- The Washington Times - Friday, March 2, 2001

On Sunday March 4th, 102,000 tons of steel, wire and sophisticated electronics will come alive when our nation's ninth Nimitz-class aircraft carrier is christened by former first lady Nancy Reagan. The ship, with the crash of a champagne bottle, will change instantly from an industrial work-in-progress to a proud U.S. Navy ship bearing the name of our 40th president, Ronald Reagan.

The christening tradition has been around since the earliest days of the U.S. Navy, and a ship's name means a great deal to the crew that serves aboard the ship. The USS Ronald Reagan will soon join the ranks of other American aircraft carriers named for great American presidents. The USS George Washington, the USS Abraham Lincoln, the USS Theodore Roosevelt and the USS Harry S. Truman were all built as a part of Mr. Reagan's plan for a 600-ship Navy. It is fitting, therefore, that more than a decade after he left office, a new Nimitz-class ship will bear the name of Ronald Reagan, a true advocate of naval power and maritime supremacy.

This new Navy combat ship will carry more than 6,000 men and women as crew and will also carry a formidable mix of more than 80 military aircraft of various types. It will be capable of projecting American military power to any region of the world. It will be able to remain in any region for more than six months or move from crisis point to crisis point, if necessary. It will serve as a powerful tool of American diplomacy that can also transition readily to an instrument of war if our nation's interests so demand.

Mr. Reagan would be proud to know that America is honoring him by naming an aircraft carrier after him, for Mr. Reagan was an ardent champion of American military strength and a strong believer in naval power. He understood that American interests demand a strong Navy capable of operating anywhere in the world. As president, he did much to restore American military power, especially American naval power, in the 1980s.

We, as a nation, are enjoying the benefits of the Reagan military build-up, even to this day.These mighty ships-Nimitz-class carriers-are designed to last 50 years or more, and they represent a major investment of our nation's treasure. They are sturdy, adaptable and functional. And, much like Mr. Reagan, Lord willing, his ship will have a long life and will help preserve the peace for decades.

There are some other surprising parallels between aircraft carriers and Mr. Reagan. Some critics have declared, at one time or another, that both were old-fashioned and perhaps even obsolete, only to be surprised by their durability and survivability. Friends and allies have appreciated them in times of trouble, and enemies and terrorists have feared them both. The world remains a dangerous place as we look forward into the 21st Century, and the USS Ronald Reagan will be a strong and certain asset in a dangerous and uncertain world.

In the 20th century, America has been blessed by three great presidents who understood more than most the importance of naval power in preserving America's national security. Teddy Roosevelt was a strong advocate of naval power, and he built American naval power to a point in which it was second only to the Royal Navy of Great Britain.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt understood the importance of a strong U.S. Navy and was moving to restore America's naval power when the Pearl Harbor surprise attack occurred. Mr. Reagan was the third president of the 20th century to have a deep appreciation for the importance of naval power. Like Roosevelt, Mr. Reagan understood that a just man armed is a potent force for good. He told the delegates at an American Legion conference in 1987 that, to put Roosevelt in modern terms, we should: Speak softly, but keep the Battleship IOWA close at hand. Mr. Reagan understood that carriers are a reflection of U.S. conviction to the furthering of American principles.

In a national radio address on Armed Forces Day in 1982, President Reagan quoted from James Michener's book "The Bridges of Toko-Ri," in which an officer waits through the night for the return of planes to a carrier at dawn. And the officer asks: "Where do we find such men?" Well, I have to ask the same question. Where do we get such men as Mr. Reagan? He was a great American president, and I am joyful that such a mighty ship will bear his name.

Christopher M. Lehman served as a special assistant for national security affairs to President Reagan 1983-1985.

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