BY THE NUMBERS
6 — Navy ships named “USS Tennessee”
2 — Navy ships named “USS Chattanooga”
11,000 — Number of sailors from Tennessee serving in Navy
Source: U.S. Navy
IF YOU GO
Chattanooga Navy Week Events
Today-Saturday — 7:30- 9:30 a.m. & 1-2 p.m. U.S. Navy divers will be diving at the Tennessee Aquarium.
Saturday — 8-8:30 a.m. Sailors will be participating in the Riverbend Run
The U.S. Navy is capable of sustaining its support in the NATO-led operation in Libya for as long as it’s needed, according to Vice Admiral Harry B. Harris Jr.
“We can sustain what we’re doing in supporting NATO today,” he said. “Should we do it? You’re asking the wrong person.”
Harris, who is commander of the Navy’s 6th Fleet, met Tuesday with Times Free Press reporters and editors during his time in Chattanooga for Navy Week, which takes place during Riverbend.
Harris was the maritime component commander for Operation Odyssey Dawn — the first airstrikes against Libya in March — as a part of the U.S.-led coalition. He stepped back to a supporting role when NATO took the operation’s helm in April.
He said he personally believed that the U.S. should continue to support NATO to assist Libyan rebels against leader Col. Moammar Gadhafi and his government.
“It’s a NATO operation and we’re in NATO. I think we’re doing exactly the right thing,” he stressed. “Gadhafi was killing his people. If we care about that, we should probably do something about it.”
The conflict is now entering its fourth month, and European leaders are beginning to question how long they can afford to sustain the mission if it is not resolved by NATO’s September deadline, according to a Tuesday report from The Associated Press.
“If we do it longer than six months, we will have to reprioritize our forces,” Britain’s top naval officer, Adm. Mark Stanhope, said Monday, according to the AP.
Harris explained that the U.S.’s mission in Libya is three-pronged: Enforcing a no-fly zone, enforcing an arms embargo and protecting civilians.
“We’re not doing airstrikes in Libya, but we might have to,” he said. “We just don’t know.”
Chattanooga is one of 21 different cities selected to host a Navy Week this year. Running from June 11-19, events already have included Navy Band performances, diver demonstrations in the Tennessee Aquarium and a performance by the “Leap Frogs,” the service’s parachute team.
The rest of the week holds more diving demonstrations and speaking events at local agencies.
A major part of Navy Week is demonstrating the Navy’s importance to landlocked states, Harris said.
A crucial contribution to inland states is economic, he explained, since the Navy employs thousands of people in Tennessee. Additionally, it offers protection for the state’s overseas exports, he said. In 2010, Tennessee had $16 billion worth of exports transported by sea.
Harris, who hails from Crossville, Tenn., stressed a strong bond between the state and the Navy, referencing a litany of admirals who hail from the Volunteer State, including the nation’s first four-star admiral, David Farragut.
Others who called the Chattanooga area home include Adm. Skip Bowman, director of nuclear propulsion for the Navy from 1996 to 2005; Vice Adm. Ron Eytchison, a submariner and specialist in nuclear deterrence; and Rear Adm. Vance Fry, who commanded the Navy’s Cargo Handling Force during Operation Desert Storm in 1990-91.
About 11,000 out of 330,000 sailors are currently from Tennessee, Harris said.
Recruitment is not an overt function of Navy Week, though Harris said it is a good opportunity to show young people the Navy’s appeal.
“The whole idea is to show young men and women that there is a Navy, and there are opportunities in the Navy,” Harris said.