Secretary of Navy visits Jacksonville

MAYPORT, Fla. - Fog kept the Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus' plane from landing at Mayport on Tuesday morning, but he met with with Mayor Alvin Brown and others at City Hall about the Naval station's future.

Mabus, who landed at Naval Air Station Jacksonville instead, discussed the Navy budget -- specifically about what will happen with a new aircraft carrier and other ship assignments at Mayport.

Mabus said he hope to reschedule a visit to Mayport in the future to visit with the 400-plus sailors and others who were waiting in the hangar with hope to hear about their future.

"We got lots of personnel getting out of the Navy, and the Navy is downsizing," sailor Kevin Avers said. "How is it gong to affect the bases?"

Even the base commander wanted to hear from the secretary's own mouth what's ahead for the Naval base.

"Just the validation that Mayport is relevant and viable," Capt. Doug Cochrane said. "I think the budget spoke to that loud and clear."

Mabus did get his message out downtown at City Hall after meeting with a group of Mandarin High School JROTC members. He talked about the president's budget and how Mayport won't see a nuclear carrier anytime soon.

"Even though we had to defer moving a carrier to Mayport because of purely budgetary reasons, we remain absolutely committed to strategic dispersal of our forces on the East Coast," Mabus said. "This is a deferral and not an end."

Mabus said that to show that commitment, the Navy is going to move an amphibious ship group to Mayport no later than 2015. He said this means 2,000 new sailors and their families will come to the area, and it also means more local money.

"For an amphibious-ready group, all the work will be done locally," Mabus said. "We are talking about $75 million in maintenance a year, which is about two and a half times the maintenance done on a carrier."

After speaking with the mayor, Mabus also talked with business leaders, City Council and other elected leaders at EverBank Field. There he reiterated that the Navy is committed to Jacksonville, which he said will see that payoff eventually at Mayport.

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