RAMPAGER CHANGE OF COMMAND SPEECH
By Sam Kouvaris
Original Post date: April 09, 2004
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. Ive 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 didnt think it would work out. A couple of years
ago I tried to join the Navy in the reserves, but it didnt work out. And thats
when I realized the Navy isnt about it "working out". Its about
commitment, its about duty and its about turning your self over to "service" of
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.
Its 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 Id 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 Admirals story. He had the
clearest blue eyes Ive ever seen. And a gaze that was intimidating, and challenging
all at the same time. He didnt allow waffling, he wanted statements of conviction.
That meeting, that instant, was a life-changing commitment. Thats 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 dont 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 thats 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 hed be one of the first guys in when
the word came down. This scared me. Its 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 thats how some people
felt, that it made all of the things you guys go through worthwhile. Maybe thats
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
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 theyre 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, its the Squadrons 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 Ive
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
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. Ive been in the back seat of a Hornet, being guided on the deck of a carrier
by a young sailor. Hes 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. Thats trust.
I have seen pride in accomplishment. A teams 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.
coaches think discipline is wearing coats and ties on a road trip, or not jumping off
sides on third down. But Ive seen discipline. Loading ordinance with your hands numb
and the wind blowing, putting your life on the line, and getting it right, because
its 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. Theyre 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 were actual
friends, theyre usually worried. Ive learned a lot from you Pat, your
leadership, your courtesy, the way you treat people and the way youve treated my
family. Youre an inspiration to me and I wouldnt 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. Dont 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.