Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78)
Newport News, Virginia
11:09 A.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much, Secretary Mattis, for that wonderful introduction and for your devoted service to our nation. Nobody has done it like you. I’m thrilled to be back on this magnificent ship for this historic moment with the amazing men and women of the United States Navy. (Applause.)
I was with you four months ago, and I knew that I had to be here today, and I told you I’d be back to congratulate you and the crew and everybody involved on commissioning the newest, largest, and most advanced aircraft carrier in the history of this world. That’s a big achievement.
After today, wherever this ship sails, you will all carry a proud title: plankowner of the USS Gerald R. Ford. (Applause.) For the rest of your lives, you’ll be able to tell your friends and family that you served on the greatest ship in the United States Navy and, in my opinion, on the greatest ship anywhere in the world. Everyone should take a moment to celebrate this incredible achievement.
I want to thank the many public servants who have joined us here today: Treasury Secretary Mnuchin, Governor Snyder, Governor McAuliffe, Senator Wicker, and members of Congress, Secretary Stackley, Admiral Richardson, senior military leaders, and, of course, the great Captain McCormack. (Applause.)
Captain, I know you will exemplify integrity at the helm. And have a good time doing it, Captain. Proud of you.
Thanks to the entire Ford family — Susan, Jack, Steve, and Mike — for all that you’ve done to support this ship on its voyage. Thank you, Susan. (Applause.) Thank you.
I also want to recognize two other people who were very special to President Ford. Thank you, Vice President Cheney and former Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld. Thank you. (Applause.) They look great. They look great.
As we put this stunning ship into the service of our nation, we must also pay tribute to the thousands of citizens, military and civilian, who helped design and build her. Their love of country has been poured into every rivet and bulkhead on this vessel. You hammered, chiseled, and sculpted this mighty hull.
You were there when the first steel was cut, when the turbines first roared to life, and when those beautiful bronze propellers first began to spin — and spin they did. And now you are here to witness the moment when your incredible work of art becomes the pride of the United States Navy and a symbol of American power and prestige, no matter where in the world you go.
American steel and American hands have constructed a 100,000-ton message to the world: American might is second to none, and we’re getting bigger, and better, and stronger every day of my administration. That I can tell you. (Applause.)
Wherever this vessel cuts through the horizon, our allies will rest easy and our enemies will shake with fear because everyone will know that America is coming and America is coming strong. (Applause.)
To every worker from Newport News Shipbuilding and every craftsman and engineer who helped build this incredible fortress on the sea, today we salute you. Thank you. (Applause.)
Your skill and your grit build the instruments of war that preserve peace. This ship is the deterrent that keeps us from having to fight in the first place. But this ship also ensures that if a fight does come, it will always end the same way; we will win, win, win. We will never lose. We will win. (Applause.)
When it comes to battle, we don’t want a fair fight. We want just the opposite. We demand victory, and we will have total victory, believe me. (Applause.)
Having the best technology and equipment is only one part of the American military dominance. Our true strength is our people. Our greatest weapon is all of you. Our nation endures because we have citizens who love America and who are willing to fight for America. (Applause.) We are so very blessed with warriors who are willing to serve America in the greatest fighting force in the history — the United States military.
Today this ship officially begins its role in the noble military history of our great nation. In a few moments, I will commission this wonderful, beautiful, but very, very powerful warship. Captain McCormack will assume command. He will set the first watch, and then the crew of the Gerald R. Ford will man the ship and bring her to life. (Applause.)
A ship is only as good as the people who serve on it, and the American sailor is the best anywhere in the world. Among you are great welders, radar technicians, machine operators, and pilots. You take pride in your work and America takes pride in you. We love you. We are proud of you. Thank you. (Applause.)
But that is why it is so fitting that this ship is named after a sailor of tremendous character, integrity, and wisdom. You know that, Susan. Gerald Ford was raised in American heartland. He grew up in Grand Rapids and became an Eagle Scout. He played football at the University of Michigan on a team that won two national championships. And listen to this: On that great team, he was named MVP. Not bad.
He then went to Yale Law School, and after Pearl Harbor, he volunteered to serve. President Ford joined the Navy and asked to be sent to sea. He wanted to do that very badly. He never really knew why; he felt it was a calling. He was assigned to a new carrier — the Monterey — becoming a plankowner himself on its commissioning in 1943.
