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'Great White Fleet' Anniversary Marked
Virginian-Pilot  |  By Kate Wiltrout  |  December 17, 2007
There was an ice sculpture in the shape of an aircraft carrier, and another depicting a fighter jet.

Teddy Roosevelt himself - well, an impersonator of the 26th president, anyway - roamed among about 600 guests at Saturday night's gala aboard the carrier Roosevelt at Norfolk Naval Station.

There was even a message from the president on White House stationery.

All the fanfare marked the 100th anniversary of the Great White Fleet's departure from Hampton Roads.

The Navy's top officials, Secretary Donald Winter and Adm. Gary Roughead, the Chief of Naval Operations, paid homage to Roosevelt's ambitious vision of the Navy. The Great White Fleet's 14-month voyage symbolized the Navy's evolution from a continental force that patrolled America's shores to a global power that could take its might - and its fight - anywhere in the world.

"It was first and foremost a demonstration of U.S. Navy strength," Winter said during a ceremony in the carrier's hangar bay. "America was a nation eager to be recognized as a respected actor on the world stage."

But the party was more than just a chance to look back. It was also an opportunity for Roughead and Winter to talk about the Navy's future - and the importance of investing in ships, planes and technology that cost billions.

A brief video that played after the speeches interspersed pictures of Navy helicopters and F/A-18 Hornets with reasons why the U.S. Coast Guard, Marine Corps and Navy are crucial: Seventy percent of the Earth is covered in water. Eighty percent of the world's population lives within a few hours of the coast. And 90 percent of global commerce - from crude oil to Christmas wrap - travels via the ocean.

Those themes are familiar to Navy observers: They reiterate the tenets of the maritime security strategy the Navy unveiled this fall.

Even as the Army and Marine Corps fight in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Navy is defining itself as a military branch that projects power through strength, defends the world's sea lanes and responds to natural disasters and offers humanitarian assistance.

The message is one that Roosevelt would likely have supported, and that was another reason to toast Teddy on Saturday night.

"America has been, is, and always will be a maritime nation with maritime interests," Winter said. "Those interests must be and can only be defended by a strong navy, a branch of service which - by its very nature - encourages an international perspective."

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