Military Leaders Cite Value of Mariners’ Reliability, Industry Partnership

April 2010

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The heads of the U.S. Transportation Command and the U.S. Military Sealift Command and a high-ranking U.S. Coast Guard officer all credited the U.S. Merchant Marine for its ongoing reliability, and also cited the invaluable partnership that exists between the military and the American-flag commercial maritime industry.

Making those statements Feb. 25-26 to the Maritime Trades Department executive board were U.S. Air Force General Duncan McNabb, commander of TRANSCOM; U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Mark Buzby, commander of MSC; and U.S. Coast Guard Rear Admiral Brian Salerno, the agency’s assistant commandant for marine safety, security and stewardship. They addressed the board in Orlando, Fla., during its annual winter meeting.

America’s relief mission in Haiti – titled Operation Unified Response – was a common thread in their comments.

McNabb, Buzby and Salerno each pointed to the U.S. Merchant Marine’s quick, efficient response as the latest example of a sterling record of dependability.

“I’m here to say thanks to all of you and the folks you represent,” McNabb stated. “What a difference you’ve made. I get to see that firsthand as we move additional forces to Afghanistan, as we bring equipment out of Iraq and most recently what went on with Haiti. It was amazing.”

As he explained TRANSCOM’s various components and its mission of overseeing the global movement of materiel, the general pointed out that when the military gets an assignment, very often “we turn to our commercial industry and say let’s go get ’em.” He said the commercial sector is “a big part” of America’s capability to keep supply lines open and support the troops.

Describing the hundreds of civiliancrewed, American-flag ships available for military use through the Voluntary Intermodal Sealift Agreement, McNabb said, “If we had to own that, it (the monetary cost) would be astronomical. But by having that in the commercial industry, where they’re doing the normal commercial business and helping us as we need it, it’s huge. What a difference it makes.”

He said the military taps into industry expertise to boost efficiency. In part that is how they recently teamed up to deliver 5 million meals to Haiti in 5

Within the command, as they plan missions, “It’s based on trust,” McNabb said. “Again, my thanks go to you all for being such great partners.”

Buzby said that without the merchant marine, MSC couldn’t fulfill its mission. “Your people make my ships go,” he stated. “I’m under no illusion – I don’t have a command unless I have you and your brothers and sisters running my ships for me. And your people have never failed to answer the call in peace and war. The latest example of that is Haiti.”

He said the response for Haiti was “amazing” in terms of speed and is “a real tribute to the mariners who answer the call, and not just the mariners” but also port personnel, many of whom also are represented by MTD-affiliated unions.

Buzby went to Haiti when many of the MSC ships were arriving. He boarded each of the U.S.-flag vessels and met many Seafarers. “Our impact was huge, delivered by your mariners,” he said.

The admiral drew loud applause when he explained why he thinks there will be increased job opportunities for mariners.

“The Navy is relying on MSC more and more to provide fleet logistics and other, non-combat services because we deliver,” he said. “We continue to be a growth industry and we deliver economically and still get the mission done. My belief is that as budgets continue to get tight, and the Navy is pressed more and more to continue to provide service with fewer dollars, that means more ships are coming our direction. I truly believe we are going to see more ships – ships that we never considered becoming MSC ships – coming our way.”

Along those lines, he said MSC is “taking advantage of your expertise in education right now by sending some of our mariners through your world-class training schools…. I see MSC turning increasingly to you and your schools to meet our training needs. I think it makes perfect sense.”

He credited mariners for doing an exceptionally good job maintaining the fleet and also said he is “very heartened” by the negotiations in Washington, D.C., between maritime unions and MSC concerning the Civilian Marine Personnel Instructions (CMPI) update. “For years, that’s been at an impasse and we’re actually making progress and moving forward on that. I have great optimism that we’re going to actually make that happen,” he said.

Buzby concluded, “Together, we have much to be proud of and much to look forward to.”

Salerno also credited mariners for their effort in Operation Unified Response, adding that their work was indispensable but in character. “The role of maritime was really preeminent,” he said. “You could not have done what was done in Haiti without maritime. The civilian mariner once again showed their true value to the nation, just as they did after Katrina, just as they did after 9/11…. When it comes to national resiliency, mariners are very much a part of that.”

He discussed several other topics including mariner credentialing and licensing. Salerno said the agency’s National Maritime Center “I think is really on track. It has overcome some of the glitches that it experienced when the 17 regional exam centers merged or their functions were merged and is now running fairly smoothly. There’s still a lot more to do but their goal is to improve the procedures so that no mariner is ever harmed or prevented from going back to work because the system was too slow. In fact the average processing time at the National Maritime Center is now 20 days. If you consider where we were a year ago where it was over 90 days that’s a considerable improvement.

“We do welcome visitors,” he continued. “I know many of the unions have come up there and seen the process and we’ve received a lot of feedback. We’ve taken that feedback and we’ve done some things that make it easier for the individual mariner.”

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USTRANSCOM Commander Gen. Duncan McNabb

USTRANSCOM Commander Gen. Duncan McNabb

Rear Admiral Mark Buzby

Rear Adm. Mark Buzby

Rear Admiral Brian Salerno

Rear Adm. Brian Salerno