will live on in the hearts of literally thousands of men and women who served in her -- and there were none finer!
In 1978 the magazine Scientific American printed an article on the coming revolution in military warfare - the central point was that precision guided munitions were being developed with single shot lethality which could be delivered from anywhere. The article confidently predicted that this would change warfare forever. And the author was right.
History will record that Nicholson spanned the breadth of this unique period of explosive technical growth:
? Satellite based global positioning to an accuracy of a few feet
? Extraordinary advances in military command and control
? Networked overhead sensors and third party targeting made coordinated attacks with previously unheard of response times almost routine
o Advanced signal processing
o Enormous computer capacity
The Nicholson was commissioned with guns having the same range as her predecessor in World War II and ultimately was delivering long-range land attack cruise missiles over 100's of miles with pinpoint accuracy.
And, as this century - as this millennium was ending, Nicholson was proving just how far the surface Navy had come. The mobility and endurance and the firepower to deliver punitive strikes against our enemies at any place, at any time.
The Captain tells me that with in excess of fifty launches "in anger", Nicholson still ranks as one of the top shooters in the Fleet. I'm confident that those weapons delivered more lethal damage than all the previous Nicholson's combined.
In many ways the Nicholson is a victim of her own success and Sea Power 21, the Navy's new strategy calls for a heavier emphasis on sensors and weapons and with these capabilities there is less emphasis on platforms. Nicholson, through her successful Tomahawk attacks, helped pioneer this strategy.
But, in order to execute this strategy in a time of competing budget priorities, the ships of the Cold War era must go to recapitalize the surface force. -- So the Nicholson has received her final orders - make room.
But, she is making room for a surface community with a bright future. The Navy will always need smaller, resilient, affordable platforms to screen and scout for the heavies. Ships with the distributed firepower and punch so that they will be forces to be reckoned with in their own right. Forces that will slow down, complicate and dilute the efforts of any opposition force that can be dispatched on raids and strikes on their own.
Yes, she must go - but the Navy is a very strong institution and it draws heavily on its traditions. The Nicholson name stands with the other naval greats - Jones, Truxton, Oliver Hazard Perry, Farragut - the fathers of the Navy. So I am certain that someday the fifth Nicholson will sail. I cannot imagine what she will look like - what hull form - propulsion - sensors/weapons package.
But, there is one thing for sure - she will have one more set of big shoes to fill - those of the 982.
The Nicholson was true to her legacy - the D-52, the 2nd, was the first ship to attack a U-boat in World War I. The "442", the 3rd, fought in Africa and Europe and then was sent west to the Pacific and the island campaigns through the end of WWII. So with a first in strike warfare and combat in multiple theaters, the 982 has faithfully maintained the Nicholson tradition.
I doubt if I'll make the next one but Skipper, I hope you, or certainly some of your young crew, will be there. They can roll you up here and you can tell 'em how you and the old 982 helped give 'em a tan in Afghanistan.
On a more serious note - Captain, let me again congratulate you and the crew for the outstanding job you have been doing. During your deployment, you help strike back when Americans needed it most - during your recent sonar trials you helped pave the way for better anti-submarine capabilities in the new surface Navy, and of course, the preparations for today.
It has been a great honor to stand with you all to see the Nicholson properly out.
And finally to the crew of the Nicholson - there isn't much that is more demoralizing than decommissioning your ship. You're proud of it, you know what it can do, you've bested newer ships - and now the Navy says "we don't want it anymore - it's not good enough." And then maybe you begin thinking - "then why did they put me here?"
Well let me tell you that that kind of thinking couldn't be more wrong. The crew is the ship. You are the brains and the muscle and the heart of the Nicholson. The 982 goes -- she helped win the war she was put here for and it's her time. You were on the point on 9/11 and you, better than anybody; know that this new fight will be long and tough. Thanks to you the Nicholson was there to be counted. And was there to hoist the Naval Jack that symbolizes our resolve - "Don't tread on me" and you - are the critical element in that resolve.
This is why we're really here. Its time for you to move on. You'll face challenges far more complex and dangerous than those of my era. But you are better trained and yes, smarter, and the Navy needs you now, on the new ships and the new systems that you have proved you can so ably man.
So get on with it! And I wish you all the best. We are very proud of you, and the job you have done, and the sacrifices you make every day.
Again - it has been a great honor to speak here today---
President John F. Kennedy once said -
"And any man who may be asked in this century what he did to make his life worthwhile,"
I think you can respond with a good deal of pride and satisfaction:
I served in the United States Navy."
To that - I am proud to add - I served in "the 982". There was none finer.
Posted by Dale Paul
Sep 09 2003 03:33:11:000AM