Military Leaders, DOT Secretary Praise U.S. Mariners (5/23)


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Saluting the bravery and reliability of U.S. Merchant Mariners throughout American history, the respective heads of the U.S. Transportation Command, Military Sealift Command and Department of Transportation praised their work during the traditional National Maritime Day ceremonies May 22 in Washington, D.C.


SIU headquarters officials were among the hundreds of guests at the morning ceremony hosted by DOT and at the afternoon session at the Washington Navy Yard. Apprentices from the SIU-affiliated Paul Hall Center for Maritime Training and Education also were on hand – and two of them were featured in the ceremonies.


Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood delivered the keynote speech at the first gathering, while Gen. William Fraser, commander, U.S. Transportation Command, was the featured speaker both at MSC’s ceremony and at a midday luncheon hosted by the Propeller Club. (Fraser also spoke at the Transportation Department event.) Other speakers throughout the day included Rear Adm. Mark Buzby, commander, MSC; and Rear Adm. William Eisenhardt, president, California Maritime Academy.


Additionally, Horizon Lines Vice President Bill Hamlin accepted awards from the Maritime Administration on behalf of mariners from the Seafarers-crewed Horizon Reliance, honored for a rescue that took place earlier this year.


The SIU contingent included President Michael Sacco, Executive Vice President Augie Tellez, Vice President Contracts George Tricker, Piney Point Port Agent Pat Vandegrift and Legislative Director Brian Schoeneman. Secretary-Treasurer David Heindel represented the union at a separate event hosted by the United Seamen’s Service in Washington (a forum where the main topic was mariner access to shore leave). Apprentices Joseph Knapp and Randolph Harrell played formal roles in both the DOT and MSC ceremonies.


Fraser, LaHood and Buzby each paid tribute to the U.S. Merchant Marine’s service in every conflict throughout our nation’s history and also emphasized the critical need to maintain a strong American-flag fleet.


“You are a big part of America’s capabilities to keep our supply lines open and to support our troops, and I can’t thank you enough for that,” Fraser stated. “You’re the fourth arm of defense. It’s your bravery and your valor that makes the waterways safer and more efficient every single day. And our ability to defend our nation and our interests around the globe relies heavily on your creativity and your ingenuity…. You have continually delivered for the war fighter.”


Fraser repeatedly pointed out the cost-effectiveness of the military’s reliance on the commercial maritime sector. He also said that the Defense Department “could not do our job without the superb relationships that we have with our commercial industry and our U.S. mariners. You are absolutely essential to the greatest military in our history.”


Speaking to representatives from every component of the industry, he stated, “I want to thank you personally for everything that you do – for your faithful and tireless service to deliver America’s arsenal and humanitarian aid every nautical mile around the world. Throughout our history you’ve always been there, and you continue to be there. You’re the backbone of America’s ability to project power wherever and whenever it is called upon.”


LaHood said that the U.S. has always been a maritime nation, and today, “America’s merchant mariners are essential to both our nation’s strength and our economy…. When called upon to support our nation’s military operations, mariners and their vessels do no shy away from danger.”


He said President Obama sees the maritime industry as “a vital building block for an America built to last.” LaHood added that the nation needs to modernize its transportation infrastructure, and he also reiterated the administration’s support for (among other programs) the Title XI shipbuilding loan guarantee initiative.


He concluded, “Our future – the maritime industry’s future – is brighter than ever.”

Buzby pointed out that his agency and the U.S. Merchant Marine “have been partners since this command’s beginning at the end of World War II…. Merchant mariners have been part of America’s prosperity and security” from the nation’s first days.


He continued, “Right now, today, the American Merchant Marine is delivering the supplies and gear that deployed U.S. ground troops need to do their mission.”


Buzby listed the many different types of vessels upon which civilian mariners sail, and then added, “More than 80 percent of the U.S. war fighters’ needs are carried by sea. It is U.S. Merchant Mariners who crew the ships and deliver the goods anywhere and everywhere in the world. We at MSC are proud of our civilian mariners, so it is fitting that today is set aside to acknowledge the great debt of gratitude we owe to the dedicated men and women of the U.S. Merchant Marine.”


In the day’s final presentation, Fraser good-naturedly wondered aloud how his staff scheduled him to deliver three speeches in one day, but he was quite serious in recalling the U.S. Merchant Marine’s heroic performance in World War II. He said the nation’s mariners suffered a casualty rate greater than that of any of the armed forces, but they never hesitated to keep returning to sea.


Fraser noted that people have different reasons for joining the merchant marine, but no matter their individual motivations, “they all risked their lives so that all of us here today might also have the opportunity of the American dream.”


He concluded by stating the merchant marine’s peace-time role is very important in strengthening our economy, and in times of war, “the merchant marine is the lifeline of our troops overseas. They are advancing the cause of freedom. In short, you all are the backbone of America’s ability to present power, wherever and whenever it’s needed. Today’s merchant mariners are truly a tribute to the generations of men and women who’ve served our nation in every single conflict in America’s history. It’s an understatement when we say that we count on you. We absolutely depend on you.”




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