As part of the Memorial Day commemoration, Breitbart News Daily asked the U.S. Navy officers of the USS Bataan (LHD-5) in New York for Fleet Week for their thoughts on the New Greatest Generation, the outstanding class of military men and women who came of age after the 9/11 attacks.
SiriusXM host Stephen K. Bannon, himself a former Surface Warfare Officer in the U.S. Navy, asked USS Bataan’s Chief Engineer, Cmdr. David Ritter, about the millennials he works with, and how their performance dispels the popular derogatory image of today’s young people as “deadbeats.”
“I can tell you right now, my engineers are far from deadbeats,” Ritter said. “They work a normal 18-hour day, almost every day, those kids are working. And I give the responsibilities of, let’s say, a 20-year-old in the Navy gets the responsibility to run a boiler on a ship this size, we’re talking a 700-pound boiler that they are responsible for. Nowhere else in my opinion would do that anywhere with an 18- or 19-year-old kid, give them that kind of responsibility.”
“We’re in good hands,” he added. “I have no doubt that after I’m long gone, we’ll still be great.”
Ritter noted that his own career path through the Navy brought him to the position of chief engineer aboard the powerful amphibious assault ship Bataan, one of the most advanced combatants in the U.S. fleet, without a college degree. He’s proud to have been selected for the Limited Duty Officer (LDO) program when he was just a welder, back in 2000.
“I can tell you, this is beyond my wildest dreams,” Ritter said.
As he tells the 220 young engineers aboard his ship, “If you work hard, good things are gonna happen. That’s exactly how I got to where I’m at. It’s just hard work, and doing what you need to do.”
USS Bataan’s Captain J.C. Carter, grandson of a World War II Navy veteran, expressed his boundless respect for the generation that defeated the Axis, but was proud to say that the New Greatest Generation measured up to their legacy.
“When I was off of Libya and off Iraq in 2014, and we were deployed for nine months – we spent 135 days continuously under way, for multiple contingencies – I saw kids work the flight deck 14 hours a day, 7 days a week, flying sorties and all that. And I will tell you there’s no quittin’, these kids, professionals with thousands and thousands of hours of flight deck operations without incident,” he said.
Looking back on his own 30-year career, Captain Carter said, “It’s not about all the ships I’ve commanded and all that, it’s about the legacy that you push forward with this generation.”
Chief Warrant Officer Christopher Ragland said he never imagined reaching such an important position when he joined the Navy. “I really joined the Navy thinking four years, good college money, maybe have a different career, and here it is 24 years later, and I’m still here.”
“I’m actually in awe of the sailors who work for me every day,” he said. “We have a smaller military now, but the sailors today get a lot done. When I came in 24 years ago, we had more bodies on ships, more ships of course, but I think the sense of purpose is really the reason we do what we do.”
“Day in and day out, I see the sailors perform,” Ragland said. “I know that the junior sailors that I lead every day will be the next generation to take the Navy in, from this point forward.”
Captain Corey J. Keniston, the new Executive Officer of USS Bataan, observed that “with an all-volunteer force, we’re often finding that our young sailors – and Marines, and Army, and Air Force – are in it as a family business.”
“They have relatives who have been in and served,” he explained. “They have experiences sitting around the kitchen table when they’re young, hearing the war stories, hearing the adventure, and it’s not as unknown to them.”
He said the armed forces were pushing hard to reach young people who don’t have that familial bond with the military, that “easy path to understand what the military is all about.”
Keniston talked about the military’s appeal to young people as “the place where you can be treated completely based on the way that you perform.”
“It’s a dignity of performance. It’s a dignity of sacrifice,” he said. “You’re willing to do and do things other people aren’t. And the man or woman standing next to you is also willing to do that. You learn to trust. You have to be part of a team to succeed.”
“You’re part of something bigger than you,” he added, pointing to the signs of history and tradition all across the USS Bataan, paying respect to the World War II heroes who gave the ship its name and spirit.
