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Tom Burkhard's Address to HGS May 8, 2004

HGS '65 was honored to have Admiral Tom Burkhard honored as Distinguished Alumnus for 2004 at a celebration on campus May 7-8!

Here is the text of his address.

Click here for a printable PDF version.

Admiral Thomas Burkhardt




It is indeed an honor to be named the 2004 Hopkins Alumnus of the Year.  Unfortunately, I think that there are far more worthy candidates than I so I accept this honor with great hesitation and humility.  I believe that I know the individual most responsible for this honor and would like to spend some time honoring him. 


In the fall of 1962, Karl Crawford journeyed up the Hill for the first time from downtown New Haven.  He took up residence in  Hopkins Hall in a small enclave opposite the Art room.  He inaugurated the Russian language into Hopkins as well as teaching History.  We had about six students in that first Russian language class and used a new Textbook from Yale.  "Hello, how our you?" is the first phrase that I learned in Russian and probably the only that I still recall. The best part of the class was talking about politics and listening to Karl's "sea stories" about his time aboard Navy submarines.  Following his Naval enlistment, Karl matriculated at Yale and started his true love – teaching - which he did at Hopkins for nearly 40 years.  Karl started the summer school program and took great pride as it grew in stature and prestige.  Along with his love of Hopkins, his other loves of his life were his wife  charlotte, and daughter  Holly.    Charlotte passed on a few years ago but she still lives on in Karl's love for her.

 Karl was one of the main reasons that I ended up in the Navy.  One day in the fall of my Six Form Year (I guess you call it Senior year now) my father announced at dinner that he had scheduled me to take the Naval ROTC qualification exam.  He stated proudly that if I passed the test, the Navy would pay for my college education.  I knew nothing about the Navy but I did know that my parents had sacrificed to send me to Hopkins, with my mother returning to work to help pay for the tuition. Tuition at that time was a whole $1100 as compared to today's $21,000.  Therefore, I somewhat reluctantly went off and took the test and passed.  I had more trouble passing the physical exam than the written test.  I had to go to Brooklyn, N.Y. to the Navy Recruiting Center.  It was the classic movie script of 50 young males standing in a line in medical gowns.  The order came to turn around and bend over.  You heard the wave of groans as 50 rectal exams were performed in rapid succession.  I passed all the physical requirements except for the minimum weight standard for someone 6 foot 1 and 1/2 inches.  I was not called "Spider" by basketball Coach Ed Brown for no good reason.  My 128 lbs was not enough.  Therefore, I had to return a couple of weeks later for another weigh-in.  I ate plenty of bananas and drank lots of milk shakes and my new weight of 138 lbs made the grade.  I now officially qualified for the Naval scholarship.

 April 15th rolled around the spring of 1965, and the infamous envelope arrived from Harvard.  With cautious optimism, I opened the envelop and It announced my acceptance and notified me that I had received a Naval ROTC scholarship or a Harvard College scholarship as indicated on the next page.  However, the next page showed all zeros and therefore my fate was sealed at that point. 

I turned to Karl for guidance.  He was extremely positive and encouraging which buoyed my spirits, so off I went to Harvard Yard and eventually the Navy.  I didn't exactly make a great early Naval impression with my Freshman ROTC ranking 26 of 32 students with comments "Hasn't shown a great deal of enthusiasm.  Uniform appearance quite marginal on occasion.  Has not excelled on the drill field."   However, one officer reviewer did see a glimmer of hope making the comment:  "He has good potential for developing into a fine Naval Officer."  Even that reviewer qualified his statement with  "However, he is lax in appearance at times and suffers from a slight "wise guy" image."    

 Thirty-five years into my Naval career, I can now completely agree with President Kennedy's comments to Naval Academy graduating class of 1963,  "Any man who may be asked in this century what he did to make his life worthwhile, I think can respond with a good deal of pride and satisfaction, "I served in the United States Navy.""  Throughout my career, I have kept in contact with Karl and greatly appreciated his wisdom and advise.  When I was selected as a Flag Officer two years ago, I am sure it was Karl who placed my name in nomination for this honor and lobbied for it since he informed me with great pride that I was the first Naval Admiral in Hopkins history although they had had several previous Generals.  Karl, I wish to salute you as a fellow shipmate and wish you always "Fair winds and following seas."


I would like now to shift gears and talk about today's military posing the question " What is the Price of Freedom?"  

