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Beline Obeid

The navy way

The US Brig Niagara, a replica of the warship from which Oliver Hazard Perry won the Battle of Lake Erie on Sept. 10, 1813, sails past the De Wert, a Perry Class frigate built for Cold War anti-submarine duty and aircraft carrier escort. photo by Brad Lindberg.

August 30, 2012
Aboard the 453-foot frigate USS De Wert, the ship's bell does double duty.

Located on the starboard foredeck, near the knife-edged bow designed to slice through threatening seas, the bell rings the passage of time and the promise of life.

Several names and dates stamped inside the bell are those of children baptized the navy way.

"It's a tradition," said Lt. Commander Chris Dickerson, the frigate's executive officer. "If somebody's in the navy, they can have their child christened in the ship's bell. Ideally, there's a tie to the ship, but it's not a requirement."

Dickerson is second in command. He answers on board only to the captain and a personal sense of national pride.

"I really believe the navy is a global force for good," he said.

Navy Week

De Wert heads a fleet of five ships to Detroit for Navy Week, Monday, Sept. 4 through 10.

Included is the US Brig Niagara, from Erie, Pa.

The two-masted, square-rigger is a wooden replica of the gunship from which Oliver Hazard Perry, famed for his battle cry, "Don't give up the ship," broke the British line in the Battle of Lake Erie during the War of 1812.

Perry's victory, 199 years ago Monday, Sept. 10, turned the war in favor of America.

His after-action report is among the most famous in military history: "We have met the enemy and they are ours."

When Niagara enters port, her crew fires a canon salute. The report echoes off buildings and shakes windows. Black power smoke billows 100 yards across the rippling water.

Imagine canon fire multiplied hundreds of times and modern-day visitors have an idea of the fog of war Perry overcame to ensure our nation's future.

1812 and now

Navy Week has two main goals: goodwill and bicentennial commemoration of the war, widely known for how little most people know of it.

"A lot of people call it the forgotten war," said Rear Admiral Gregory Nosal, commander of Carrier Strike Group II and organizer of navy weeks this summer in 15 cities, including six U.S. Great Lakes ports.

"Many traditions and customs the navy enjoys in the 21st century originated in the War of 1812," Nosal said. "There's a direct link between a strong navy and a prosperous nation through free global trade."

Foreign shipping adds $2 billion to Michigan's economy and 20 percent of the state's maritime activity, according to Detroit Wayne County Port Authority statistics.

"We think of ourselves as the Motor City, but we were founded in 1701 as a port," said John Jamian, port executive director.

Seventy percent of the earth is covered by water.

"Ninety percent of all trade, by volume, is on that water," Nosal said. "It is important for our prosperity and national defense to keep those waterways open."

This year is the first since 1999 that warships the size of De Wert are steaming the Great Lakes.

"We've been busy," Nosal said, explaining the absence. "Our ships have been deployed around the world."

Nosal commands his strike group from the 1,092-foot flagship George H.W. Bush, the newest nuclear-powered aircraft carrier in the fleet.

Strike Group II's lineage includes the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo in 1942.

"Our navy has been on the seas for 236 years, keeping the sea lanes open," Nosal said. "We did that in 1812. We're doing that today."

Welcome aboard

Most of the visiting ships are open for free public tours Tuesday, Sept. 5 though Sunday, 9, at or near Hart Plaza.

In addition to De Wert and Niagara, there are:

u USS Hurricane, a 174-foot coastal patrol craft based in California,

u US Coast Guard Cutter and icebreaking tug Katmai Bay, based in Sault Ste. Mairie, and

u HMCS Ville de Quebec, a Royal Canadian guided missile frigate, docking in Windsor, Ontario, Canada.

De Wert was built during the Cold War to hunt Soviet submarines and protect carriers in the North Atlantic.

Twin gas turbine engines generate 41,000 horsepower combined. Top speed exceeds 30 knots.

"Compared to a merchant ship, this is a Ferrari," Dickerson said. "I can get up to full speed in less than 1 1/2 minutes."

On the bridge, visitors expecting a large, spoked wheel from the windjammer era will find a miniature brass something-or-other the size of a pretzel.

On the aft gun deck, sailors tell how the Vulcan Phalanx 20 mm close-in weapons system fires so fast is sounds like driving over rumble strips lining the highway.

In the crew's mess on the main deck, Petty Officer 1st Class Steven Favorite, a nine-year veteran from Mobile, Ala., may tell about the navy fulling his dream to see the world and better his future.

Favorite is assigned to a damage control team. His battle station is wherever trouble is.

"We have a group of firefighters we call the flying squad," he said. "We'll show the public hands-on our equipment, what we do and the gear we use."

Rome is his favorite liberty town. He visited the Vatican and Sistine Chapel.

"That was on my last ship, the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt," Favorite said.

"Not many people get to see that," he said.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Gunner's Mate Timothy McIntyer, of California, is in charge of all guns on board. The inventory ranges from pistols to a 77 mm automatic canon that shoots 80 rounds per minute.

The armory's Mossberg 12-gauge pump-action shotguns are handy for hunting pirates off Somalia.

"We use them when we go on other boats to shoot hinges off doors or something like that," McIntyer said.

The best

Dickerson grew up in Cairo, Ohio, a village of about 500 people north of Lima. He enlisted 21 years ago.

"Some of my motivation was to see the world," he said.

He was stationed at Pearl Harbor for 18 months as operations officer of the USS Chaffee guided missile destroyer. It was humbling being near the USS Arizona battleship, sunk during the Japanese attack of Dec. 7, 1941.

Of 1,177 crew killed, 945 are entombed in the wreck.

The names of dead fill 14, single-spaced pages in "Battleship Arizona," by Paul Stillwell.

"The Arizona is still bleeding oil," Dickerson said. "The ghosts of the past ring loud. It makes me proud that they didn't die in vain."

Dickerson said one of his daily challenges is keeping the crew from getting cocky.

"We have to train and plan things properly so we can continue to be the best," Dickerson said. "I have a lot of pride knowing I'm in the best navy the world has ever seen. The ships we have now are the best that ever existed in history."

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