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OUR OPINION: Namesake ships now need ongoing support

Every Minnesotan and North Dakotan knows about the U.S. Navy. But in the wake of Saturdays' christening of the USS North Dakota and the commissioning in September of the USS Minnesota, there's another ocean-related group that residents should get...

Our Opinion

Every Minnesotan and North Dakotan knows about the U.S. Navy. But in the wake of Saturdays' christening of the USS North Dakota and the commissioning in September of the USS Minnesota, there's another ocean-related group that residents should get to know: the Navy League.

That's because Minnesota and North Dakota's responsibilities don't end once the senators make their speeches and the submarines enter active service. As host states, Minnesota and North Dakota have a continuing obligation to support the crews of their namesake ships; and the Navy League is the nonprofit that'll make this support happen.

For 111 years, the Navy League of the United States has been "a voice for a stronger sea service to Congress and to the American people," as the organization's website states.

"The Navy League has grown into the foremost citizens' organization to serve, support, and stand with all the sea services -- U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Coast Guard and U.S.-flag Merchant Marine."

There are chapters in many cities and most states. And for many chapters, among their most important duties is to provide real-world support for the crews aboard adopted Navy ships and Coast Guard cutters.

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A glance at the website that the Navy League's New Mexico Council set up for its adopted ship, the USS New Mexico, shows the possibilities

(ussnewmexico.net) :

The site is professional-looking and very well done. Photos and videos tell the story of the USS New Mexico at sea and in port. Some show the vessel's commissioning ceremony in 2010; others show the ship returning to its homeport in Groton, Conn., after various deployments. There are photos of family members reuniting with crew members on the pier.

Emails from the commanding officer keep New Mexico residents up-to-date on the sub's activities. Copies of letters from New Mexico schoolchildren are shown; "I saloote you," one fourth-grader wrote.

Notes track the New Mexico Council of the Navy League's efforts to let the crew know they're being remembered. The council has paid for New Mexico-style decor inside the sub and for visits to the state, among other morale-building activities. Many Navy League chapters offer scholarships to the crewmembers of their adopted ships.

That's the kind of work the Navy League's North Dakota and Twin Cities councils can look forward to for the next 30 or 40 years, the expected lifetimes of their ships.

It'll take memberships (no prior military service required), money and volunteers to get the job done. But as any Navy or Coast Guard veteran will tell you, the work matters. As you read this, American sailors are standing watch on vessels on all five oceans around the world. It's easy for them to feel homesick.

So, "I saloote you" on a child's colored-pencil drawing can mean a lot, when it's posted on the bulletin board of a pitching ship in the Bering Sea.

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For more information, visit the North Dakota Council's Facebook page or ussnd.com, a website with great pictures and lots of information about the USS North Dakota. On the Minnesota side, ussminnesota783.com is the place to start.

And for information about joining the Navy League, go to navyleague.org. It's a terrific organization and well worth North Dakotans and Minnesotans' strong support.

Opinion by Thomas Dennis
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