The Star-News - Oct. 11, 2002

National City salutes the Navy


The United States Navy gives its birthday as Oct. 13, 1775 when the Continental Congress first deployed two sailing vessels armed with 10 carriage guns to cruise eastward from our Atlantic shores to intercept transports that were carrying munitions and supplies to the British Army. And on Oct. 9, this year, National City hosted a Salute the Navy birthday luncheon; a tradition the city has maintained for 46 years in appreciation of its partnership with the Navy.

Mayor George Waters listed some of the ways National City has benefited from its partner's generosity. The Navy has repaired 300 of the city's homes in the last 10 years. It has donated used computers and other equipment to the city's schools. And when MTDB sited a trolley station without providing sufficient parking, the Navy provided 150 parking spaces on Navy land.

The list goes on. Five thousand square feet of sod were laid by the Navy for National City's Boys and Girls Clubs. And, after retirement, former Navy personnel accept voluntary positions on the city's commissions. Representing the other half of the relationship, Navy Region Southwest's commander, Rear Admiral Jose Luis Betancourt explained how much the Navy likes to be in communities where it feels wanted.

Betancourt, who first lived in National City 30 years ago when he was an ensign, said he still owns a house in National City although he presently lives in a much grander home that comes with his job. And he places great value on a shared feeling for the Navy's values in the local community.

It may take longer to get in or out of the Navy base since the atrocities of September, 2001, but the increased level of security is simply a mark of these perilous times. Betancourt concurred with President Bush that there is an element that hates the United States of America and what it stands for.

In a reference to David Halberstam's book, "War in a Time of Peace: Bush, Clinton and the Generals," the admiral spoke of the "non-nation states" that became post Cold War hotspots and of the stateless individuals, such as Osama bin Laden. These phenomena have emerged as the new threat since 1989 when some mistaken pundits were calling for the Navy to be scaled down in anticipation of a peace dividend.

On any given day, our Navy has 50 percent of its ships underway. And, according to the admiral, 38 percent of its ships are deployed on any given day, somewhere in the world.

Speaking from 31 years of naval service, Betancourt said he's never known sailors so dedicated, loyal and willing to serve despite the challenges.

"Wherever they travel, they are sovereign," he said. "No one can challenge us on the high seas."