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FORCM Remarks: Coronado Salute to the Military Ball

by Naval Special Warfare Force Master Chief Walter Dittmar
15 April 2023 Below is a transcript of Naval Special Warfare Command Force Master Chief, Walter Dittmar, remarks during the 37th annual Salute to the Military Ball, April 15 where the City’s military and civilian communities came together to celebrate and honor the local service members who dedicate much of their lives to country and the community.


Good evening and welcome to all who are here. I am absolutely excited to serve as your “Plan C” tonight. There’s a certain satisfaction that goes with being recognized as third string. So, for me it’s awesome – because I figure your expectations for me lie somewhere between freshman and JV – and I promise I will live up to those expectations. Absolutely.  
Seriously, I am humbled and honored to be here to speak on behalf of (Rear) Admiral Davids this evening and to represent for our community and for the Navy.
We are truly…if you paid any attention to some of the conversations and the (award) recipients so far, we in this room are truly among giants, and to our service - giant veterans that are here, I salute you all.
I'd like to take a moment to recognize our distinguished military guests. Again, Coronado City Council members in attendance, thank you. To Mr. Woiwode, the chamber president and Captain McKissick, thank you for giving me the opportunity to do this.
Homecoming, in its essence…homecoming, reunion, reconnecting – tonight’s theme…it's about commitment and support of military spouses and families. We military members, I think we have it easy. We are trained and paid – not much, but we’re paid to plan for deployments, to plan for operations, for contingencies, for last minute changes – like 11th hour guest speaker duties, this is part of what we signed up for.
But our partners and kids, our spouses – they don’t. Yet they endure by our collective side, the unexpected surprises of military life becomes theirs, too. They quickly learn that the first deployment is a brutal shock to the system and each subsequent deployment or separation comes with its own challenges and problems, despite planning, preparation, and support. Deployments don't get easier. You simply gain more tools to cope with them and the separation that comes with it. Some Sailors - some service members might spend their entire career, or not their career, but their entire time at their current duty station, thinking about where they might go next.
And with any luck, that permanent change of station might land them in a wonderful city like Coronado.
Coronado - our region is home to the largest fleet concentration in the world. Navy and Marine Corps presence here began in 1846 when the USS Cyane sailed into San Diego Bay and raised the ensign in the Town Square. Coronado has had a long, distinguished history of supporting the military.
President Teddy Roosevelt's Great White Fleet made a call here, anchoring off Coronado on its global tour of battleships, destroyers, and other escort vessels. During World War I, the area grew in importance, as more ships and more military hardware were moored at bases on donated land. Changes took place here on Coronado with the establishment of budding Naval aviation training, new airfields, then expansion and growth of more Naval presence.
World War II and the War in the Pacific made this region a centerpiece, as Sailors and Marines were sent here for bootcamp. More training and operational bases were created. Ships deployed and returned here. War production increased to support our troops. The Naval Hospital San Diego, known today as Naval Medical Center San Diego, filled to treat injured and wounded coming home from battle.
Over the next decades and into the present, fleet presence was instrumental during the Cold War, Vietnam War, Desert Storm, the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, and into today's present conflict and the Global War on Terror. Coronado has been front and center supporting the fleet, ships, aviation, Marine Corps reconnaissance, Seabees, EOD, SEALs, and many others. I expect this relationship and that presence will be the same for many, many years to come.
Many of the service members I've just mentioned call the Crown City home. Our children attend school here and like many of you, they are the proud parents of present and future Explorers, Voyagers, Tritons, and Islanders. You, the city of Coronado, are the foundation for keeping our force and our families strong. Without you and the warm partnership we share, we wouldn't be able to focus on the mission as well as we do and make the deployments around the world. Thank you.
Thank you to the landlords who take care of our families when there's an issue while we are away. We appreciate the city volunteers, the Girl and Boy Scout leaders, the Little League, and Youth Soccer coaches when we can't be there for our kids. The coaches, the mentors, the tutors, the teachers, the babysitters, the givers of high fives and fist bumps when our kids need them most. We are proud to be your neighbors.
The theme of this year's event, something that every military member who has ever deployed understands – homecoming, reunions, and reconnecting. Before I share a personal story about reconnecting, I'd like to recognize as it's been stated already earlier this evening, a very special anniversary, a very special homecoming 50 years ago. This past February, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of Operation Homecoming. The first contingent of American prisoners of war returning from Vietnam.
Nearly 600 POWs were held captive in Vietnam, some for as long as eight years. Some of these patriots called Coronado home, including Medal of Honor recipient Vice Admiral Jim Stockdale, Vice Admiral Ed Martin, Captain Harry Jenkins, Captain Mel Moore, and Captain Bill Stark, to name a few.
The hardships they endured, while captive included interrogation, isolation, constant torture, harsh, filthy living conditions, a lack of medical treatment and inadequate nutrition. In spite of these conditions, our POWs did their best to defy their captors and demonstrated profound patriotism and returned home with honor. They emerged from their captivity with their spirits unbroken and their resolve unwavering.
