Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Opinion: Being There Matters: The Case for a Strong Navy

Commander Stoner

By Navy Commander Dave Stoner
Commanding Officer, USS RAMAGE (DDG-61)

    A strong Navy is a recognized United States commitment to the world.
    Your Navy is unique among all others in that the Fleet is not garrisoned in U.S. home ports but is spread across the globe.
    There is no question that there is a high demand for the naval forces from our political leaders and combat commanders worldwide. The visible power of your Navy, steaming just over the horizon in areas of high tension matters has a significant impact on our opponents as well as our allies and friends. 

   Your Navy protects and defends America on the world’s oceans. Navy ships, submarines, aircraft and, most importantly, tens of thousands of America’s finest young men and women are deployed around the world doing just that.
   They are there now.  They will be there when we are sleeping tonight.  They will be there every Saturday, Sunday and holiday this year.  They are there around the clock, far from our shores, defending America at all times.

    I can assure you that your Navy is there, because I am there.
    I have the privilege and honor of commanding one of our Navy’s great warships, the USS RAMAGE DDG-61, homeported in Norfolk, Va.
    Our crew of 300 set sail in early August of 2013 for a regularly scheduled deployment to the Eastern Mediterranean which will last about nine months.  Shortly after we left the shores of the U.S. the news that chemical weapons had been used in Syria broke. We quickly found ourselves on the front lines of an international crisis.  Just as countless ships have found themselves before on dozens of coasts over the last two hundred years.
  Being there matters.

    That the Navy is there is critically important because, as in nearly any global endeavor, being there matters.
   It matters in business:  it is why American firms maintain a presence in their overseas markets.  It matters in politics: it is why the State Department maintains a diplomatic contingent in nearly every other nation on Earth.  It certainly matters to our national defense: it is why U.S. forces are stationed around the world.

    Technology has changed American culture along with the vast majority of the world over the last several decades. The digital age has ushered in a new standard for being present.  Email, text messages, social media and online video streaming can instantaneously make us virtually present with others around the globe.  Even at sea on RAMAGE we do what we can to stay connected to our families back home.
   To be virtually present however, is to be actually absent. Virtual presence simply will not suffice when it comes to naval operations.

    On our planet, more than 70 percent of which is covered by water, being there means having the ability to act from the sea.  The Navy is uniquely positioned to be there; the world’s oceans give the Navy the power to protect America’s interests anywhere, and at any time.  Even in the far reaches of Afghanistan, the long arm of Naval aviation could complete its mission.

    When America’s national security is threatened by the existence of a weapons facility or a terrorist camp on the other side of the world, being there matters.  Where these threats exist, chances are high that Navy ships, submarines, aircraft and special forces are very close by, with the ability to destroy targets located hundreds of miles inland.
    When the decision is made to act on one of these threats, the solution may involve launching attack jets or unmanned aircraft from aircraft carriers, firing cruise missiles from ships or submarines or inserting a team of Navy SEALs to do what only Navy SEALs can do.  In any case, the Navy can do all of these things, and do them all from the sea, without the need to get another country’s permission to operate within its borders.

    This is the exact situation that RAMAGE and a small handful of other destroyers found ourselves in the late summer of 2013.  The boundless reach of information stretched easily from our location at sea to media outlets around the globe. The world knew that we were there, the world knew why we were there.  And being there mattered.
   Weeks later, in a nearly unprecedented move, a government agrees to peacefully turn over their stocks of chemical weapons to be destroyed by the international community.  Presence is powerful.  Being there mattered.  Presence goes far beyond influencing political decisions. 

    More than 90 percent of the world’s commerce travels by sea.  When piracy threatens innocent lives and disrupts shipping traffic in the Indian Ocean, when rogue nations threaten to deny access to vital Middle East waterways through which much of the world’s oil is shipped, being there matters.  America’s Navy is there, patrolling what is essentially the world’s interstate ocean highway system, ensuring the free flow of global trade and, in turn, preserving America’s economic prosperity. 

    Following a humanitarian crisis, like the devastating typhoon that ravaged the Philippines in 2013 or the tsunami that struck northern Japan in 2011, being there matters.  Because the Navy is always deployed around the world, it can provide nearly immediate humanitarian relief in the wake of a disaster, ferrying supplies, medicine and trained medical personnel ashore from Navy ships via helicopters and landing craft.

     When narcotics traffickers use speedboats and rudimentary submarines to ferry illegal drugs across the oceans and into America, being there matters.  Navy ships and submarines work the waters near Central and South America with law enforcement agencies to intercept shipments of illegal narcotics before they reach our shores.

    As the world’s geopolitical and economic climates continue to evolve, the case for America maintaining a strong Navy grows.  Indeed, the President’s national security strategy calls for a renewed focus on enduring threats in the Middle East region, as well as an increased American commitment in the Asia-Pacific region -- a vast, mostly ocean-covered area of the world ideally suited for operations from the sea and in which the Navy maintains a robust presence. 

    When it comes to protecting and defending America, being there matters.
    Since the early 1800s when by order of President Thomas Jefferson the first expeditionary squadron entered the waters of the Mediterranean to protect American interests, your Navy has been there.

    Today RAMAGE and the other ships and aircraft squadrons of the Sixth Fleet are still here in the Mediterranean.  Our presence and our actions are mirrored by other U.S. fleets in all the oceans of the world.  Always know that around the globe America’s Navy, your Navy, is already there.
   Being there matters.

Emmett O'Brien graduate
Stoner was born in Queens, N.Y. and grew up in Ansonia. He is a 1986 graduate of Emmett O’Brien Technical High School in Ansonia.
Enlisting in the Navy in 1986 he initially served as a Machinist Mate on several attack submarines stationed at the submarine base in Groton. Earning a commission in 1995 he has served in various positions aboard cruisers and destroyers before assuming command of the USS RAMAGE in January 2013.
Stoner is a graduate of the University of North Florida in Jacksonville Florida majoring in Computer Information Systems. He is also a graduate of the Naval War College where he earned a masters degree in National Security and Strategic Studies.
A father of four and grandfather of one, Stoner resides in Norfolk, Va. His parents reside in the New Haven area.

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