When the last sailor walked off the amphibious ship Anchorage yesterday, ending the ship's 34 years of naval service, the Navy's fleet of warships shrank to its smallest size since before World War I.
The battle force ? the Navy's fleet of front-line aircraft carriers, cruisers, destroyers, amphibious ships and selected support vessels ? now numbers 296 ships with the Anchorage's decommissioning.
The Navy has continued to shrink despite increasing demands on the maritime force since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
During the past two years, the Navy has been very busy. Dozens of warships fired cruise missiles, launched bombers and carried Marines during recent operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. Some of those same ships deployed Marines to Liberia and the Horn of Africa. Others are watching developments on the Korean Peninsula.
"We've cut too deep," said Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-El Cajon, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. "We need more ships."