The Global War on Terrorism, referred to by some as World War III, is unfortunately going to be with us for many years if not decades.  This is a war actively waged by religious zealots who hate us for what we stand for -Freedom and Liberty. There have already been numerous casualties in America, Spain, Morroco, Yemen, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Afganistan, India, Indonesia, the Phillipines and many other nations.  The enemy wants to strip us of our freedoms and take society back to the middle ages.  These are indeed difficult times for our nation but we must and will prevail so our children can continue to live under the ideals of Freedom and Liberty.   Unfortunately, the potential damage  terrorists are capable of inflicting, through the use of chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons, is massive.  The next attack may dwarf the casualties seen on 9/11.  The recently disrupted Al Quida suicide chemical bomb attack planned for Amman Jordan was estimated to have the potential to kill over 80,000 individuals. This would have equaled the immediate loss of life in the Hiroshima nuclear explosion.  Our parents, the world's greatest generation, answered the call to protect Freedom in World War II, and now its our generation and that of our children who must respond to this latest challenge.  While there is certainly controversy about the justification for the war in Iraq and  Weapons of Mass destruction, now that we are there, it is imperative that this nation stay the course and see this fight through to its conclusion.  Fallujah, Sadr City and Najif are the current front lines in this Global War on Terrorism.  There have been analogies drawn to the Vietnam conflict and suggestions that we pull our troops out of the Iraq quagmire, however the North Vietnamese were never coming across the Pacific Ocean to attack us.  Al Quida has already been here and is attempting to strike again.  As Senator Hutchison commented recently "Freedom means that we can't afford to fail."  We must pay whatever sacrifice is required to prevail in Iraq. 

Your military is no longer the military of old.  There is a new business philosophy sweeping the halls of the Pentagon.  This year's Department of Defense budget, with the anticipated supplemental bill to cover the Iraq war, is going to reach 487 billion dollars.  This is a vast sum of money.  The budget has literally exploded by over 100 billion dollars during the past two years due to the Global War on Terrorism.  As taxpayers, we have the right to know if this money, spent to protect our Freedom, is being spent wisely and appropriately.  When I joined the military in 1969, it was a  “consumption” organization with a draft mentality in which personnel costs were irrelevant. The Captain of a ship only worried about performing his mission and staying off the rocks.  His budget was never a real issue except at the end of the Fiscal year when pilots such as Ken Paul would bore circles in the sky to burn up the last of their aviation fuel allowance to ensure they would get the same amount of money the next year.   Despite the recent ballooning of the military budget, the actual buying power available to the military for current operations and weapons systems has shrunk considerably.  This is the result of the all volunteer force.  In 1980 DOD personnel accounts made up 30 percent of the budget.  Today, 65% of the DOD's budget is spent on personnel issues-  salaries, retirement, healthcare, training, housing, changing duty stations etc.  These costs have escalated in order to recruit and retain an all volunteer force which is in direct competition with the civilian sector   A recent April Forbes magazine article stated that the average cost to the government for a person in uniform was now $99,000 with 57% of that compensation deffered until retirement. The remaining 35% of the budget is spent on current operations and new weapons systems, which in their own right, have become exorbitantly expensive.  A new aircraft carrier costs 4.5 billion, a submarine 2.1 billion, and a new F-18 Superhornet 57 million.  

These fiscal pressures, as well as a revolution in technology, are driving Secretary of Defense Rumsfield's call for "Transforming" the military into a lighter, smaller, more mobile as well as more lethal organization.  He wants America to leverage its greatest advantage over its enemies - its people and technology.  He recently summed up these ideas succinctly stating: "One thing we have learned in the global war on terror is that, in the 21st century, what is critical to success in military conflict is not necessarily mass as much as it is capability."  As an example, one night in last year's Operation Iraqi Freedom, 32 Apache helicopters were sent out to destroy a column of tanks.  A couple of the Apache helicopters were shot down and all sustained gunfire damage.  They succeeded in knocking out 4 tanks.  Simultaneously in the western desert, a team of 12 special forces personnel, without any additional support, destroyed 14 tanks without sustaining any casualties.  The Special Forces redefined and changed how the work was accomplished.  They substituted education and training, coupled with speed and agility, for a large cumbersome military footprint and yet their outcomes were better.  Everyone in the Department is now striving to get "more capability, more quickly to the fight."   The Navy realizes that it will be  irrelevant in the marketplace if  it cannot provide greater speed of response and more options to the president.  In the past, the Navy's readiness construct was that when a carrier came out of a yard overhaul, it spent 18 months training before it was capable of an actual deployment.  This meant that it took 7 aircraft carriers to field one in the Persian Gulf.  The buying of billion dollar assets, to park and sit, is no longer an option in today's military.  Under a new Fleet Response Plan, a carrier now comes out of the yards and goes into a Basic Training Phase for 90 days.  After the initial 90 days, the carrier enters an Employment phase with a scheduled Deployment date.  However, during this employment phase the carrier is also on a 30 day tether for possible emergency surge response.  This new construct is providing "Progressive Readiness" which entails accepting some degree risk that the crew will not be 100% trained prior to deployment.  However, the new Fleet Response Plan will allow the emergency surging of up to six aircraft carriers at one time.  The Navy is also experimenting with ship rotation schedules.  The transit time for ships crossing the Pacific Ocean reduces their time on station in the Persian Gulf by more than 30%.  The Navy is testing the concept of Sea Swap, where ship crews are rotated onto ships that are continuously forward deployed thereby avoiding the lengthy transits and increasing ship time on station. 

