From our Alumni Session Overview

September 2010 - Seminar XXI 25th Anniversary
Remarks of Admiral Robert F. Willard
Vice Chief of Naval Operations at Seminar XXI's Anniversary Banquet

When I returned from command of the aircraft carrier, USS Abraham Lincoln, I was a recently selected flag officer, still wearing Captain’s rank. The opportunity to apply for Seminar XXI came up, and a very close friend of mine and I both jumped at the chance and submitted our applications. He was on his way to J-5 on the Joint Staff, a policy job, and I was on my way to J-3 on the Joint Staff in an operations billet. My background up to that point had been entirely in operations, either flying or commanding ships.

I was not selected! So, I appealed and appealed, and I think I picked up a slot that someone couldn’t make. I was barely through the door and was thrilled to be part of all this. And like a wine, the Seminar has only improved with age.

From that operations billet on the Joint Staff, I spent two years traveling to and from Moscow, and I had the opportunity to engage in an agreement with the Russians on ballistic missile launch information sharing, which ultimately led to the first Clinton–Putin Summit. In that experience, I had many opportunities to stand with the Russians and talk about the fracturing of the Soviet Union…expressly the issues we had discussed in Seminar XXI.

When I left the Joint Staff and went to the 7th Fleet as a Battle Group Commander and then as Commander, 7th Fleet, I found myself operating out of Japan, well engaged with the Japanese, Koreans, Russians, Chinese, Taiwanese, Philippinos, Thais, Malaysians, Indonesians, Singaporeans, and Indians. In those travels, we discussed many of the tensions that exist in Northeast and Southeast Asia and in the Indian Ocean. In many ways, we discussed those issues precisely as we had discussed ethnic and religious and cultural tensions in Seminar XXI.

I owe a great deal to this experience. And I would encourage those of you who are about to experience it for the first time to divest yourselves of your day jobs, and when you have an opportunity to come to an event like this, be there. Head to Airlie House and enjoy a long weekend, and don’t be engaged in work and don’t be late — and always be there, intellectually, because the payoff is priceless.

You need to challenge the issues, challenge the speakers, and challenge what is written. Accept what you like and extract from Seminar XXI exactly what you need.

And, as Bob Art said in his introductory remarks regarding Kant, “Experience without theory is blind, but theory without experience is mere intellectual play.” Through the Seminar, you will find yourselves equipped with the theory. It is then up to you to seek the opportunities to apply it.

This experience was priceless, and I’ll never forget it. So Happy Birthday, Seminar XXI, and thank you very much. It’s nice to be back.

Admiral Robert F. Willard, Vice Chief of Naval Operations, US Navy
Seminar XXI, Class of 1998–1999

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