By Petty Officer 1st Class Eric Lockwood, Naval History and Heritage Command, Communication and Outreach Division
With the commissioning of USS Zumwalt (DDG 1000), you’ve likely heard a lot about the ship’s technological capabilities. But just how well do you the history of the man behind the namesake?
Naval History and Heritage Command recently completed transcribing each of Adm. Elmo R. Zumwalt’s Z-grams in order for people to learn more about just how profoundly the Navy’s 19th Chief of Naval Operations impacted and changed the Navy during his tenure from 1970 to 1974.
On Zumwalt’s tombstone is the word “Reformer.” This is apt because he probably did more to change and advance the Navy than anyone since World War II. Via directives called Z-grams, he shattered barriers for women and minorities to advance and paved the way for them to be treated the same as their colleagues. He embraced equal rights for all, and fought hard for the Navy to embrace them too.
Before issuing Z-gram 66 titled “Equal Opportunity in the Navy,” for example, Zumwalt sat down with black officers and enlisted men and their wives and discussed issues of discrimination and racism.
“Prior to these meetings, I was convinced that, compared with the civilian community, we had relatively few racial problems in the Navy,” he said in the Z-Gram. “However, after exploring the matter in some depth with these two groups, I have discovered that I was wrong—we do have problems, and it is my intention and that of Secretary [of the Navy John] Chafee to take prompt steps toward their solution.”
Zumwalt admitted in the same message that any solutions he implemented would only be first steps, but beginning to solve the problem of discrimination within the Navy was nonetheless among his top priorities.
A couple of years later, the Navy, and the military in general, was feeling the stress of a mass exodus of people getting out. It was transitioning to an all-volunteer force from one made up significantly of draftees, and in Z-gram 116, titled “Equal Rights and Opportunities for Women,” he took the first steps to fully integrate women into the Navy—i.e., aboard ships, in staff positions, command ashore, open access to most ratings, etc.
“I believe we can do far more than we have in the past in according women equal opportunity to contribute their extensive talents and to achieve full professional status,” Zumwalt stated in the message.
When he retired, the Navy had black admirals and women were flying aircraft. If this was all he did, his legacy would be guaranteed. But he put the lives and wellbeing of all Sailors on his agenda.
In Z-gram 9, for example, he created the meritorious advancement program for petty officers. In it, he stated, “I am concerned that there may be a small number of petty officers who are obviously superior performers but who have not been advanced in rate even after five or more examination attempts. These petty officers have demonstrated by continued superior performance that they are qualified for advancement to higher rate and that they merit special advancement consideration.”
He also created the ombudsman program, the sponsorship program, the Sailor of the Year award, among many other changes documented in his famous fleet-wide messages. To read more Z-grams, and to find out more about the “Reformer,” please visit the website of the Naval History and Heritage Command.
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