 The Secretary of Defense, coming from a business background, has infused a new corporate mentality into the Department of Defense and a new focus on the stewardship of taxpayers' money.  He demands that metrics be established and monitored "You get what you inspect and not what you expect."  He dislikes the word "requirements" and categorically rejects mandatory ones as "nonsense."   He desires people to challenge conventional wisdom if things don't make sense.  Since the Department cannot finance all its "requirements" he has pushed for an acceptance of risk balancing in the development of fiscally bounded programs. This is not easy, since one has to decide how many dollars to put against current War Plans versus Research and Development which may not pay off for 10-15 years.  He wants the military to do things they have never done before and decries the lack of speed in the Department. "We need to develop a genetic sense of urgency to get things done. Speed matters, we can't keep messing around. The way we do business takes too long; we need to do things faster and with fewer layers."  

 This business attitude has been driven down to the individual services.  Admiral Clark, the Chief of Naval Operations, was just extended in his tour of office for two additional years by Secretary Rumsfield.  Admiral Clark entered the Navy with an MBA and is striving to improve the business acumen of his Naval Flag Officers.   Last spring he challenged them to question all assumptions and find the best way to spend their resources to get the outputs they desired.  The Navy currently has only 295 ships on active duty, the lowest number since WW1.  There were over seven hundred ships during the Vietnam War when I entered the Navy.  Arguably, the firepower in today's Naval armada is far superior to any fleet in history.  However, Sea Power 21, the Navy's strategic vision, for how it will organize and transform itself as we defend our nation and defeat our enemies, calls for 375 ships which are capable of engaging the enemy in both the littorals and blue water oceans.  Admiral Clark realizes, with the current U.S. budget deficit approaching 500 billion dollars, that taxpayers are not going to fund the recapitalization of Naval ships and aircraft required to reach this vision.  The 2000 FYDP (Five year defense Plan) called for building 205 aircraft in FY 05.  This number has been reduced to 101 due to budget constraints.   Admiral Clark exhorted his Flag Officers to put a new word in their lexicon- Productivity stating that CEO's of major corporations will tell you that they can save 10% of their budget through increased productivity.   He challenged them to return 10 billion dollars per year in savings from the Navy's 100 billion dollar budget in order to recapitalize Naval ships and aircraft.  He has echoed Secretaries Rumsfield’s comments about accepting risk: "Stop producing readiness at any cost and start producing cost wise readiness.  Zero risk is no longer achievable nor affordable.  We need to accept some risk and use the saved dollars to invest in our future.  Otherwise we will have a slow death and no future."  This acceptance of risk is illustrated in the Progressive Readiness construct for aircraft carrier deployments.

Reaching the 10 billion dollar level of savings is causing dramatic changes in how business is conducted within the U.S. Navy.  The recent All Flag Officer meeting sounded more like a corporate executive symposium.  Six Sigma and Lean Manufacturing were discussed and talk centered around reducing variation across the system.  Rumsfield stated that  "What you measure improves, so measure the right things."  Previously, Naval Aviation measured aircraft availability which drove up maintenance costs because the squadrons never wanted to have an aircraft in a down status.  Now it is comparing squadrons' cost per flying hour and asking why airplane parts are changed out at different rates.  Senior squadron commanders are attending the same training programs as Lochead Martin executives.  "Education has lead to inspiration." The Naval Aviation Depot in Fallon Nevada has reduced its engine maintenance time from 32 to 10 days and is now producing 40 aircraft engines per month vice the previous 8 without any increase in personnel.  At a recent training exercise, the number of airplane sorties was reduced from 2100 to 1650, or approximately 20%, without any change in performance outcomes.  Activity for activity sake is being recognized as non-productive. Through these and many other initiatives, Naval Air has contributed 131 million dollars this year to the recapitalization effort.

