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Doolittle, USS Hornet at 75: Shrinking Oceans, Rising Tides

JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM, Hawaii --

April 18th marked the 75th anniversary of the famous Doolittle Raid, a daring mission that relied on land-based bombers to fly from sea. Sixteen Army Air Corps long-range, B-25 Mitchell Bomber aircraft launched for a one-way mission off the deck of the Navy aircraft carrier USS Hornet (CV 8).

The American rallying response to the Dec. 7th 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor was innovative and bold, and required the courage and selfless American spirit for which our Greatest Generation was rightly nicknamed.

Much too lumbering to be ferried and launched from a ship, the bombers were stripped to the barest essentials. Preparing for the unprecedented and perilous mission, the Navy and Air Force worked hand-in-hand with the pilots and aircrew, training intensively on the at-sea launch, cross-country and night-time flying, and low-altitude approaches to bombing targets.

Despite the odds, the mission was a success. In America, it offered hope after a string of stinging defeats. Strategically, the daring raid demonstrated that the allied forces could penetrate the previously impenetrable military power in the Pacific.

The presence of capable, ready forces is as important today as it was 75 years ago. Miscalculation must be avoided lest the hemisphere relearn the bloody lessons from our collective past.

There is no denying the Pacific is a maritime, air and space theater. The area of responsibility envelopes 100 million square miles, more than half the Earth’s surface, from Antarctica to the Arctic circle and from the West Coast of the United States into the Indian Ocean. And for more than 70 years, all Pacific nations have benefitted from the stability and prosperity which blossomed under the assurance of internationally recognized norms, standards, rules and laws.

Today the world and the Pacific are very different places technologically, economically, and geo-politically. And while the vast distance between shores remains, peoples who live and make their way in the Pacific are in many regards closer than ever. For generations, there are shared expectations of stable trade and security that all inhabitants have come to expect.

In today’s environment, fair trade and security requires a commitment that must be a joint effort crossing multiple domains … air, land, sea, undersea and in space and cyberspace.

As indicated this past November, the head of U.S. Pacific Command, Adm. Harry Harris, said he wanted the Army to be capable of sinking ships in contested maritime areas. In so doing he simultaneously stressed the importance of all nations benefitting in the region and remaining committed to the same international norms that have resulted in our shared prosperity.

The Pacific Fleet took a page from the history books by installing "Third Fleet Forward," designed to spark synergy between the Third and Seventh Fleets. Under this construct, the USS Carl Vinson Carrier Strike Group is currently operating in the Western Pacific, and reports to Vice Adm. Nora Tyson, whose Third Fleet staff overseas operations from San Diego.

Furthermore, last month a Pacific Air Forces B-1B Lancer bomber conducted a bilateral mission in the vicinity of Japan with Koku-Jieitai F-15J Eagles, as part of U.S. Pacific Command’s more than 10-year Continuous Bomber Presence Mission, followed by a bilateral mission with Republic of Korea Air Force F-15K Slam Eagles and F-16 Fighting Falcons carried out in ROK airspace. This is merely the latest example of Pacific partners’ determination to work together to preserve the arrangement that has benefitted so many for so long.

Our forces serve humbly in the wakes of those who went before them. The legacy of the courageous WWII raid by Doolittle-USS Hornet is a regional commitment to an integrated, joint and allied capability in the expansive Pacific maritime theater. An enduring presence - on the sea and in the air - that values partnerships and international norms and standards is the surest guarantor of continued prosperity for all. The price of any alternatives would be too steep.