Naval officer, Butler native speaks to Moon Area students
Security in Southeast Asia’s seas and the fight against Latin American drug cartels are longer-term challenges for the military than the headline-grabbing Ebola virus or the Islamic State’s move through Iraq and Syria, the nation’s highest-ranking naval officer told Moon Area High School students Monday.
“Asia has the biggest and fastest-growing economies in the world. The long view is still the Asia Pacific,” said Adm. Jonathan Greenert, 61, chief of naval operations and a Butler native.
One sign of cooperation with China is its Navy’s participation in piracy patrols in the Gulf of Aden and in the South and East China Seas. Chinese and American naval vessels have started to share information about routine matters such as weather conditions, he said.
The South China Sea covers almost 1.4 million square miles, and more than half the world’s merchant tonnage passes through the disputed region.
China claims most of the sea’s contested islands, which has led to disputes with Taiwan, Japan, Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam, Indonesia and the Philippines.
In the southern hemisphere, the military and Drug Enforcement Administration are working to undermine collaboration of drug cartels and al-Qaida, Greenert said.
“Drug cartels are organized crime. The way to get to this is to keep the countries that are struggling in better shape,” Greenert said, citing instability and rampant gang violence in Central America.
Greenert is three years into his appointment by President Obama as chief of naval operations and a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He has less than a year left in his term.
Moon students peppered him with questions about everything from ISIS and cyber security to women in the Navy — 18 percent of the service and, Greenert said, “not enough.”
Since the ISIS terror campaign intensified this year, the Navy has deployed airstrikes from aircraft carriers, carried out surveillance and worked to jam the group’s communications, the admiral said.
“This group is more ruthless than al-Qaida. They have had years to train. Their end state is more radical than that of any other Mideast country’s,” he said.
The Navy has a growing need to combat cyber threats, he told students.
“It’s a big threat. It’s other nations trying to get into our systems,” Greenert said.
The biggest global changes during his tenure are the more aggressive policies of Russia and China, Greenert said.
Russia this year took control of the Ukraine’s Crimea region and sent troops and military equipment into separatist regions of the country.
“It’s so hard to know today what to plan for tomorrow. I think that was part of what he kept saying,” said Steve Sokol, president of the World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh, which organized Greenert’s visit. “A year ago, I don’t think anybody would have anticipated the (Russian president’s) power play in the Ukraine.”
Sokol found the students’ interaction with Greenert impressive: “Their questions were good, and he did not dumb anything down.”
Students enjoyed the talk.
“This is the first talk like this we’ve had here, with someone so famous. His talk was really interesting,” said Ekeni Abkah, 17, a junior.
Greenert is the third of six children of a steelworker from Butler, where he worked two paper routes as a youth. He graduated from Butler Senior High School in 1971 and on Sunday visited the school with the Commodores, the Navy’s 18-member jazz ensemble.
At the Steelers game Sunday, Greenert presented a Purple Heart to George Alexander, a Vietnam War veteran from Butler, and honored five other veterans.
Rick Wills is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7944 or [email protected].