• Increase capabilities and partnerships through training opportunities with host-nation militaries and governments. Examples include port security; shiphandling simulators; visit, board, search, and seizure (VBSS); communications; rate/specialty training; medical and administrative assistance.
• Build regional expertise of U.S. sailors through tours, social, and sporting events with host-nation partners. Ships should conduct return visits to ports and countries. Consideration should be given to aligning homeports with specific countries and ports.
• Act as ambassadors of U.S. values through goodwill events that capitalize on Navy service members’ expertise (including dental, medical, engine repair, welding, law enforcement, construction, and law). Provide volunteer opportunities at schools, hospitals, and charitable organizations and government agencies.
• Connect and work with other U.S. services and organizations in given regions.
• Actively and aggressively pursue foreign interaction. Rather than passively awaiting volunteer opportunities offered by the Department of State through embassies, numbered fleets and afloat senior leadership should actively engage with the State Department to select port-visit locations and schedule a much larger number of meaningful volunteer and partnership opportunities.
It may seem like heresy to say this, but liberty port visits have become relics of the past and should be abandoned. They ignore maritime-strategy principles and are fiscally irresponsible, offering scant volunteerism and partnership events. True liberty port visits represent missed opportunities. Currently we promote these outings as if they were important for building partnerships. Imagine the effect if instead we volunteered, served, and became engaged in working ports that focused on specific U.S. strategic goals. The visits could still be enjoyable and rewarding, while providing sailors with much-needed breaks from shipboard life and their routines. This concept would allow for real partnerships and more in-depth exploration of foreign cultures. Port visits are expensive, but they can be cost-effective if mission objectives are accomplished.
Instead of ignoring the strategic land-power debate, the Navy should welcome Army, Marine Corps, and SOCOM efforts to develop and make the case for it. By making all port visits into theater security-cooperation opportunities, we can position surface warfare at the center of strategic land power while other organizations work to incorporate the new standard DOD vocabulary and strategy. As they catch up, we can be improving on the implementation of what we already do.