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SIU officials and apprentices from the union-affiliated Paul Hall Center for Maritime Training and Education made a strong turnout at the National Maritime Day ceremony jointly hosted by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Maritime Administration (MARAD) and the U.S. Navy’s Military Sealift Command (MSC).
The event took place May 22 at Transportation Department headquarters in Washington, D.C.
Representing the union were SIU President Michael Sacco, Executive Vice President Augie Tellez, Secretary-Treasurer David Heindel, Vice President Contracts George Tricker, Legislative Director Brian Schoeneman and Piney Point (Md.) Port Agent Pat Vandegrift. Dozens of apprentices from the Paul Hall Center also were on hand, and two of them – Will Pappas and Unta Mattox – were featured in the proceedings.
General Paul Selva, commander of the U.S. Transportation Command (USTRANSCOM), delivered the keynote address. The other speakers included U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, MSC Commander Rear Adm. T.K. Shannon, and Acting Maritime Administrator Chip Jaenichen (who also delivered remarks at a Propeller Club luncheon immediately following the ceremony).
Selva recalled the U.S. Merchant Marine’s centuries-old history of serving the country. He pointed out that such service continues today, including during Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“Our operations in Iraq and Afghanistan would not be possible without the support of our merchant marine,” Selva stated. “They delivered 126 million square feet of cargo into Persian Gulf ports and Pakistan to support our [armed forces] and 26 billion gallons of fuel.”
He added that people can “debate the politics all you want,” but there’s no questioning that the U.S. Merchant Marine helped introduce democracy during those operations.
Foxx, like the other speakers, acknowledged the Piney Point apprentices and said our nation must maintain a strong merchant marine fleet. He saluted the bravery of World War II-era mariners in particular, and added, “Today’s generation of mariners carries on that legacy of heroism.”
Foxx mentioned the industry’s immediate response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 (when SIU-crewed ferries moved 163,000 citizens away from lower Manhattan) and declared, “This department and our president support you.”
Shannon said American mariners have never shied away from dangerous missions, and reiterated his agency’s support for – and reliance on – the U.S. Merchant Marine. He also was quick to salute the apprentices.
Jaenichen called mariners “the unsung heroes of the United States.”
He said it’s up to people in the industry to spread the word about its importance, and pointed to the development of a national maritime strategy as a key step in that process.