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Adm. Black: Navigator of the Highest Order

“The winds and the waves,” wrote famed historian Edward Gibbons, “were always on the side of the ablest navigator.” It is a truism that naval personnel all over the world still heed. The sea is unpredictable at best, devastatingly cruel at its worst. You need leadership and knowledge to see your way through.

With the selection of Rear Adm. Barry Black as the next Senate chaplain, the Navy will soon say farewell to one of its ablest navigators — a man who helped see us through some of the most difficult times we could have ever imagined, a man whose stout heart and deep faith helped us chart our course through, as he so aptly described our feelings after the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, the “mountains of despair.”

Rear Adm. Black has been more than a Navy chaplain to us, more than a minister of faith to our sailors. He has been a leader and a visionary, providing moral courage and a stalwart example. He has been, in short, a naval officer of the first order — our very own spiritual navigator.

Black first heard the call to service as a young pastor in North Carolina, and he has spent the past 27 years serving the nation and the Navy, mentoring, guiding and ministering to the men and women of the Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard and Merchant Marines — each of the Sea Services.

From ensign to admiral, he has demonstrated an uncanny ability to find the most effective way to contribute, to search out the particular needs of those in his charge and then meet those needs professionally, purposefully. Whether it was young sailors in recruit training, those far from home in Japan, or shipmates sailing the broad Atlantic, Chaplain Black found the way — the right way — to preach the word of God and administer spiritual health. All who knew him have been in awe of his focus and his energy.

We have also been in awe of his leadership. By his steady hand our Chaplains Corps, some 1,400 active and reserve officers and more than 900 religious program specialists, ably tended to the faith needs of our fighting men and women in some of the most rigorous and demanding of circumstances: USS Cole in Aden harbor, the Pentagon that dark September day, Afghanistan, Iraq. Now, as these brave sailors return to home shores, Adm. Black’s Chaplain Corps is helping to make that transition to family life smooth.

The breadth and depth of leadership and experience the admiral has acquired and demonstrated make him uniquely qualified to serve the Senate. Senators, their families and staff have in Black a man of strong faith and compassion to support their faith needs. The strength he brings to the Senate will continue to strengthen our nation.

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Vern Clark said it well: “Our Sea Services were fortunate to have Admiral Black at the helm of the Chaplain Corps, serving the men and women who wear the cloth of the nation. His steady hand, leadership and deep personal faith have been essential to helping our forces focus on their spiritual readiness. His service has made a difference.”

I am convinced that his service will likewise make a difference on Capitol Hill. The skills he takes to the Senate — his ability to lead and to inspire — will serve our elected leadership well. The entire Navy and Marine Corps family wish him fair winds and following seas. We know he knows how to navigate them.

God bless Chaplain Black, his family and his work as he guides the leaders of our great nation.

Hansford Johnson is the acting secretary of the Navy.

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