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The U.S. Navy reigns supreme over the world's oceans. The next 13 largest navies combined do not equal it in tonnage, as former Defense Secretary Robert Gates pointed out in a 2009 article in the publication Foreign Affairs.
More than 320,000 active-duty Navy sailors are serving around the world.
Despite its global presence, many Americans know very little about the work the Navy is doing with its roughly $40 billion in taxpayer dollars in fiscal 2012.
"People I talk to always say they love the Navy, and when I ask why, they say they don't know," said Lt. Cmdr. Ron Flesvig, a public affairs officer.
For the upcoming Navy Week in Toledo, landlocked American civilians will have the chance to learn more reasons to love the Navy -- from the sailors themselves. The staff of Carrier Strike Group 2 is organizing Navy Weeks in the East and Midwest this summer.
"We project our naval presence around the world to be ready to respond at a moment's notice to any kind of crisis," said Capt. Gene Costello, chief of staff for Carrier Strike Group 2.
"Our mission is to deter aggression," said Rear Adm. Gregory Nosal, the commander of the strike group. "But be aware, if that deterrence fails, our mission is to win our nation's wars."
The Navy, which has pegged itself as "a global force for good" in advertisements since 2009, also provides humanitarian assistance during disasters, rushing to help in the aftermaths of the 2010 Haiti earthquake and the 2011 tsunami in Japan.
"Another thing the Navy is doing for the average American is keeping sea lines of communication open," Captain Costello said. "We have to make sure that free trade happens."
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This can involve fighting pirates, particularly in the lawless waters off the coast of Eastern Africa and in the Malaccan straits, where some 14 million barrels of Persian Gulf oil flow to East Asian markets each day, according to U.S. Energy Information Administration.
In 2009, Navy SEAL snipers rescued the captain of an American cargo ship after he was taken hostage in a lifeboat by Somali pirates off the Horn of Africa.
Naval forces also have played starring roles in the War on Terror, most notably the daring 2011 SEAL mission in Pakistan resulting in the death of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
The Navy also provides support in Iraq and Afghanistan. "The Navy has gone in and increased our footprint in recent years," said Command Master Chief Dee Allen, highlighting the construction battalions and air operations carried out by Navy servicemen.
"We're not really shooting each other out of the water anymore like in World War II. It's more sea-to-land operations now," Commander Flesvig said. "The best pilots that we have in the military are in the Navy; even the Air Force will agree with this. Any pilot can land on a 10,000-foot strip. … If you have to catch in a resting hook, at night, in the pitching sea, there's probably no bigger challenge."
Though the Navy is still by far the largest in the world, the overall number of ships in the Navy's fleet has been steadily shrinking. Navy active ship force levels have hovered in the high 200 range in recent years, down from 594 in 1987.
Admiral Nosal and Captain Costello said this does not spell a decline in naval power.
"The ships are at a higher capability than ever before," Captain Costello.
Chief Allen added, "The sailors that come today are more educated and the technology has improved, so we're able to do more."
Captain Costello also cited the rising efficiency of naval forces. "For our aircraft that flew in Desert Storm and in Vietnam, our metric was how many airplanes does it take to strike this one target. Today in 2012 we reversed that to ask how many targets can a single airplane strike."
Littoral combat ships signify another technological advance.
"They're our newest combatants," said Commander Flesvig. A crew of 50 sailors can man these 400-foot-long ships, but ships of similar size require at least 150 people, he said. "And it's faster. … it can go 50 knots and make a quick turn and go back."
"They can adjust them with different warfare modules so they don't have to build new ships," Chief Allen said.
The chance to see the world attracts many recruits. "With the Army, you're probably going to be in the sand, seeing the same place every 18 months in Iraq and Afghanistan. In the Navy, you're going to get out a lot more," Commander Flesvig said.
Keith Bryska of Ohio Navy Recruiting said the chance to see the world motivated him to enlist. "I've been stationed in Japan, Hawaii, Australia, Singapore, Thailand, Israel, too many to even name."
The Navy has had little trouble keeping recruitment high, he said. In 2011, 33,444 people enlisted.
Contact Sophie Broach at: email@example.com or 419-724-6210.