Adm. David E. Jeremiah, who passed away Oct. 7, was a tremendous naval leader and national treasure. President George H. W. Bush commented on his passing that, “During the course of his distinguished Navy career, Dave answered the call to serve our country in so many ways—and he always fulfilled his many assignments with commitment, courage, and thorough professionalism. As vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under Gen. [Colin] Powell, moreover, Dave was a key member of the military team that ejected Saddam Hussein from Kuwait and restored the rule of international law. He was a good man, and we will miss him very much.”
Adm. Jeremiah, known to many affectionately as “Admiral J” was born in 1934 and began his naval career in 1956. He earned degrees from the University of Oregon and George Washington University, and attended the Armed Forces Staff College and Harvard University for advanced education.
His naval career spanned 38 years and all who knew him in the national security community admired him. At his retirement in 1994, former congressman Ike Skelton of Missouri said that he was “Keeper of the Seas, acknowledged to be a proven sailor whose years of experience at sea make him a professional and reliable shipmate in peace, and an exemplary leader in war.”
Adm. Jeremiah expertly led naval and joint forces during several significant world events. In 1985 he was at the helm when confrontations began during the Achille Lauro incident. Aboard his flagship the USS Saratoga (CV-60), Adm. Jeremiah coordinated naval air efforts that intercepted the Egyptian commercial airliner carrying the Achille Lauro hijackers and forced the plane to land in Italy culminating in a victory against terrorism.
As part of Operation Attain Document in 1986, Adm. Jeremiah took operational control of Task Force 60, consisting of three aircraft carriers, numerous aircraft and other ships. The purpose of the operation was to reaffirm the United States’ ability to operate freely in international waters and dissuade Muammar Gadhafi from future terrorist acts. The admiral’s calm and steady leadership during those intense days were essential to success. After the completion of the operation, President Ronald Reagan lauded Task Force 60 and said, “Your determination and tireless response to Libyan threats make this world a safer place.”
Throughout his career the admiral had a remarkable talent for capturing the essence of any given situation with a few choice words. Prior to the conflict in the Mediterranean Sea against Gadhafi, he sent a message to his forces that “The fat lady is practicing her scales; it’s time to get out the songbooks and get on with it.”
He was a tireless leader who thrived in the command of sailors at sea. He handled his job at sea with great professionalism and honor. As he saw it, “command at sea is the goal of every naval officer; it signifies trust in the judgment, integrity, energy, patience, and loyalty to superiors and subordinates alike based upon performance. Command at sea is arduous, mentally and physically demanding, and lonely.”
In 1987, Adm. Jeremiah acquired his fourth star and commanded the Navy’s Pacific Fleet during the final years of the Cold War. In 1990, Gen. Powell, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, handpicked the admiral to serve as his vice chairman. He became Powell’s “indispensable right-hand man” or “alter ego” during the Gulf War, where he was a key participant in National Security Council meetings and assisted with the CIA director’s intelligence requirements and oversight process. Adm. Jeremiah was a keen source of advice for Powell throughout his tenure as chairman of the Joint Chiefs.
As vice chairman, he transformed the position into a significant component within the military’s command-and-control organization. He established the vice chairman as a permanent member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff with Powell’s support and congressional approval. Some his major responsibilities were to serve as the chairman of the Joint Requirements Oversight Council, vice chairman of the Defense Acquisition Board, and as Powell’s representative in the interagency policymaking process. After Powell retired in 1993, Adm. Jeremiah assumed the responsibilities as the acting chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff before Gen. John Shalikashvili took over. He would continue to serve Shalikashvili until his own retirement in 1994.
After retiring from the Navy, Adm. Jeremiah continued his passion for public service. He served on numerous advisory boards including the George H. W. Bush Library and Foundation and the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board. He led a company, Technology Strategies and Alliances, offering advisory services to Fortune 100 defense executives and senior government officials. In 1998, Adm. Jeremiah delivered a candid report to former CIA director George Tenet that closely examined the intelligence community’s performance on India’s surprise nuclear testing. His findings—known as the “Jeremiah Report”—identified weaknesses and made necessary recommendations to improve overall intelligence effectiveness.
With a life full of enormous professional achievements, his most important life accomplishment was his commitment to faith and family. He was active in his church and enjoyed spending time with friends and family. He is survived by his wife, Connie, and daughters Krista and Jody and their families.
Throughout his career Adm. Jeremiah always led by example in his personal and professional life. He was a positive leader, exemplary manager, true friend, and ideal role model to all the military officers and civilians he led. He remained calm and steady under fire. He was a magnificent thinker and decision-maker; a person who would listen, ask the right questions, and make decisions with confidence and complete command presence. As the nation mourns the loss of a tremendous naval leader and national treasure, we will remember Adm. Jeremiah’s integrity, passion for public service, and his commitment to faith and family. He was an inspiration to all who knew him.