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Navy warships, on their first scheduled cruise in the Great Lakes since 1999, will pull in along Chicago's lakefront Tuesday as sailors celebrate Navy Week and the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812.
The ships will be on display at Navy Pier, part of a weeklong celebration in which Chicagoans can tour boats and meet sailors. A Navy frigate and patrol coastal ship, a Coast Guard cutter and two Royal Canadian Navy vessels will be on hand.
Also, the annual Air and Water Show will be held this weekend.
With North Chicago's Naval Station Great Lakes serving as the branch's only boot camp, the metro area is better acquainted with the Navy than most Midwestern cities. But military officials say this week -- in which Navy divers plunge into the water at Shedd Aquarium and sailors do volunteer work -- offers the public a rare chance to interact with members of the Navy.
"We've been a nation at war for the last 12 years," said Rear Adm. Gregory M. Nosal. "Everybody knows the Army is at war. Everyone knows about the Marine Corps. No one knows about the Navy because we've been forward deployed for the last 12 years."
Navy frigates used to cruise the Great Lakes each summer. But budget and security concerns put that program on hold after 1999, a Navy spokesman said, and9/11created different priorities.
Nosal, who commands the Navy's Carrier Strike Group Two, said the bicentennial of the War of 1812 is a logical time to bring warships back to the Midwest. That war, fought in part on the Great Lakes, helped establish free sea trade and shape the role of the modern Navy.
The War of 1812 also led to the treaty in which the U.S. and Canada agreed to demilitarize the Great Lakes.
Beyond the history, Nosal hopes Chicagoans and sailors connect on a more personal level next week.
"To be able to walk in your own country," Nosal said, "and wear your uniform and to have local American citizens come up and say, 'Thank you for your service,' there's no better feeling."