While some POWs succumbed to the daily brutalities. Many survivors who endured the experience did not consider themselves heroes, they reserved that title for their wives and families.
Coronado women like Pat Mearns, Sybil Stockdale, Sherry Martin, Shirley Stark, Marge Jenkins, and Chloe Moore. These incredible wives joined with other families of MIAs to form The National League of Wives of American Prisoners and Missing in Southeast Asia.
This important non-profit, incorporated in May of 1970 with the mission to obtain the release of all prisoners, the fullest possible accounting for the missing and repatriation of all recoverable remains of those who died serving our nation during the Vietnam War.
Without the League, America's POW/MIAs would have likely been forgotten.
We’re thankful for the POWs who returned home 50 years ago and for the repatriated remains of servicemembers received since. These homecomings allow closure for families left behind and their servicemembers can finally be laid to rest in peace.
For each service member, there is a supporting family member and loved ones. Their sacrifice is truly what enables our mission success. In truth, it is the sacrifice of the loved ones, which really defines homecoming. So often the focus of Homecoming is placed on the service member. The families, the loved ones, the spouses, the children become second, the reality is what I stated earlier, it is the family which exhibits the courage, the bravery, the resilience to suffer and endure, and then ultimately rejoice.
I would literally like to go off script for just a second. If you are a spouse, or dependent, a loved one of a service member, would you please stand so that we can recognize you and welcome you on this homecoming?
A dear friend of mine in the audience this evening, I won't name him - Captain Brad Geary. <laughter> He defines the spouse and family in one of the best ways I've ever heard. Brad says like this,
“The Department of Defense calls our spouses military dependents. They are so much more. They are fiercely independent. And they are fighters. They hold our children, fighting sadness in our absence. They nurse fevers, fighting illness, alone once again.
They wait at Dover to receive our teammates. Fighting death’s sting while we continue to fulfill our duty. They fight the depression of yet another night in a cold bed.
They fight shock when we crumple in their arms, our strength finally fading with the one person we let see our full vulnerability. They're beautifully resolved not to be the damsel in distress, but the warrior who fights by our side. And when the nation finally asks us to hang up the uniform, they stand waiting to help us fight the unseen wounds that remain from decades of high-impact work.”
Thank you, Brad. <applause>
Many people think that the military spouse and family are simply there to support the servicemember. They are not. They are in Service to our Nation, alongside us as Warriors, they are part and parcel the entire journey and we do not exist without them.
When Admiral Stockdale returned from captivity, due to how long he had been in captivity – eight years – and the treatment he received - forced to sleep on the dirt, forced to sleep on a hard concrete floor. When he came home from that captivity, he couldn’t sleep in his own bed. It was too soft; he had to sleep on the floor.
It was his warrior wife Sybil, who wanted to fight alongside him who took the covers from their own bed and would sleep on the floor next to him for as long as it took for him to recover. That is the love which allows for Homecoming. 
Thirty years ago, a beautiful, young registered nurse living in the state of Florida had just been recently married to a young Sailor who was stationed here in Coronado. He was a candidate in the SEAL pipeline going through training south of here at the BUD/S compound. Not wanting to be away from her husband any longer she planned a mission.  On the very same weekend that her husband began the Crucible known as Hell Week, she decided that she would load up all of her belongings, everything she owned and packed them into her little Honda. And during the week her husband was going through Hell Week, she got in her car and drove all the way across the country by herself, so that she could be here on Coronado when he secured.
Now, it’s a good thing he didn’t quit, because I don’t know how that conversation would go. <laughter> He could’ve been restationed someplace else. “I drove all the way out here for what?!”
He made it through.
Now, little did she know that her first patient in the state of California would be her own husband. As she took care of him, nursing and treating his wounds from the week of hell he had just endured. And I am blessed to tell everybody in this audience that beautiful nurse is still taking care of me and all my wounds to this very day. <applause>
Okay, stop crying! This is supposed to be joyous right?! <laughter>
Okay, look…the Stockdale story, our story, they aren’t unique. In fact, among service members, they're common. And what I mean by that is, service members don't need to be held prisoner and service members don't need to serve three decades to feel the love which accompanies homecoming. It is the reality, honestly that all of us who serve, and our families are committed to something much greater than ourselves. It is the honor of knowing that we are dedicated to protecting all that we hold dear and the privilege to be able to do it. On behalf of the greatest Nation on Earth.
So, I would like to leave you with a bit of quoted text from Admiral Stockdale, which he offered just upon return from eight years of captivity, literally the day that he landed back in California.
“And now we are home to continue productive lives. As that Athenian warrior and poet Sophocles wrote over 2400 years ago, ‘Nothing is so sweet as to return home from sea. And listen to the sound of raindrops on the rooftops of home,” We are home, America. America, God shed his grace on thee.”
Thank you.