Two weeks ago I was privileged to attend the “Change of Command” ceremony whereby the command of all Pacific submarines “Commander Submarine Force US Pacific Fleet” (COMSUBPAC) transitioned from one Naval Officer to the next. All such Naval ceremonies are steeped in tradition, but this one–held on the deck of the submarine USS Jacksonville–in which one Rear Admiral replaces another Rear Admiral is especially so.

Because the transition of such great responsibility as a Naval Command is so significant, the change is marked by one specific moment of “relief”. After reading his/her orders from the Washington Bureau of Naval Personnel, the incoming officer smartly salutes the outgoing officer and says in a strong clear voice, “I relieve you, Sir”, whereby the outgoing officer returns the salute and says, “I stand relieved.” (and instantly a ten ton weight of responsibility shifts from the shoulders of one to the other).

Of course there were congratulatory speeches by three and four star officers, introductions of families–several from afar, and praise for the enllisted COMSUBPAC staff, and the crew of the USS Jacksonville.
There was, however, a new element on the scene, at least one which I had not seen before. Fixed to the Jacksonville’s deck only a few feet from the dias where the ceremony was taking place, was a sturdy flagpole only 10 feet or so high from which flew the “First Navy Jack”, the red and white striped flag superimposed upon which was a straight rattlesnake in a crawling position beneath which was the bold phrase, “Don’t Tread On Me”.

This DTOM battle flag was used in 1775 by Commodore Esek Hopkins as his fleet gathered in the Delaware river before engaging the British Navy.

This Navy Jack signaled that the entire Fleet was to attack the enemy.

In May of 2002 the Secretary of the Navy decreed that this flag would be flown by all US Navy ships for the duration of the war on Global Terrorism…”as an historic reminder of the nation’s and the Navy’s origin, and will to persevere and triumph.”

Indeed, over the decades prior to and during WWII just the thought of treading on a rattle snake in the American wild was enough to strike fear into the hearts of America’s enemies, and America has always been ready to strike back hard when “Tread” upon; from the Bay of Biscay, to the Spanish Maine to the Barbary Coast.

From the American Revolution, to the War of 1812, to the Spanish American War the warning remained clear. Then after Pearl Harbor, from Midway Island, to the skies over the Coral Sea, and ultimately to the two ill fated Japanese cities hit by the first two atom bombs
Then in the early 50s came the United Nations “police action” in Korea which resulted in a stand off, but we did preserve freedom for the South Korean people.

Then after winning the Vietnam war militarily, we surrendered politically, literally inviting Communist North Vietnam to “tread” upon us and our Vietnamese allies. Now we have been in and out of Iraq and almost out of Afghanistan with no one even uttering the word victory.

So of the four wars America has fought since WWII, none have resulted in clear cut victories. except for the one “decreed” over al Qaida by our President.

How many times has our President threatend accountability and punishment for various terrorist crimes against American lives and property? But except for Bin Laden, they have all been empty threats. Not in my lifetime has our foreign policy been so ineffectual, has our world leadership been so weak, has our influence been so low.

Our Commander in Chief should bone up on the origin of the First Navy Jack, and the actual meaning of “Don’t Tread On Me”.