Kearsarge Upholds Vision of Great White Fleet

Monday, January 14, 2008
Naval historical file photo of the Great White Fleet. In 1907, Theodore Roosevelt, 26th president of the United States, sent a portion of the Atlantic fleet on a world tour to test naval readiness, establish global presence and generate international goodwill. U.S. Navy photo

By Lt. Jennifer Cragg, Navy News Service, and Lt. James Hoeft, USS Kearsarge Public Affairs USS KEARSARGE, At Sea (NNS) -- As USS Kearsarge (LHD 3) continues her deployment in the 6th Fleet area of responsibility (AOR), setting the conditions for security and stability in the maritime environment; her predecessor before her, USS Kearsarge (BB 5) shared a similar responsibility. One hundred years ago, then President Theodore Roosevelt commissioned the Great White Fleet to travel around the world to test naval readiness, establish global presence, generate international goodwill and garner enthusiasm for the U.S. Navy.

One member of the famous Great White Fleet was the mighty battleship Kearsarge. This endeavor in naval power projection, however, was not only about passively warning those who may want to test the U.S. resolve; it was also about extending the compassionate arm of the U.S. to those in need. As it did nearly 100 years ago, the current Kearsarge answered the call for assistance. Kearsarge and the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) Special Operations Capable (SOC) assisted in Bangladeshi humanitarian relief efforts beginning on Nov. 22, 2007, just before Thanksgiving.

The assistance provided by Kearsage supports the new Maritime Strategy, "A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower," in which by being there, forward deployed and engaged in mutually beneficial relationships with regional and global partners, maritime forces like Kearsarge promotes frameworks that enhance security and stability. Upon learning of the potential devastation and need for assistance, Kearsarge steamed over 3,000 miles in six days from the Indian Ocean where they had been conducting Maritime Security Operations. The storm killed over 3,000 people and left several hundred thousand homeless. But Kearsage and MEU (SOC) did what they could to help by delivering more than 162,000 lbs. of relief supplies to Bangladesh. Emergency relief goods, including food, blankets, clothing, water purification tablets and medical supplies, were delivered to 31 locations identified by the government of Bangladesh.

"We arrived on Thanksgiving Day - a very appropriate holiday to conduct this mission," said Capt. Frank Ponds, commodore, Kearsarge Strike Group. "While most families in the United States were settling in to give thanks for their blessings, we were given the opportunity to actually give relief to those experiencing the dreadful effects caused by the worst natural disaster in Bangladesh since 1991. In many ways, we were very much thankful to be giving." As the relief efforts continued in Bangladesh, Kearsarge was relieved by USS Tarawa (LHA 1) on Dec. 3. Tarawa maintained relief operations until Dec. 7.

Kearsarge shares an impressive history with her previous namesake and the ships that participated in the Great White Fleet. The very first U.S. naval response to a natural disaster in the form of rendering humanitarian assistance occurred in December of 1908 in Messina, Sicily in Italy. The Great White Fleet responded to this crisis and began a long-standing tradition of the U.S. Navy extending to those ashore the code by which all good mariners live. "Kearsarge shares a proud history of helping those in need," said Capt. Jim Gregorski, Kearsarge's commanding officer. "On behalf of today's crew, we are very pleased and honored to carry on the fine traditions established by Kearsarge Sailors who first helped relieve suffering in Sicily nearly 100 years ago, and others who provided humanitarian assistance in Turkey following an earthquake in 1997. During this deployment men and women on board Kearsarge not only helped their fellow man in Bangladesh, but through community relations projects local communities in each and every port benefited from their efforts. I couldn't be prouder of the fact that the crew truly upheld the finest traditions of service."

As history always repeats itself, nearly one hundred years ago, the ships of the Great White Fleet transited through the Suez Canal, and visited ports of the Mediterranean, before returning to the eastern seaboard of the U.S. Upon returning to the U.S., Roosevelt reviewed the fleet as it passed into the Hampton Roads Feb. 22, 1909, having completed a world cruise of overwhelming success, showing the flag and spreading good will. Like her predecessor, Kearsarge Strike Group and 22nd MEU SOC also transited through the Suez Canal recently. "Kearsarge is literally following in the footsteps of our Great White Fleet predecessor," said Lt. Cmdr. Curtis Walkins, Kearsarge's navigator. "We have sailed nearly halfway around the world, operated in four of the Navy's five fleets, and visited eight countries on this deployment. We truly have lived up to our namesake's legacy." Today, the mighty Kearsarge is still fulfilling President Roosevelt's declaration that we will not fail to show a humanitarian spirit. While technological advancements and major strides in naval warfare have increased the capabilities of Kearsarge, the strength of her Sailors and the Navy she represents remains forever emboldened by that same humanitarian spirit and power projection afloat that buoyed the Great White Fleet so many years ago. The Great White Fleet departed from Hampton Roads one hundred years ago as of December 2007. Sixteen battleships, plus auxiliary support ships and 14,000 Sailors and Marines, embarked on the 14-month journey that covered some 43,000 miles and made twenty port calls on six continents. The deployment demonstrated to the world that the United States had arrived as a significant, outward-looking world power with peaceful intent toward every nation. Today, the seven-ship Kearsarge Strike Group follows in that same tradition, having departed from homeport in late July and steaming nearly halfway around the with its 4,500 Sailors and Marines, visiting over fifteen counties on three continents.

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