Since its birth, the United States has been a maritime nation, which has relied on a first line of defense at sea. Piracy off the Horn of Africa, recently in the news again, reminds us of the Barbary pirates and the threat they posed to our fledgling nation. This concern was foremost on the mind of the delegates who met at Philadelphia to write a new Constitution for our young republic.
In 1794, the United States commissioned six frigates, built up and down the coast from New Hampshire to Virginia. Since the earliest days of our Navy, our enduring sea power has proven key to countering threats, winning wars and furthering the interests of peace and prosperity worldwide. When nearly 75 percent of the planet is covered by water, 80 percent of its inhabitants live near the oceans, 90 percent of global commerce is transported by sea and 95 percent of global communications go under the sea, we can see the immense importance of ensuring the freedom of those seas.
Our Navy and Marine Corps are serving in remote locations around the world, from the deserts of Iraq to the high mountains of Afghanistan. They are also serving in our own back yards. In August 2005, Department of the Navy personnel came to the aid of citizens in Mississippi and Louisiana amidst the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, a storm that produced more debris than all FEMA-managed disasters from the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake up until that point, including that at the World Trade Center and Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001.
As the hurricane bore down on the Gulf Coast, residents evacuated their homes while Navy leaders ordered personnel into the path of the storm. Two days before Katrina’s landfall, NAS Meridian was designated a FEMA staging area for personnel and relief supplies. The following day, the amphibious assault ship USS BATAAN and hospital ship USNS COMFORT prepared to get underway and deliver assistance. Over the next week, 23 ships, including an aircraft carrier, were deployed to the Gulf Coast. In all, more than 11,000 Navy personnel provided direct aid to the Gulf Coast region. One hundred and four Navy aircraft flew 1,132 missions; evacuating 8,512 people, completing 195 medevacs and rescuing 1,559 people from imminent danger. Working together, Navy ships and aircraft delivered nearly 2.2 million pounds of food to Americans in Mississippi and Louisiana.
Mississippi has given back to the United States in equal measure. Generations of student naval aviators made their first flight from NAS Meridian. On their watch has been the conflict in Vietnam, the long twilight struggle with communism, Desert Storm and the ongoing fight in Iraq and Afghanistan. The naval station at Pascagoula served as a home for guided missile cruisers and frigates, playing a vital role in maintaining strategic presence and command of the seas. The Seabees, who have operated from Gulfport since the Korean War, have provided for our every need across the Atlantic and Pacific. Our world-class naval forces deploy from first-rate facilities built by those Seabees.
Even as our service members are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan alongside their fellow soldiers, airmen and Coast Guardsmen, the Navy and the Marine Corps team stands ready to answer our nation’s call, wherever and whenever it comes. Our Navy and Marine Corps is the most agile, flexible and responsive force ever fielded. It is always forward deployed, always the away team, like the cop who walks the beat, ready to respond to whatever situation presents itself. Whatever the President needs, on behalf of this nation, your sailors and marines have the tools and the talent to do. Throughout Mississippi, the nation, and the world, United States sailors and marines are answering their Nation’s call to build partnerships and maintain peace.
Ray Mabus served as governor of Mississippi from 1988-1992. He is currently Secretary of the Navy. For a public official or newsmaker to contribute an Op-Ed column, contact MBJ managing editor Ross Reily at firstname.lastname@example.org.