The Navy’s newest warship, the guided missile destroyer USS Carl Levin, will be commissioned in Baltimore on June 24. Although it isn’t among cities with a Navy installation, the Navy chose Baltimore for the ceremony to commission its newest ship, demonstrating it still sees Baltimore as a Navy town.

The city has a rich maritime tradition that was rooted centuries ago. The Navy’s first ship, the USS Constellation, launched in Baltimore in 1797. Baltimore has always been considered one of the great shipbuilding cities — the birthplace of the famous clipper ships, for example. In fact, in the 1790s, Baltimore led the nation in shipbuilding. During World War II, the Bethlehem-Fairfield Shipyard built 384 Liberty ships, 94 Victory ships and 45 amphibious landing ships.

Those facts validate Baltimore as a Navy town and having the USS Carl Levin brought to life here. The ship was built in Bath, Maine, and is named after the Michigan senator who served as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Baltimore is still a Navy town, and the decision to commission its newest ship here demonstrates that, retired Rear Admiral Tom Jurkowsky says. (Courtesy of the US Navy)

Although shipbuilding is no longer a dominant industry here, Baltimore’s connection to the sea is vibrant and important. Baltimore is the 11th-largest port in the U.S. measured in tonnage and ninth measured in cargo value. A few years ago, the port set records in numerous categories. These included handling 43.6 million tons of cargo, 858,000 new vehicles and 1.1 million 20-foot container units.

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The Port of Baltimore supports 15,330 direct jobs and more than 139,000 jobs connected to port work. The port generates more than $395 million in taxes and $2.6 billion in business income. It serves more than 50 ocean carriers that make nearly 1,800 annual visits.

This vibrant commercial activity can be seen at other U.S. and world ports. In fact, the security and prosperity of our nation depend on free and open international waters. The U.S. is a maritime nation, straddling two oceans. In an $86 trillion global economy, 80% of trade by volume moves by sea — oil and natural gas, grain, raw ores and manufactured goods of every kind. Additionally, 95% of international data moves along undersea cables.

Since the end of World War II, access to the world’s oceans has fostered an extraordinary era of stability and peace for nations. The U.S. and other fair-minded countries have long understood the importance of a shared commitment to protecting this global approach.

The U.S. Navy has been at the forefront of maintaining this posture. With its allies and partners, the Navy has provided stability and prosperity for billions of people.

The commissioning of the USS Carl Levin is a reminder that stability around the globe depends on a strong U.S. Navy, retired Rear Admiral Tom Jurkowsky says. (Courtesy of the US Navy)

But this strategy is in jeopardy and we stand at a critical juncture in our nation’s history. We must decide if the U.S. will retain its global primacy or if we concede our position to those with malicious intent.

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China, now our main rival, continues to grow its navy at an exponential rate and rebukes the international rules of order. It demonstrated its disregard for complying with accepted maritime rules most recently with its dangerous actions in the South China Sea when a Chinese navy ship crossed dangerously in front of a U.S. Navy destroyer — one like the USS Carl Levin — at 150 yards.

The Chinese fleet is larger than that of the U.S. Navy — 348 battle force ships to the Navy’s 296. China is on a pace to have 450 battle force ships by 2030, while we will have 280. More important, we see that the Chinese navy’s surface ships, submarines, aircraft and weapons have become much more capable than they were at the start of the 1990s.

After the USS Carl Levin departs Baltimore Harbor, it will travel to its homeport in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, where it will become part of the U.S. Pacific Fleet. When it deploys, it will operate in a very dangerous part of the world — the Western Pacific and South China Sea, where it will see China’s presence firsthand. The guided missile destroyer will be an important part of our conventional deterrence as it works to maintain peace and protect global commerce.

In his book “To Provide and Maintain a Navy,” author Jerry Hendrix says a country’s power and its decline are directly related to the size and capability of its naval and maritime forces. The ability to ship goods in bulk from places where they are produced to places where they are scarce has long represented an expression of national power.

To make his point more clearly, Hendrix says he often told his mother that, if she liked shopping at Walmart, she ought to love the U.S. Navy because it’s the Navy that makes Walmart possible.

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Stated another way, great nations have great navies and diminish without them. Freedom of the seas must be protected to maintain commerce and our way of life. The USS Carl Levin and its crew will play a critical role in making that happen. Freedom of the seas cannot be taken for granted any longer.

Tom Jurkowsky is a retired Navy rear admiral who served on active duty for 31 years. He is a board member of the Military Officers of America Association and author of “The Secret Sauce for Organizational Success: Communications and Leadership on the Same Page.” He lives in Annapolis.

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