In early November, I traveled to Marinette, Wis., just across the state line from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, to attend a ceremony that marked a very big day for me, for my wife, Barbara, for Michigan and for the country: the ceremonial “laying of the keel” of the new USS Detroit.
The ceremony is a revered naval tradition, marking the official beginning of the construction of a new ship. It was an honor to attend for many reasons, beginning with the fact that Barbara will serve as this ship’s sponsor. Under Navy tradition, a sponsor is considered a permanent member of a ship’s crew and expected to advocate for the well-being of both ship and crew. Barbara will be a tremendous sponsor for the USS Detroit and a great supporter of her crew.
It’s also deeply significant to me that this ship will carry the name of Detroit. Barb and I have lived in Detroit all our lives. When Detroit hurts, so do we, and when it celebrates, it brings us great joy. Detroit is a proud, hard-working, tough, determined, resilient city, one that refuses to surrender, one unwilling to accept defeat. That’s a pretty good role model for a combat vessel.
It’s also meaningful that this ship will be the product of workers from two great states. While the USS Detroit will be built in Wisconsin, just across the Menominee River from our state, hundreds of Michigan workers at the Marinette Marine shipyard will help carry on Michigan’s great legacy as an arsenal of democracy, a legacy earned during World War II.
This will be the sixth USS Detroit in the history of our Navy. Ships bearing that name have protected America and its interests in the waters off Brazil and off the coasts of China and Korea; shot down enemy planes attacking Pearl Harbor and witnessed the Japanese surrender in Tokyo Bay; and served in the Persian Gulf. All of us who call Detroit home are proud that once again, a USS Detroit will join her sister ships in flying America’s flag on the oceans of the world.
As important as these personal connections are to me, far more important is the significance of this new ship for our nation and for the Navy’s ability to defend us as we move through a turbulent era.
As chairman of the Armed Services Committee, I spend much of my time thinking about the national security challenges we face today, the myriad of threats and, especially in the current fiscal environment, the limited resources we have to meet them.
As global commerce grows, as more and more nations join the world marketplace, and as terrorists, criminals and rogue nations seek to create chaos and crisis, global security will increasingly depend on what happens in the world’s littoral zones – the meeting place of land and ocean that surrounds the continents. Our military planners see conflict in coastal zones as a contingency for which we must prepare, especially in light of the increasing importance of Asia to global commerce and to U.S. national security.
Potential adversaries know that too. They also know that they can exploit the importance, and the vulnerability, of these important geopolitical intersections by trying to turn them into chokepoints where they can disrupt the flow of goods and people.
A crucial part of our answer to those challenges is a new class of ships, called Littoral Combat Ships, including the new USS Detroit. These ships are the flexible, adaptable multi-taskers of the seas. Whether the mission is combatting pirates, clearing mines, supporting troops on land, or bringing aid at times of natural disaster, they can be quickly reconfigured to the task. And thanks to the innovative acquisition strategy recommended by the Navy and approved by the Congress late last year, America’s taxpayers will get more of these ships, in less time, and for less money.
So the USS Detroit will carry a great deal across the world’s oceans: The labor of workers from two great states. The spirit of a great city. A great nation’s beacon of liberty. May she serve long and well, and may her crews always come home to the embrace of a grateful nation.