“I can tell you that whatever generation it is, they have a challenge, and I am absolutely confident that the millennials, and those that follow, are going to be able to rise to what that challenge is,” the XO declared. “The confidence I have in the young men and women I work with every day is tremendous. They have never disappointed. They have always overcome. They work together. It doesn’t matter where they are from. Once they’re a Bataan sailor, once they’re in the United States Navy, once they’re in the armed service, they’re part of a bigger thing.”
“There’s no question that whatever the challenges the millennials face, I know that they’re going to rise to it,” Keniston said. “You could look back to before World War II, before the Greatest Generation earned their right to be called that, and you could say very similar things. When the world poses a challenge, I am confident that they will come to it.”
“I think our millennials are great,” said Commodore Tony Simmons of Destroyer Squadron #2.
He took issue with the notion that our younger generation is primarily interested in instant gratification.
“They just want to be a part of the process,” he said. “They don’t fear failure. You’ve just got to manage them carefully. You’ve got to give them more latitude, you’ve got to get away from that old-school mentality.”
“I really, really do welcome the challenge of leading people that are forward-leaning,” said the Commodore. “That’s how I see the millennials.”
He recommended that young people interested in a Navy career should “travel around the country, go to events like Fleet Week, the Memorial Day commemorations, and get to know the fleet.”
“That’s why we’re here, to interact with the schools, to visit the schools so the public can gain appreciation, and take advantage of tour opportunities, so you’ll know what opportunities are really available there,” said Simmons.
He advised young people not to be intimidated by the challenge of military service. “We’re all here in it together. We really welcome you aboard here. Come and get to know us, and we enjoy being around you just as much.”
Lt. Nicholas Munn, the USS Bataan’s navigator, was the first Naval Academy graduate to speak with Breitbart News Daily during the tour. He described the experience as “a crash course in organization and time management, to say the least.”
“There is this saying: it’s a great place to be from, not at,” he said with a laugh. “But that being said, I would absolutely do it again.”
Munn talked about the shift in society’s attitude toward the military over the past generation.
“If you go back twenty, thirty years, everybody in the neighborhood knew that Johnny down the street served. There were Gold Stars and Blue Stars hanging in the windows,” he recalled. “Nowadays, we make up point-five, half a percent, of active duty and former service members. You don’t have the opportunity, you may not directly know somebody that’s served.”
“But being on board this ship, with almost 3,000 people, it is inspiring to see 18, 19, 20-year-olds that are driving this vessel, fighting the wars, and able to do this symphony that is launching helicopters, doing well deck operations, and keeping us safe, as well as the American people safe back home,” Munn added.
The Chief of Staff for Carrier Strike Group 12, Captain Robert Gamburg, said the young people under his command were “incredible.”
“I look at the young sailors today, and they are so much smarter than I was, when I was a young man. So much more mature,” he said. “The young people I deal with every day have a lot of responsibilities. They take a lot on their shoulders. And they volunteered to be here in the first place.”
“I would tell the general public: get out there and meet some of these sailors,” he urged. “Particularly in an environment like Fleet Week – man, what a great chance for folks to come out and spend some time, sit down and talk to some of these guys. Listen to their life experiences and listen to what they’ve seen and experienced while they’re in the service. I think it’ll change some people’s perception of where we sit as a country, with the youth of our nation, and where we’re going. There’s huge potential.”
“Sometimes it’s hard for us, because we’ve got our old ways in the back of our minds, and we can’t necessarily approach it the way we did 20 years ago,” said Gamburg. “‘Why?’ is the perfect question for these guys. These guys will ask you ‘why?’ all the time. Hey, go do this. ‘Why?’ Well, as long as you’ve got a good ‘why?’ answer, these guys will absolutely blow your mind, because they have an amazing ability to grab on to something that they know matters, and make sure that they drive it to a successful outcome.”
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