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CHIPS Articles: "The Fleet is Ready"

"The Fleet is Ready"
By Adm. Robert J. Natter, Commander in Chief, U.S. Atlantic Fleet - January-March 2002
The U.S. Atlantic Fleet provides fully trained combat ready forces to support United States and NATO commanders in regions of conflict throughout the world. From the Adriatic to the Arabian Gulf, Atlantic Fleet units respond to National Command Authority tasking. Led by Admiral Bob Natter, the Atlantic Fleet consists of over 118,000 Sailors and Marines, 186 ships and 1,300 aircraft. Additionally, there are 18 major shore stations providing training, maintenance and logistics support, as well as support to Navy and Marine Corps families.

The Atlantic Fleet area of responsibility encompasses a massive geographic area including the area of the Atlantic Ocean from the North Pole to the South Pole, the Caribbean Sea, the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific Ocean waters from Central and South America to the Galapagos Islands. Additionally, the area includes the Norwegian, Greenland and Barents Sea, and the waters around Africa extending to the Cape of Good Hope.

The CHIPS staff had the very great pleasure of hearing Adm. Robert J. Natter deliver the keynote speech at the U.S. Naval Institute Sixth Annual Warfare Exposition and Symposium, Pavilion Convention Center, Virginia Beach, Virginia on October 3, 2001. Adm. Natter graciously agreed to share his powerful message with CHIPS readers.

Our response to the terrorist attacks on the United States will be directed against an enemy more elusive, devious, and inhumane than that confronted by any other generation of American fighting men and women. The defeat of this fanatical enemy will take a sustained, coordinated effort on the part of our Navy and our sister Services and by every local, state, and federal agency in the country. Most important, it will require the lasting dedication and support of the American people.

If we have learned anything through the years, in war and combat, we in a democracy cannot sustain our military forces, cannot sustain our military readiness, and cannot sustain successful military operations without the support of the people.

One thing has not changed since the eleventh of September: The United States is a global power in a maritime world … the United States Navy's command of the seas continues to be a guarantor of our nation's global interests.

The Navy's relevance in our nation's defense is tied directly to our combat readiness. So, I'd like to talk about how we're postured to defend America's interests, whether against terrorism at home or against aggression overseas. How we're manning, training, and equipping ourselves to support the war against terrorism over the long haul … while at the same time maintaining the capabilities to support the fundamental mission of the United States Navy, one that we have had for 225 years: Defense of our nation at and from the sea.

How are we ready? How are we relevant? the Navy's operations on September 11 paint a good picture of the Fleet's combat readiness and relevance to today's missions …

As dawn broke over the east coast of the United States on September 11, three Carrier Battle Groups and three Amphibious Ready Groups were forward deployed around the globe – a typical day for your Navy and Marine Corps.

By late morning that day, they were being joined at sea by several ships of the Atlantic fleet, sortied to support NORAD [North American Aerospace Defense Command] air defense operations along the east coast of the United States. The USS George Washington was already underway preparing for carrier qualifications, with the USS Mahan in escort … she quickly was joined by Vella Gulf and Leyte Gulf, the first ships underway from Norfolk. By 1400 the Second Fleet Commander, Vice Admiral Cutler Dawson, had embarked on the George Washington, and fighters from [NAS] Oceana armed with air to air missiles were brought aboard as she steamed toward New York City.

USS John F. Kennedy, underway from Mayport that morning for training, was ordered to station just off the beach, in the VACAPES OPAREA [Virginia Capes Operational Area], joining eight other surface combatants assigned air defense stations along the East Coast and within the Chesapeake Bay. USS Yorktown and USS Ticonderoga sortied from Pascagoula [Mississippi] to take up positions in the Gulf of Mexico.

In addition, the USS Bataan and USS Shreveport, a week shy of their normal deployment, got underway on short notice for Camp Lejeune. They prepared for the load out of medical personnel and elements of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, which Lieutenant General Ray Ayres had directed to be reconfigured to support relief operations. We did not know how many casualties would be involved, and we did not know precisely what kind of support would be needed, but those forces were standing by while we determined what support New York and Washington required.

At the same time, the USS Comfort was activated and directed to proceed to New York City with medical personnel embarked. We realized very quickly that care for injured patients was not the requirement; the local hospitals were able to cope with the casualties. City officials asked instead for support for the thousands of firemen, police, and other volunteers assembled at the site. As a result, the support team on the Comfort reconfigured the ship as a rest and recovery station.

So, are Naval forces relevant? You bet we are. Within a 48 hour period, the Navy was able to respond with a ready, capable force, organized to support homeland defense and disaster relief alongside our sister Services and state and federal agencies. That's a tremendous capability, and we should all be very proud of our Sailors and Marines who answered the call.

Last month's attack has caused us all to reevaluate and accelerate our efforts to support the larger challenge of homeland security. I call it a challenge because of the freedoms we enjoy in this great nation … I don't believe America should trade those freedoms for a police state in which homeland security might be an easier problem to solve--that would serve the terrorists a victory. The challenge of homeland security is one that must be balanced against the freedoms upon which this nation was built.

We're working closely with Joint Forces Command and the Coast Guard in refining our strategy for homeland security and homeland defense. The Coast Guard has long provided excellent force protection support to the fleet, augmenting our own assets both in homeport and during port visits in CONUS, and most recently establishing a Naval Vessel Protection Zone around each Naval vessel while transiting U. S. waters. We've built upon that solid foundation of coordination and liaison with the Coast Guard to better integrate efforts in harbor security, and to provide increased vigilance against potential waterborne threats offshore.

We are prepared should America call again on its Navy to respond close to home, just as we are ready to safeguard America's interests overseas. And your Navy stands ready to support the combined efforts of joint and coalition forces in this new war against terrorism.

What's the relevance of Naval Forces against this enemy, in a war focused on a land-locked nation, a good distance from the sea? Read the news today… USS Kitty Hawk steams toward the Middle East, reconfigured to support and launch a new capability--an example of the tailored response that remains the cornerstone of Navy and Marine Corps combat capability. Our other carrier battle groups that are forward deployed are ready with embarked air wings and Tomahawk missiles that can reach out and support operations throughout Afghanistan.

Most important, all our Naval forces can deploy forward within reach of Afghanistan and not have to depend on another nation's hosting us, or another nation's okaying our being there, or okaying our operations. Historically, that freedom of action has been one of our greatest strengths. That continues today to be our greatest strength, and I assure you, it will remain so in the future.

Adm. Robert J. Natter
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