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If ordered to strike Syria, Navy is ready, admiral tells sailors


CORONADO, Calif. >> The question from the young sailor to the admiral was politely phrased but direct in its inquiry: If America strikes at Syria, will sailors end up being deployed inland to that country, as thousands were to Iraq and Afghanistan?

Adm. Jonathan Greenert, Naval Academy graduate, former submarine commander and now chief of naval operations, was ready with an unequivocal answer.

“The president has been pretty clear,” Greenert, 60, told the 1,800 sailors assembled in the theater at Naval Air Station North Island. “There will be no boots on the ground.”

And with that, this morning’s question-and-answer session returned to matters of budgetary restraints, safety measures, salaries and benefits, maintenance issues, and rumors that the duration of sea deployments may be lengthened (not true, Greenert said).

When Syria was mentioned, Greenert was calm, showing none of the impatience and edginess that has gripped much of the public and press as President Barack Obama has sought congressional approval to “degrade” the Syrian regime’s future use of chemical weapons.

“We’re in place, we’re ready to go,” Greenert said, “because that’s what we do.”

Destroyers armed with Tomahawk missiles are in the eastern Mediterranean. A carrier strike group, including ships from San Diego, is in the Red Sea.

Talking to reporters, Greenert said that military planners have worked up more than 50 versions of what a U.S. strike might entail.

He noted that U.S. ships routinely deploy to the Mediterranean and the Red Sea and that training for personnel is constant before and during a deployment.

The San Diego ships, for example, completed a major exercise, including the use of Tomahawk missiles, before deploying with the Nimitz Strike Group, now in the Red Sea.

“That’s what we do: We try to be where it matters, when it matters,” Greenert said.

While the press and public are fixated on Syria, Greenert was in San Diego for another geopolitical issue: building a relationship with Adm. Wu Shengli, his counterpart with the People’s Republic of China. The Chinese navy is growing in size and capability.

Three Chinese ships are visiting Pearl Harbor. Wu and Greenert visited three San Diego-based ships on Monday, and Wu visited Camp Pendleton today.

The U.S. has invited the Chinese to participate in next year’s Rim of the Pacific exercise off Hawaii, the world’s largest international maritime exercise. Military-to-military relationships can be key to avoiding misunderstandings on the high seas, Greenert said.

Greenert hosted Wu for a dinner of short ribs. Why short ribs? he was asked.

“My philosophy is: Don’t try to impress someone from China with Chinese food,” Greenert said.

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