If it seemed like Duluth suddenly was home to a naval base last week, that was kind of the point.
The U.S. Navy’s flight demonstration team, the Blue Angels, roared overhead all weekend at the air show. Navy bands played and entertained in multiple outdoor locations. Sailors in their dress whites and Navy blues were everywhere, greeting and jawing with Duluthians and even helping to clean up the Park Point beach. And a big announcement was made: The USS Minneapolis-Saint Paul, a freshly christened littoral combat ship, will be commissioned in Duluth in 2020.
It was Duluth Navy Week — in case you didn’t notice its return. The last one here was in 2014. This one was among 14 across the nation this year to “share all the great things the Navy is doing,” as Deputy Under Secretary of the Navy Jodi Greene said in an exclusive interview with the News Tribune Opinion page.
“Without the Navy we wouldn’t have freedom of seas, freedom of navigation,” said the Minnesota native who works now out of the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. “Talk about open waters: That’s the U.S. Navy out forward protecting that.”
In other words, the U.S. Navy is all about making sure commerce flows unimpeded, including across the Great Lakes. While the Coast Guard may be far more visible in the Twin Ports, residents here can think of the Navy each time an oceangoing freighter arrives or departs our port, and we can be reminded of the security and stability ensured by the Navy around the globe.
Navy Week is a chance for that branch of our military to connect with communities like the Twin Ports, face-to-face and one-on-one. Navy Weeks were launched in 2005, and more than 181 of them have been held.
The highlight of Duluth’s last week had to be the Blue Angels.
“Getting the Blues in here is a big deal,” Greene said. “That means the Department of the Navy is taking this area seriously, and that’s an important thing.”
An even bigger deal will be the christening of the USS Minneapolis-Saint Paul, an event expected to attract thousands of naval veterans and others. Letters from the mayors of Duluth, St. Paul, and Minneapolis, as well as from the Port of Duluth, Visit Duluth, and others made it happen, Greene said. The secretary of the Navy was convinced to pick Duluth over more-typical coastal locations.
Decades have passed since the last Navy ship was commissioned in Minnesota, according to Greene.
“It’s going to be a Minnesota pride weekend,” she said. “This is a rare opportunity. Everybody is going to want to come up to see this. A commissioning ceremony for a ship is just such a prideful moment; there is no way not to show patriotism.”
And there was no way last week in Duluth not to catch at least an inkling of the message behind Navy Week: “This is your Navy,” Deputy Under Secretary Greene said in summarizing it. “Know you have incredible sailors who choose to serve. Only 1 percent of society today chooses to serve, just 1 percent. So that 1 percent that serves, they represent us in every way. They’re protecting us, and they’re why we have the freedom that we have every day. And I think sometimes people take that for granted. So we have to remind them.”