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Photo: Jonathan Baer

As the United States continues its campaign against the Islamic State group, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus told a Penn audience on Thursday that the Navy's presence throughout the world gives flexibility and strength in protecting American interests. 

In a crowded room in Houston Hall, over 100 people gathered to hear Mabus, a key decision-maker in the ongoing conflict, outline the Navy's role in fighting the Islamic State group.

“What we do for the president, or for the national leadership, is we give options,” Mabus said. “The strikes against ISIS came off a carrier in the Arabian Gulf. That carrier was already there — we didn’t have to send it. So we can do everything from high-end combat to special warfare, irregular warfare, delivering SEALs and special forces, to humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.”

With a coalition of nearly 40 countries, the United States has participated in over 150 airstrikes against the Islamic State group.

“If you look at our defense strategy, which the president announced in January of 2012, it has three elements: concentrate in the western Pacific and Indian Oceans, concentrate on the Arabian Gulf and concentrate on building partnerships around the world,” said Mabus, who also served as United States ambassador to Saudi Arabia and governor of Mississippi prior to becoming the 75th Secretary of the Navy.

The growing conflict with ISIS seemed to garner the most attention and curiosity from the crowd.

“I hope he touches on military aspects of the operations going on against ISIS,” College sophomore Sam Natbony said prior to the talk. “I’m interested to hear general frameworks of military strategy that he discusses, and how that relates to decisions that the Obama administration makes.”

While Mabus outlined aspects of America’s military strategy, he also addressed the organizational challenges and goals of the Navy going into the future.

He emphasized the importance of eradicating sexual assault in the military, an issue that has recently attracted congressional scrutiny.

"If we don't end sexual assault in the Navy and Marine Corps, we will tear the fabric of those two services," Mabus added. "It is a crime against a shipment."

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