No matter what happens with the so-called fiscal cliff budget talks, the U.S. Navy will continue in its important role as a stabilizing force in the world, said a visiting vice admiral who grew up in El Paso.
Vice Adm. David Dunaway was in El Paso for two days last week, visiting schools, Fort Bliss and community leaders to spread the word about the role of the Navy.
"We are completely respectful of the budget talks that are ongoing," said Dunaway, a 1978 Burges High School graduate. "We sit and wait for orders to come. In all these discussions, no one is discussing reducing the demand signal on the Navy (resources needed for the service to stay at sea and maintain world stability)."
Dunaway declined to speculate on whether or where budget cuts would hit the Navy, but he promised that the Navy would continue to be ready to do its job.
"We don't know," he said. "We'll have to get better at spending the taxpayer dollar to get more out of it. Everyone is going to have to get better. That being said, no one is talking about reducing the time we spend at sea."
Under President Barack Obama's new national security strategy, more emphasis and focus is being placed on the Asia-Pacific region, Dunaway said.
"The Asia-Pacific region is a naval venue," Dunaway said. "That's an area where we don't have a lot of ground places to put air wings or places to stock Army forces. We have some, but not a lot. This is a place where the presence of the United States is felt through naval forces.
"The Navy doesn't need a foothold. The Navy doesn't ask permission to go anywhere. We send four and a half acres of sovereign American territory (aircraft carriers) anywhere we want."
About 70 percent of the world is covered in water, and keeping the sea lanes open for the shipping of goods is "essential to our way of life," Dunaway said.
War prevention is all about having a "powerful, peaceful force," Dunaway added.
"Bad actors don't act bad when there is a carrier off their coast," he said.
The Navy will continue to play that incredibly crucial role of protecting the seas, trade and freedom regardless of what happens in Washington, Dunaway said.
"It doesn't matter where the money goes," he said. "We follow lawful orders and will do our darnedest to execute the demand on us with the resources we get. We are very innovative in that regard."
Dunaway, 52, recently hit a milestone in his 30-year Navy career. In September, he was promoted to vice admiral. He is now a three-star admiral, the equivalent of a lieutenant general in the Army.
At the time of his promotion, he also became commander of the Naval Air Systems Command in Patuxent River, Md.
He oversees the procurement process for naval aviation, including the Marine Corps.
"We design, develop, verify, validate and sustain" airplanes, helicopters, carriers, bombs, missiles and drones, he said.
Army Maj. Gen. Dana J.H. Pittard, commander of the 1st Armored Division and Fort Bliss, said Dunaway is another in a talented batch of military leaders to grow up in the border region.
"It is a testament to El Paso that so many of our senior military leaders grew up right here in the Borderland," said Pittard, an Eastwood High School graduate. "Rear Adm. Samuel Perez, Maj. Gen. Heidi Brown, Vice Adm. David Dunaway, Maj. Gen. Juan Ayala and I all came of age in this great community that has embraced our military."
For Dunaway, his latest promotion is the pinnacle of his career as a Navy aviator. He's a fighter pilot, test pilot and flight instructor by trade with more than 2,900 flight hours and 290 arrested carrier landings in his career.
"That's a lot of flight hours for a fighter pilot," Dunaway said.
Dunaway said he's still surprised that he's reached this level in his Navy career.
"I still feel like a lieutenant," he said. "It's an honor and a privilege. That's how I describe it. This is a responsibility that I just can't believe has been bestowed upon me. I'm very proud to have it, very happy to have it and very eager to execute it."
Dunaway certainly hasn't forgotten his El Paso roots.
"Everywhere I go, there is somebody from El Paso coming up and talking to me," he said. "We have a bunch of sailors from El Paso and we appreciate it."
He also said that he learned a solid work ethic growing up here.
"My dad put me to work when I was 6 years old," he said. "I worked my way through high school. I worked summers when I came home from the Naval Academy. Working is in my genealogy."
And regardless of what happens with the federal budget, the Navy is "in good hands," Dunaway said.
"We stand ready right now," he said. "We're on call."