The Navy's contribution to national defense in the Midwest may not always be highly visible, but America's ocean-going branch is trying to showcase what it does for the country.|
"You may not see us, but we're out there," Rear Adm. Tilghman Payne said during a Tuesday editorial board meeting at The Dispatch and The Rock Island Argus. He is commander of the Navy Region Midwest at Great Lakes Naval Center in Chicago.
Rear Adm. Payne is taking part in a tour of many U.S. cities meant to heighten the public's awareness of what the Navy does and how.
Navy personnel participate in operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, both as combatants and in support roles, he said. They work to control the transport of illicit drugs in the Caribbean and are part of a joint force of many nations trying to protect shipping lanes off the coast of Somalia from pirates.
Ninety percent of U.S. trade is maritime, Rear Adm. Payne said.
The Navy also provides humanitarian relief, such as after the tsunami hit Japan in 2011, when 18 ships and 19,000 people helped the stricken country.
The Navy performs these missions with 321,000 active personnel and 285 warships, including aircraft carriers, destroyers and submarines. The Navy also includes about 100,000 reservists and 200,000 civilian personnel.
"We consider ourselves America's away team," Rear Adm. Payne said.
Though much of the Navy's focus is on oceans, it does touch the Midwest in a significant way, he said. Commerce on the Mississippi River makes its way to the rest of the world via the Gulf of Mexico -- Navy turf. The Great Lakes Naval Center is where all naval enlisted personnel are trained.
Rear Adm. Payne said the Navy is meeting recruitment goals, and the recruits he has been meeting are patriotic, dedicated and altruistic.
Those new sailors are joining a Navy preparing itself for the challenges of the 21st century.
Rear Adm. Payne said the Navy has set a goal of getting half of its fuel from alternative sources such as biofuel by 2020.
Though it's still using and building large ships -- a new aircraft carrier is under construction -- the Navy is planning new classes of smaller ships that still will be capable of traveling the ocean, but also will be able to get closer to shore.
They will have a modular design, allowing them to be altered as needed to handle specific missions.
A shift in where Navy ships will be stationed is expected in coming years, he said. Right now, Navy forces are divided roughly in half between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, but the plan is to shift that to a 60-40 percent split, with the larger portion focused on the Pacific, where analysts anticipate future missions.
"We are critical to the nation's security and economic prosperity," he said.
Rock island, IL Details
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