Sam's Evergreen Articles

RAMPAGER CHANGE OF COMMAND SPEECH

By Sam Kouvaris
Original Post date: April 09, 2004
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Sam's Rampager Change of Command SpeechWelcome to all visiting officers, Kim and Susan and honored guests. Please excuse any lack of protocol I might display here today. For a civilian to stand here is highly unusual, and is a high honor. When Pat asked me to speak at the change of command I was flattered, awed, and finally humbled. I’ve lived in Navy towns all of my adult life. In D.C., Charleston, S.C. and Jacksonville Florida. My professional life has been intertwined with the Navy. As early as high school when the USNA recruited me in 1972 as an athlete but at the height of the Vietnam War, I didn’t think it would work out. A couple of years ago I tried to join the Navy in the reserves, but it didn’t work out. And that’s when I realized the Navy isn’t about it "working out". Its about commitment, its about duty and its about turning your self over to "service" of your country.

A civilian can choose to see the Navy in several ways. An annoyance, an economic boom, a necessary evil, or as a working special part of everyday America. Once you get to know the commitment and how the men and women go about their jobs every day. It’s hard to have anything but pride as a civilian to live in a navy town and associate with those committed to service to our country. My first brush with the Navy was in Charleston. I was asked if I’d like to meet the new leader at the Citadel. I was ushered into a big office, and a solid man was standing at a desk in the corner. Standing because as I got closer I realized he chose that desk, that sitting was not physically possible for this man for any period of time because of some kind of injury. When he turned around, I was introduced, "Admiral, this is Sam Kouvaris, Sam this is Admiral James Stockdale. I was instantly awed, knowing the Admiral’s story. He had the clearest blue eyes I’ve ever seen. And a gaze that was intimidating, and challenging all at the same time. He didn’t allow waffling, he wanted statements of conviction. That meeting, that instant, was a life-changing commitment. That’s when I started to know what the Navy was about.

As part of our Gulf War coverage, I wanted to do a story on Navy Pilot fitness. The theory being that as a group, FA-18 pilots were the most fit group of athletes in town. I was getting nowhere through the regular channels of public affairs, I whined about it on the air for a while, until a young woman who runs the chyron told me her Dad might be able to help. It seems he was an Admiral at Cecil Field who was in charge of Strike Fighter Wing Atlantic. That afternoon, the PAO called me, and said, "I don’t know who you know, but you have flight physiology at 7:15 tomorrow morning." The Admiral had agreed to let me do the story, on one condition: I went through 6 weeks of training and pass the tests. Riding the rails, the altitude chamber and all the rest, including the water quals, which I have passed twice. They even gave me my own call sign. We got the story done, and that’s when I really began to understand what the Navy is all about.

I had been a friend with Pat for a few years when there were tensions with Iraq. I knew he was part of the battle group in the gulf and he’d be one of the first guys in when the word came down. This scared me. It’s much worse being a spectator than a player, but to allay my fears, I sat down and wrote Pat a letter, saying how proud I was of him and the guys in the squadron, and thanked him for his commitment, his sacrifice, and his leadership. It made me feel better. He told me he received the letter about 2 months later, when he was almost home, but added, it was nice to know that’s how some people felt, that it made all of the things you guys go through worthwhile. Maybe that’s when I began to understand what the Navy is all about. I can remember having a long discussion on patriotism and duty and honor with the CO of a squadron at Cecil one day, (Beaner), and thinking, ‘these are the guys I want to be around. They get it!" I told Beaner, "What am I doing wasting my life as a sportscaster, you guys are the real deal." When he invited me to the ready room, anytime I felt like it, day or night, because he wanted ME around, it remains one of the most memorable moments of my career.

In my job as a sports reporter, I deal with teams and individuals. All have a common thread of personality. The people I cover constantly inspire me. All strive for one thing "excellence", trying to be the best and what ever they’re doing.

I have seen leadership. Super Bowl winning quarterbacks taking their team on a last minute touchdown drive to claim the world championship. But I have seen real leadership. On a night without a commanders moon, when the first Hornet of the squadron gets launched off the bow, fully loaded to fly over hostile territory, following orders, and keeping the peace, it’s the Squadron’s CO who is first into the night, demonstrating the leadership necessary to get the job done.

I have heard my colleagues talk about courage. The courage to hit a crucial shot in a major championship, or to throw a certain pitch in a tight situation. And I’ve smiled, knowing real courage is standing on the LSO platform in high seas, with a pitching deck, helping the air wing back on board safely, again, and again, and again.

I have seen trust. A quarterback never looking over his shoulder to the blind side of the oncoming rush, trusting the tackle will do his job. But I have seen real trust in action. I’ve been in the back seat of a Hornet, being guided on the deck of a carrier by a young sailor. He’s motioning to keep the plane moving into the right spot on deck, when all the pilot can see is blue water, or worse, blackness below, as the nose of the plane is hanging over the edge of the deck. That’s trust.

I have seen pride in accomplishment. A team’s satisfaction when the opponent is vanquished. But the pride is more apparent, more real when a new sailor contributes to something as simple, but crucial as a FOD walk down or as large as being part of the Squadron awarded the Battle Efficiency E Pennant.

I have seen sacrifice. A player sacrificing his body on a kickoff in a big game. But I have seen real sacrifice. The tears and the long looks when a family sees Dad go on a 6 month deployment, and the person with the toughest job in the Navy, the Navy wife, handles double duty at home.

Some coaches think discipline is wearing coats and ties on a road trip, or not jumping off sides on third down. But I’ve seen discipline. Loading ordinance with your hands numb and the wind blowing, putting your life on the line, and getting it right, because it’s the right thing to do.

And I have seen teamwork. The perfectly executed no-look pass, or the block that springs a tailback for the game-winning touchdown. But I have seen real teamwork. The guys in maintenance working long hours in tough conditions, without much glory or notice, keeping the planes in the air, safe to launch and recover. Part of a huge team of officers, chiefs, sailors and others, people charged with much more than just trying to win a game. They’re protecting a way of life, an entire civilization with every act they take.

Pat likes to play down his role in all this. Giving the impression on the outside that his Navy accomplishments are rudimentary. Those of us who know you, know that is not true. My first brush with Irish was right after my promotional flight with the Blue Angels. The picture I came across in my garage later showed Pat flying the #4. When I tell people I know you they laugh, then they get a puzzled look in their eye, trying to figure out what I know, and when the realize that we’re actual friends, they’re usually worried. I’ve learned a lot from you Pat, your leadership, your courtesy, the way you treat people and the way you’ve treated my family. You’re an inspiration to me and I wouldn’t trade our friendship.

Koots, congratulations on your assumption of command. Your resume is long, impressive and varied and the Rampagers are in good hands. Pat has been your biggest supporter and I know you know that. Don’t forget the lessons learned as a member of the squadron, especially as the XO, and I know Grits will help you with that.

To paraphrase Teddy Roosevelt, "Far better to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, though checkered by failure than to take rank with those poor souls who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, for they live in that gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat." You stand in the arena everyday. You win glorious triumphs, enjoy, and you suffer – together.

When once asked as President what his proudest accomplishment was, John F. Kennedy said he was most proud to have served in the United States Navy. As you might have noted in my bio in the program, I have one arrested landing and launch in a Hornet, and that association with the US Navy is my proudest moment as well.

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