By Capt. James “T” Kirk, Commanding Officer, Pre-Commissioning Unit ZUMWALT (DDG 1000)
On January 2, 2000, Adm. Elmo R. Zumwalt Jr., the 19th Chief of Naval Operations, died at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C. On this date 15 years ago, we lost a great man whose legacy and spirit still serve as the backbone of today’s Navy.
Adm. Zumwalt was born in San Francisco, Calif. on Nov. 29, 1920 and raised in nearby Tulare by his parents, Drs. Elmo and Frances Zumwalt. After graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1942 in the wartime-accelerated class of 1943, he headed to the Pacific. There, he served aboard destroyers USS Phelps and USS Robinson and was awarded the Bronze Star with Combat “V” for his actions during the Battle of Leyte Gulf. He served as navigator during the Korean conflict aboard USS Wisconsin and as the commander of all naval forces in Vietnam from 1968 to 1970.
First and foremost, Adm. Zumwalt was a warrior who deeply believed in his calling to serve and defend his country. In 1970, he was selected ahead of many more senior officers to become the youngest officer promoted to admiral and began a tumultuous and sometimes controversial four-year tenure as CNO.
Adm. Zumwalt’s influence on our Navy can be found just about everywhere. We are a more diverse force today – one that better reflects the demographics of our society overall. That was unthinkable in 1970 when Adm. Zumwalt began an assault upon bigotry and racism within the Navy with Z-gram 66 (Equal Opportunity). By 1972, Adm. Zumwalt was doing the same for women in our Navy with Z-gram 116 (Equal Rights and Opportunities for Women). On his watch, the first African-American and woman were promoted to flag rank – Rear Adm. Samuel Gravely and Adm. Arlene Duerk.
Adm. Zumwalt instituted the Navy’s command master chief program, the ombudsman program, and made the elimination of “Mickey Mouse” regulations, like those that once prohibited enlisted Sailors from having civilian clothes aboard ships, a priority. At the core of all these initiatives was Adm. Zumwalt’s compassion and belief that every human being deserved to be treated with dignity. He recognized before most that making the Navy a moral, just, and fair institution was both the right thing to do and a necessity as the services transitioned from a conscription force to a volunteer one.
Had Adm. Zumwalt accomplished little else on his watch, he would rightfully be remembered as one of our most influential and successful leaders. While his people programs attracted much attention – and even a Time magazine cover – his force structure reforms were equally bold.
Immediately upon taking the baton as CNO, he directed a strategic planning effort, Project 60, to determine what changes needed to be made to the U.S. Navy to meet the challenge of an increasingly capable Soviet Navy. He reduced force structure by eliminating obsolete equipment and used those savings to invest in a more balanced and capable Navy.
He was largely successful in implementing a high-low mix approach to achieve his goals. The Oliver Hazard Perry Class frigates, Light Airborne Multi-Purpose System (LAMPS) helicopters, minesweeping helicopters, Harpoon missiles, and the Close-In Weapon System (CIWS) all made their debuts during or soon after his watch and have served our Navy well for decades.
Adm. Zumwalt’s reform-minded legacy lives on. It lives on in the programs he implemented during his tenure as CNO, and it will live on in the Sailor spirit and steel of the ship that will bear his name. In 2015, the future USS Zumwalt (DDG 1000) will go to sea for testing and trials. Not long after those trials are complete, she’ll join the fleet. In both appearance and capability USS Zuwmalt will be as unmistakable as her namesake, and that is just how it should be to honor one of our finest naval leaders, Adm. Elmo R. “Bud” Zumwalt Jr.