What is a “Sea Warrior?” We were before someone invented the label, and will remain after the label is faded and forgotten. Most gaze at us with wonder and respect, some seek to become one of us, and a few try to redefine us to join our ranks by subversion, but mostly they try and fail. The path to becoming a Sea Warrior is, after all, well defined, proven by battle and time, and resists being reinvented. Take up my spyglass and have a look - but be careful - admiration and envy may follow.
An aspirant’s journey begins with beliefs. Like a keel, it is the backbone that guarantees the integrity of all we do. Sea Warriors do what we do so all can live in peace, safety and prosperity. We do it so everyone can make the most of their gifts. We do it so children can go to school and fly kites, and we do it so everyone can believe whatever they wish, and speak their minds when they please, whether their ideas are agreeable or not. It is in an aspirant’s head and heart that our first seeds are planted.
The second leg in the aspirant’s journey is training. We will instruct him on how to walk, talk and dress like one of us; and expect him to retain it on the deckplates. We will spoon-feed him the values we live by, and demand that he live similarly. We will give him the knowledge and tools he requires to make it through his first day aboard, but insist he know more by its end.
The final, and longest, leg of his journey is experience. It is on this leg that the aspirant becomes an apprentice, and the apprentice becomes one of us. He must assiduously learn his craft, and the art that lies within it, and apply all for the benefit of his Ship, Navy and Nation. He must learn how to recognize a gathering storm, how to avoid it where possible, and how to weather it when he must. Most importantly, he must learn to pass his skills and wisdom to those that choose to follow him. Only after this leg is well traveled can the apprentice be called a Mariner and Warrior. The Sea will accept nothing less.
The fundamentals of our craft, you see, are essentially ageless. Knowledge of the Sea, handling a Ship in close quarters, locating and identifying an Enemy, placing him under your batteries, and keeping the Ship in the fight despite her damage remain our bread and butter, just as they were for John Paul Jones, Oliver Hazard Perry, Arleigh Burke and Raymond Spruance. We still find inspiration in, and teach our apprentices to apply the spirit of, sentiments like, “Don’t give up the ship”, “I have not yet begun to fight”, and “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!” The tools may change as years and decades pass, but the principles endure.
The most promising of our aspirants recognize that by becoming like us they can become part of something bigger than themselves, and thus greater than what they would have become on their own. They gladly submit to the lessons and experience of those that have held the line before them, and they drink deeply of the knowledge of our craft. The least promising seek to bend the yards to fit their canvas and smooth out the waves that lie before them. Inevitably they meet failure, destruction or death; for the Sea is always on duty, and She knows no mercy.
Today, genuine Sea Warriors see this fundamental wisdom ebbing. We lament that some members of our Navy know nothing of Ships and the Sea. We groan when others try to redefine what we are, and we curse the fact that many who wear the uniform are unable to defend all that we hold dear with even a rifle, much less a warship.
But time is on our side, and we will continue practicing our craft and training our replacements through this storm, just as we have through others.