From there, he sailed to the Pacific and saw action — and a lot of action — in the Pacific War. Like so many others of his generation, Gerald Ford returned home and started a family. He ran for Congress, where he served the people of Michigan with honor for many years. From there, he became Vice President and then President of the United States of America.
With this ship, we honor him for his lifetime of selfless and distinguished service. We also remember his wife, Betty — I remember her well — and we honor the bravery she showed in living her life so that her experiences could help others. Susan, she was a great woman — a great woman. (Applause.)
Gerald Ford said that his time in the Navy convinced him that our lack of military preparation before World War II has only encouraged our enemies to fight harder and harder and harder. He learned a lot. In the future, Ford said, I felt the United States had to be strong. Never again could we allow our military to be anything but the absolute best. If he could see this ship today, President Gerald Ford would see his vision brought to life, and he would see his legacy of service being carried on by each and every one of you. (Applause.)
Gerald Ford embodied American values like few others: love of family, love of freedom, and, most of all, love of country. He knew that patriotism is the heartbeat of a nation. He knew that we must love our country in order to protect it. And he knew that we must have pride in our history if we are going to have confidence in our future.
The men and women of America’s Armed Services are part of a living history. You uphold timeless customs and traditions, and you protect our nation and our freedom for the next generation to come. You are fulfilling your duty to this nation, and now it is the job of our government to fulfill its duty to you. (Applause.)
For years, our government has subjected the military to unpredictable funding and a devastating defense sequester. You remember that? Sequester — not good. This has led to deferred maintenance, a lack of investment in new equipment and technology, and a shortfall in military readiness. In other words, it’s been a very, very bad period of time for our military. That is why we reached a deal to secure an additional $20 billion for defense this year — and it’s going up — and why I asked Congress for another $54 billion for next year.
Now we need Congress to do its job and pass the budget that provides for higher, stable, and predictable funding levels for our military needs that our fighting men and women deserve — and you will get, believe me. President Trump, I will tell you — you will get it. Don’t worry about it. But I don’t mind getting a little hand, so call that congressman and call that senator and make sure you get it. (Applause.)
And by the way, you can also call those senators to make sure you get healthcare. (Applause.)
We must end the defense sequester once and for all. We must also reform defense acquisitions to ensure that we are getting the best equipment at the best prices so that our dollars are used only for the best interests of our country and those who serve. We do not want cost overruns. We want the best equipment, but we want it built ahead of schedule and we want it build under budget. (Applause.)
This is the very least we can do for the patriots who have volunteered to give their sweat, their blood, and, if they must, their very lives for our great nation. The commissioning of this new American carrier marks the renewal of our commitment to a future of American greatness. Greater than ever before, remember that — greater than ever before.
Just moments from now, the Captain will set the first watch on the USS Gerald R. Ford and, with God’s grace, a watch will stand until the day she is decommissioned 50 years or more from now.
Most of you who will man this ship today are just about 20 years old. Together, you are embarking on a truly great adventure. The journey will require all of your talents, all of your efforts, and all of your heart. As you know, the sea holds many challenges and threats. But starting today, you will face, together as a team aboard this ship, which is your responsibility and your home.
Three generations of Americans will eventually man these decks. Perhaps even some of your own children and grandchildren someday. You will inspire many more American patriots to follow your lead and to serve. And one day, when you are old and have lived a long and hopefully happy and successful life, you may find yourselves back aboard this ship surrounded by your family to mark its decommissioning. And on that day, our entire nation will honor not just this carrier, it will honor you and the role you will have played in keeping America safe, strong, and free.
To every patriot who will serve on this ship today and throughout history, I say this: Keep the watch, protect her, defend her, and love her. Good luck and Godspeed. Thank you to the Ford family, and thank you to every sailor in the greatest navy on Earth. God bless you, God bless the Gerald R. Ford, and God bless the United States of America. Thank you very much. God bless you all. (Applause.)
CAPTAIN MCCORMACK: Thank you, Mr. President. And I would be honored if you would place Gerald R. Ford in commission.
Will the guests please rise. Ship’s company, attention.
THE PRESIDENT: I hereby place United States Ship Gerald R. Ford in commission. May God bless and guide this warship and all who shall sail in her. God bless you. Thank you. (Applause.)
11:27 A.M. EDT