The Navy recognizes that people are one of our asymmetric advantages over our enemy in the Global war on Terrorism.  However, the CNO has commented "that we will spend whatever it takes to equip and enable these outstanding Americans, but we do not want to spend one extra penny for manpower we do not need."  The Navy estimates that it will save 1.2 billion dollars for every 10,000 sailors it can eliminate from its ranks.  Therefore, the Navy is programming to decrease its overall personnel footprint by 7,900.  The Chief of Naval Personnel recently testified before Congress stating "The path on which we have embarked to properly shape our force structure may appear contrary to conventional wisdom.  The prevailing argument seems to be that with a war ongoing against global terrorism, no individual service can afford to reduce the size of its workforce.  Nothing could be farther from the truth for the Navy. ...we are fundamentally changing the way in which work gets done.  Technology and better manning practices have permitted us to simply accomplish a given task with far fewer people than it might have required even a decade ago.  Consider the manning of one of our destroyers, which now requires a crew of 320, but in the future will be manned by a crew of 165."   The Navy is dedicated to the concept that people are its number one corporate asset.  This asset must be nurtured, cultivated, and developed to create value.  The future sailor must be multi-system capable and possess multiple skill sets.  In order to be successful, the smaller workforce is going to require life long learning.  The Navy is developing an extensive computer based educational system which will transform the way we train, qualify and promote our sailors. The Navy feels that it can be ruthless in cutting non- value added people, if it is simultaneously ruthless in developing its people 

As you can see, the Department of Defense is indeed undergoing a real transformation which should provide a more cost effective military to protect our Freedom and Liberty. 

How many individuals in this audience qualify for TRICARE medical coverage?   If I asked this same question in  Tidewater, Virginia, with a population of over 1 million,  40% of the audience would raise their hands since over 400,000 people qualify for the military TRICARE healthcare program.  This is a minor example of the difference in the support of the military that exists across this nation between "more liberal north and coasts" and the more "conservative south, mid-west and west."

 The burdens of the Global War on Terrorism are not being  shared equally across this country.   The soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines who obey the orders of their Commander-In-Chief, with more and more paying the ultimate sacrifice, no longer represent a cross-section of this great nation.  Under the all volunteer force, these individuals are predominately lower middle class, minorities, and most would be labeled - conservatives. 

 During our War of Independence, Civil War, World War I and II and Korea the burden of winning and preserving our Freedom and Liberty was shared across all of our society. The list of Harvard dead from WWI and WWII is extensive but that list shrinks for Korea, is very small for Vietnam and probably nonexistent for Operation Enduring and Iraqi Freedom. Today's military lacks a true cross-sectional representation of our society.  

This is not to indicate that the caliber of today's all volunteer military force is substandard.  To the contrary, the enlisted troops have never been better educated with over 7% of the Navy recruits entering with some college experience and 25% of the total enlisted force having college degrees.  I have also been extremely impressed with the high caliber of the officers who make a career of the military.  Dr Roger Conway, from the Center for Creative Leadership in North Carolina, recently addressed our Flag Officer conference. The Center for Creative Leadership is recognized as the top civilian organization for training senior corporate executives and has been in business for over 40 years.  The Center performs numerous physiological batteries such as the California Psychological Inventory and receives extensive 360 degree evaluations on all their students - meaning that the students are evaluated by their superiors, peers and subordinates.  He presented normative data from over 21,000 corporate executives and compared it to 170 Admirals who attended their courses.  He commented that our profile was truly exceptional with all scores at least greater than 1 standard deviation and the overall score nearly 2 standard deviations above the norm.  "Civilian companies would die for this profile."  We were exceptional in the traits of leadership, energy, affability, dependability, resilience, credibility and courage.  Daring, our lowest attribute, was still above the civilian norm but probably explains why Secretary Rumsfield is pushing risk taking.  My class of 45 new Naval Flag officers was the first ones to attend the Center in a large group. Dr Conway stated that at the end of our course, their 6 veteran instructor PhDs sat down for a debrief and were in awe of our class and felt that our nation had an genuine undiscovered treasure in the passion, motivation and commitment we showed to our work and country.   

The Flag Officers demonstrated a general contentment and passion for their work except in two areas - Pay and working conditions.  Although many of these individuals could have risen to be CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, they committed themselves to a lifestyle of service to their country, wearing the cloth of their nation.  They believe in serving and reaching out for a goal that is bigger than themselves.  Their responsibility is immense -the Navy has as I previously stated has a 100 Billion dollar budget, over 800,000 people working for it, and the responsibility of a nuclear deterrence - yet the pay for the CNO is a pittance compared to corporate equivalents.  Admiral Clark makes about $160,000 per year compared to the average corporate salary of over 3 million.  

