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Tribute To Admiral Robert F. Willard

Sen. John McCain

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Mr. President, today I rise to honor a distinguished naval officer and a true patriot. Having just passed the torch of command for U.S. Pacific Command, Admiral Robert F. Willard will hang up one last time the uniform he first donned almost four decades ago. On the eve of his retirement, it is fitting to memorialize in the annals of this chamber Admiral Willard's years of selfless service to our Nation.

A Los Angeles native, Admiral Willard graduated from the United States Naval Academy and was commissioned in 1973. After he completed flight training and qualified as a naval aviator, he served in F 14 fighter squadrons operating off of the aircraft carriers USS Constellation, USS Ranger, and USS Kitty Hawk. Admiral Willard's proficiency in the cockpit led to his assignment to Navy Fighter Weapons School, more commonly known as TOPGUN, where he served as the operations and executive officer. Many may not know that Admiral Willard was the aerial coordinator for the 1986 movie Top Gun and also appeared in it as a flight instructor. Admiral Willard later commanded the famous Screaming Eagles Fighter Squadron operating off of the USS Carl Vinson.

In 1992, following his successful completion of nuclear power training, Admiral Willard rejoined the USS Carl Vinson as its executive officer. He went on to command the amphibious flagship USS Tripoli and the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln. As a flag officer, Admiral Willard twice served on the Joint Staff, was deputy and chief of staff for U.S. Pacific Fleet, commanded Carrier Group Five embarked upon the USS Kitty Hawk, and commanded Seventh Fleet in Yokosuka, Japan. In March 2005, Admiral Willard became the 34th Vice Chief of Naval Operations, and in May 2007, he became Commander of the United States Pacific Fleet.

On October 19, 2009, Admiral Willard was appointed as Commander, U.S. Pacific Command. He assumed command when much of our focus was still on the Middle East and North Africa, and rightly so. Conflicts there, however, in no way diminished the importance of the Asia-Pacific, where strategically important events unfolded during Admiral Willard's command. As the United States rebalances its national security strategy and realigns its forces with a greater focus on the Asia-Pacific, Admiral Willard's leadership over the last 2 years has laid a critical foundation for our security and that of our allies, now and in years to come.

Pacific Command is personally resonant with me. Between 1968 and 1972, my father held the position, then known as Commander-in-Chief, Pacific Command, that Admiral Willard has just relinquished. The running joke between Admiral Willard and me has been that he was living in my father's old house. And so, of all the praise and accolades I could bestow on Admiral Willard for his service to our Nation, the best and most appropriate would be: the command undertaken by my father and other great men has been admirably served by the leadership of Admiral Willard.

Admiral Willard has always paid tribute to his spouse of 38 years Donna, who has been a tireless advocate for the men and women of the commands in which she and her husband have served, and a wonderful ambassador for the United States and the Navy. And so I extend a grateful Nation's thanks to the Willards and their children Jennifer, Bryan, and Mark for their exceptional service, best wishes for the next chapter in their life, and fair winds and following seas.