Military Commanders Emphasize Value, Reliability of U.S. Merchant Mariners

April 2011

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Two high-ranking United States military officers and the head of an organization dedicated to promoting American sea services told the AFL-CIO Maritime Trades Department (MTD) executive board that the U.S. Merchant Marine remains a trusted, invaluable partner with the nation’s armed forces.


Rear Adm. Mark Buzby, commander of the U.S. Military Sealift Command (MSC), and Maj. Gen. James Hodge, commander of the U.S. Army Combined Arms Support Command, addressed the MTD on Feb. 25, while Dale Lumme, national executive director of the Navy League of the United States, spoke one day earlier. Each of the speakers credited America’s civilian mariners – and their unions – for their reliability, professionalism and dedication.


Buzby heads up an agency that is the country’s largest employer of civilian seafarers. He stated, “The professional mariners who are your union brothers and sisters are also the people that I rely on to operate the MSC fleet every day. Sixty percent of our ships are operated by commercial mariners, and I can’t execute that mission without you or without them. National security and national defense depend on it. You are very willing partners in this great mission we have facing us.”


Recapping some of the significant activities since he addressed the board a year ago, Buzby cited improvements in work rules covering CIVMARS (including members of the SIU Government Services Division), the use of interest-based bargaining, and the habitability agreement reached with the SIU. He said that after a decade of limited advancement, “I’m very, very encouraged by our progress, and when I go out and talk to our mariners, they are very pleased to see us moving forward.”


The commander also said communication between MSC and maritime labor remains open and effective. He noted a recent meeting with maritime union presidents and other officials and said additional gatherings are scheduled, including one set for April.


Buzby said that in addition to MSC bringing in new civilian-crewed tonnage such as the T-AKE ships, the double-hulled replacements for the Kaiser-class vessels and a series of high-speed vessels, he anticipates more work being transferred from the Navy to the commercial and CIVMAR fleets. He referred to ships and missions which during the past 40 to 50 years have been moved from the Navy to MSC. Since an early 1970s underway replenishment experiment, he said, “The trust and confidence that’s been established by our crews with the Navy and with DOD has been phenomenal, to the point that we now have 20 different missions that used to be carried out by Navy bluejackets that we now carry out … certainly less expensively but with no loss of effectiveness. There continues to be more and more missions that I get asked to look at to see if we can take on. The Navy gets it and the reason we’re even being asked is because of the trust that’s been established and is maintained every single day by our mariners out there doing the job as beautifully as they do it.”


He concluded by explaining that MSC is “a critical element of any operation worldwide where persistent force must be applied and sustained, afloat or ashore. We are MSC and we deliver thanks to the American merchant seaman who makes it happen any time, any ocean, in peace and in war.”


Hodge is in charge of the Army’s transportation, logistics and sustainment efforts – missions that are supported by the merchant marine.


He told the board, “I think that our partnerships between the Department of Defense and industry are absolutely critical to the military to be able to do its job. Given my experience with the Military Surface
Deployment and Distribution Command (SDDC, which he commanded in his previous assignment), I firmly believe there are none better than the maritime industry with DOD and the U.S. Transportation Command (TRANSCOM). The relationship that we have is truly extraordinary and I see no reason why it won’t continue well into the future.”


Hodge pointed out that the Army component of TRANSCOM is “responsible for providing strategic sealift, strategic surface lift for our armed forces. In the United States you’re normally talking about truck or rail or barge capabilities, but when you have to go overseas you’re talking about vessels. And what we do at SDDC is garner all the Army requirements to move…. We see those requirements on the horizon and then we go about trying to figure out how we’re going to get them over there. Normally we go to the commercial industry first.


“In the last 18 months of my command, there was not a single time that our commercial maritime industry was not able to meet our movement requirements,” he continued. “In other words, for at least 18 months in a row, I did not have to go to Admiral Buzby to activate a Military Sealift Command vessel. I could do it through commercial industry. I think that’s absolutely incredible.”


Illustrating the importance of the sealift efforts sustained in part by U.S. mariners, he referred to a documentary put together by two reporters who were embedded for two years with a U.S. platoon in Afghanistan. The platoon was located in what has been labeled as the deadliest place on Earth. Hodge said the film was an “open and honest look at what our soldiers are doing and how they’re living…. Their mission was to clear the valley of insurgents and to gain the trust of the local populace.
When you watch something like that, you think about what they’re doing day in and day out, it just makes you realize that there’s really not anything too good for those soldiers. And when I look across the crowd here, I recognize the fact that given your positions, every single one of you were involved in supplying and sustaining that group, that platoon while they did their job for 18 months. You played a huge role in their survival and the job that they did, and I can’t thank you enough.”


Lumme reminded the board that the Navy League is a non-profit civilian organization “whose mission is to educate the American people and their leaders about the enduring importance of sea power to a maritime nation, and to support the men and women of the U.S. sea services. Since the Navy League’s founding, in 1902, by President Teddy Roosevelt, the organization has strongly promoted America’s maritime interests through our strong advocacy of all of the maritime industry – to include the U.S.-flag Merchant Marine, the U.S. Coast Guard, the U.S. Marine Corps, and the US Navy.”


Lumme described a strong commercial American-flag fleet as “more critical than ever” to the nation’s security. He pointed out that 95 percent of the equipment and supplies required to deploy U.S. forces is delivered by ships manned by U.S. citizen mariners. He also reminded the audience that maritime transportation “contributes more than $11 billion per year directly to the U.S. economy, and hundreds of billions indirectly.”


At the heart of that national and economic security are American mariners, Lumme said.


“Skilled mariners are more critical than ever to ensuring our ability to sustain U.S. national and global security interests,” he stated. “Union members including shipyard workers, teamsters, longshoremen and other skilled workers have all been active in building and maintaining maritime shipping in support of humanitarian relief operations and sustainment of overseas combat operations.”


He also reiterated his organization’s support for vital laws and programs including the Jones Act, the Maritime Security Program and its related Voluntary Intermodal Sealift Agreement, which, he explained, “provides an expanded pool of trained and experienced mariners to crew U.S. government-owned sealift assets, and helps to sustain the U.S. shipbuilding industrial base that is vital to the U.S. Navy. Without these commercial capabilities, the U.S. government will be required to provide significantly more funds to build a replacement fleet and infrastructure while losing the pool of highly qualified mariners needed to sail these vessels.”


Moreover, Lumme said the Navy League “supports efforts by the U.S. Coast Guard to expedite the licensing and documentation of merchant mariners while striking a balance between security and commercial maritime interests.”

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Rear Admiral Mark Buzby

Rear Admiral Mark Buzby, Commander, Military Sealift Command.


Major General James Hodge

Major General James Hodge, Commander, U.S. Army Combined Arms Support Command.


Dale Lumme

Dale Lumme, National Executive Director, Navy League.