 The question is not whether the all volunteer force is smart, talented and dedicated, which they are.  The key is that the military, like any organization, needs to be constantly infused with different ideas and values.  This is what keeps organizations vibrant.  The individuals who join the all volunteer force are usually conservative and not exceptional risk takers.  The "liberal" viewpoint is not as well represented as it could or should be.  "Liberal intellectuals", schooled at institutions such as Hopkins and liberal arts colleges, no longer cut their teeth in government service prior to moving to the private sector.  Previously, a few individuals always remained, such as myself, and rose to the highest levels of decision making.  The advantage of their education lies, not in the facts and figures remembered from college courses, but rather in the thought process itself and the ideas and values that they brought with them from their formative years.  I am convinced that the education that you are exposed to at Hopkins causes you to process and filter information differently than others who lacked a Socratic education.  We may not be any brighter or more correct but we come at things from a different angle which enables different viewpoints that ultimately results in better decision making and prevents "group think."  

 Society reaps another distinct advantage from having its members complete military/government service.  Individuals who enter the military are exposed to values that are not commonly taught in today's society.   The Marines take teenage boys and in 12 short weeks turn them into men.  Honor, courage and commitment are the Navy's core values.  Semper Fi is the Marine motto. Teamwork and selflessness are requirements of the job.  If the CEOs of major corporations lived and worked under these ethics, we may not have seen the corporate scandals that occurred recently.  This concept may have already taken hold.  I recently read in a newspaper article that Wharton MBAs are spending a day at the Marine Corps Officer Candidate School  to experience a dose of Marine Corps doctrine, discipline and dirt.  During this day, the tenets of Marine Corps leadership are stressed: importance of moral courage; doing the right thing regardless of personal hardship; and practicing true ethics rather than situational ethics. 

 I would like to play you a video showing the faces of the soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines who are serving in the all volunteer force protecting our Freedom.

 How many Hopkins or Ivy League graduates do you think we saw in that video?  How many are spending time in the military or other government service.  In general, the segments of society who reap the greatest benefits from this nation in terms of wealth and privilege are sacrificing the least in preserving its Freedoms.  Pat Tilman’s recent death in Afghanistan captivated this nation because he was a wealthy privileged professional athlete who turned in his football gear for an Army Ranger uniform in order to serve his country in its time of war.  The calling of service to his nation came before his personal sacrifice.  During WWII, athletes and celebrities routinely joined the military but they grew up in a different era and knew about sacrifices from the Great Depression.   The same paper that carried Pat Tilman’s story, also had an article in the sport’s section about a baseball player who stated that he was devastated the 15th and 30th of each month when he picked up his paycheck since he was only making 6 million dollars per year instead of the amount he felt justified. 

U.S. Representative Charles Rangel, a Korean War veteran, was quoted by the New York Times as saying  " A disproportionate number of the poor and members of minority groups make up the enlisted ranks of the military, while the most privileged Americans are underrepresented or absent."

 "What is the Price of Freedom?"  Should there be a national rededication to the ideals of John F Kennedy "Ask not what your country can do for you -ask what you can do for your country."  Patricia McGinnis, President of the Council for Excellence in Government, stated the government has gone from a "ask not" generation which answered the call to serve from President Kennedy, to a generation of "not asked" to serve.  Ken Paul mentioned in a recent article that the historic Hopkins' mission was "the breeding up of hopeful youths for service to country in future times..."  How do we encourage our best and brightest to spend some time in the military or other government service.   Should Ivy league colleges reinstitute military ROTCs on campus?  Would the sharing of the burdens of war across all segments of society cast a different light on the decisions to put our brave young men and women in harms way?  These are all questions that I feel need to be openly and candidly discussed by this great nation. 

 I will close with a final quote from President Kennedy's Inaugural speech which was in fact the very next sentence after the historic previous quote about "Ask not."   This one is very apropos to the Global War on Terrorism and the support that we have had from our allies - "My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man."  Indeed what is "The Price of Freedom?"  The Global War on Terrorism is going to require sacrifices from all segments of our society as well as those of the other free nations of the world.  This war is going to be with us for a long time and each one of us needs to consider how we can contribute to our victory. 

With that, I will end my remarks.  I want to thank you again for the honor of being chosen as the Hopkins Alumnus of the Year.   

Tom's E-mail:

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This page last updated May 11, 2004