W.Va.-born duo on mission to boost awareness of U.S. Navy
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Oceans cover 70 percent of the Earth's surface, while 80 percent of the world's population lives on or near a coastline and 90 percent of the world's commerce moves by ship.
Scattered throughout the world are strategic chokepoints, such as the Strait of Hormuz at the entrance to the Persian Gulf, or the Strait of Gibraltar at the entrance to the Mediterranean Sea, that need to be protected and kept open.
"That helps explain why our country needs such a strong Navy," said William Deligne, the Ansted native and WVU alumnus who directs the U.S. Navy's aircraft carrier development program. "The Navy is a forward-deployed force with ships, weapons systems and sailors that need to be ready to go at a moment's notice."
Deligne, a civilian Navy employee, and Electrician's Mate 2nd Class Ronald Anthony, who grew up in Ravenswood and now operates the nuclear plant aboard the ballistic missile submarine USS West Virginia, are in the state this week to raise awareness about the Navy's national security role. They are part of a new Navy 50/50 program, in which 50 Navy leaders will visit 50 U.S. cities this year to meet with community leaders, business operators, educators, veterans and members of the news media.
"The idea is to focus on cities that don't have a large Navy presence," said Deligne, who, along with Anthony, is showing the Navy's flag during 15 stops in a three-day swing through Huntington and Charleston.
Anthony, a 2002 graduate of Ravenswood High School, enlisted in the Navy after graduating from college in Indiana, in part to take advantage of program that pays down up to $75,000 of college debt.
While the traditional Navy career path for college grads involves entering the service as an officer, Anthony chose to start out as an enlisted man, and enter an officer candidate program later. "I think you learn a lot more by being an enlisted man," he said.
Anthony said the USS West Virginia, launched in 1989, is having a new nuclear core installed in its propulsion plant and will return to sea duty soon.
"The new core should last for another 20 years," he said.
The submarine's two 150-person crews include five other West Virginians, he said. "We try to do things to keep in contact with the state and help portray a good image, like working on Habitat for Humanity projects here, and taking part in the Wilderness Challenge," a military competition involving biking, running, rafting and kayaking in the New River Gorge.
While the nation's submarine fleet has ebbed somewhat since the breakup of the Soviet Union, the Navy is in the process of producing two new-generation Virginia Class fast-attack submarines annually, Anthony said.
Deligne is in charge of developing the new Gerald R. Ford Class of aircraft carriers, the first of which is due for launch next summer, and should join the fleet in 2015.
"We've kept the same basic size and hull form, mainly because an infrastructure exists to handle it, but everything inside the ships will be completely new," he said.
The Navy's last conventionally powered aircraft carrier, the USS Kitty Hawk, was decommissioned in 2009, while the first nuclear powered carrier, the USS Enterprise, is now on its final deployment.
The new Ford Class carriers will have smaller crews -- 4,400 sailors, compared to the 5,700-person crews operating the current Nimitz Class carriers, and they will be designed to better accommodate mixed-gender crews.
"For the sailors, the quality of life will be better, with improvements in everything from food service to laundry," Deligne said. The next-generation carrier's aircraft will include stealthy F-35 Lightning II multi-role fighters, and eventually, unmanned strike aircraft.
Current plans call for the Navy to continue to operate an 11-carrier fleet. In all, the Navy now operates 286 ships, and has an active-duty force of 326,000 sailors, augmented by 100,00 reservists.
While the Navy's submarine and carrier fleets are all-nuclear, the service has developed a hybrid electric drive system that powers the USS Macon Island, an amphibious assault ship. "It's the Prius of the Navy," Deligne said. "We're also working on using biofuels to power jet aircraft and ships."
While responding to national security threats is the Navy's primary role, the service also is equipped to provide disaster assistance and humanitarian relief, Deligne said.
"A carrier can generate 400,000 gallons of water a day and provide 60 hospital beds," he said, as well as serve as a staging site for airlifting supplies and personnel to areas damaged by earthquakes or tsunamis.
Deligne said two companies in the Huntington area are important Navy suppliers. Level One Fasteners produces precision-made nuts, bolts and other hardware. Special Metals produces alloy metals designed to withstand extreme heat, mainly for use in jet engine parts.
He said one South Charleston manufacturer doing business with the Navy is TW Metals, which produces metal parts used in the shipbuilding, aircraft and nuclear industries.
Reach Rick Steelhammer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-5169.