Four-Star Admiral Retires Aboard USS George Washington

USS George Washington

Adm. Bill Gortney refused to be upstaged, even by his own boss.

As a narrator introduced Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson to a microphone set before a crowd on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS George Washington, Gortney stepped up.

It was his party, after all. In the waning minutes of a long Navy career, Richardson was moments away from becoming Gortney's former boss, anyway.

"I get to do the introductions," Gortney said.

Gortney, a fighter pilot who commanded U.S. Fleet Forces from September 2012 through November 2014, retired after 39 years in the Navy during a ceremony Monday at Norfolk Naval Station.

Fleet Forces Command oversees the training and equipping of Navy air, surface and submarine forces worldwide. Gortney helped see the fleet through sequestration and unveiled a readiness plan that limits carriers to one seven-month deployment every three years, allowing more time for maintenance.

Gortney left Norfolk in 2014 to lead U.S. Northern Command, the Colorado-based combatant command tasked with defending the continental United States and its territorial interests. He also has commanded the Navy's 5th Fleet in the Persian Gulf as well as Carrier Strike Group 10, aboard the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman, from 2007 to 2008 and Carrier Air Wing 7, aboard the USS John F. Kennedy, from 2002 to 2003.

Steaming into the northern Arabian Sea aboard the JFK exactly six months after the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, "we had a bit in our teeth," Gortney said.

"There was a fight on in Afghanistan and it was our duty to be a part of it and we wanted in it. Bad," Gortney told the crowd.

Gortney will stay in Hampton Roads. He said he plans to spend time with his wife, Sherry, whom he called "the perfect wife, mother and grandmother."

"It's all about you now, sweetie," Gortney told her from a stage on the flight deck. Richardson also recognized Sherry Gortney with the Navy's Distinguished Public Service Award, the highest honor the service gives to civilians, for her support of military families and wounded warriors.

Gortney followed into the Navy his father, a retired aviator also named Bill. Gortney received his commission in 1977 after graduating from Elon College, now Elon University, in North Carolina.

Gortney on Monday also got a second chance at handing over leadership of Fleet Forces to Adm. Phil Davidson, who has led the command since December 2014. In November of that year, the Navy canceled the scheduled change-of-command ceremony that marks the transfer of leadership after the U.S. Senate delayed the confirmation of a replacement further down the chain.

Retired Fleet Master Chief Petty Officer Chuck Clarke described Gortney as a good-humored leader, known as much for his off-the-cuff quips and challenging the status quo as for his commitment to sailor development and the welfare of their families.

When he asked Gortney to speak at his retirement ceremony, Clarke said the admiral responded with a "well-detailed email" that read, "I'm in." Gortney sent Clarke a similar request in a "long email" a few months later, Clarke said. It read: "Need you to be my guest speaker." It was signed with his aviator call sign, "Shortney."

Gortney's contributions are "infinite and his impact on the Navy will be long lasting," Clarke said.

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