U.S. Military Depends on Strong Merchant Marine


The commander of MSC and a former deputy commander of TRANSCOM told SIUNA convention delegates that America needs a strong U.S. Fleet


October 2012


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Click HERE to view photos from the 2012 SIUNA convention.

The commander of the U.S. Military Sealift Command (MSC) and a retired deputy commander of the U.S. Transportation Command reminded delegates at the Seafarers International Union of North America convention that America’s military depends on a strong, reliable U.S. Merchant Marine.


Rear Adm. Mark Buzby, MSC commander, addressed the gathering Sept. 11 in Piney Point, Md., while Vice Adm. Al Herberger, USN (Ret) spoke the next day. In addition to his tenure at the Transportation Command, Herberger also served as U.S. maritime administrator during the Clinton administration.


Buzby emphasized the “spirit of cooperation and partnership built on trust” that exists between his agency and American maritime labor.


“We could not do it without you,” Buzby stated. “We absolutely must have the strong minds and strong backs of your membership to help us execute our mission: our vital part of national security and national defense.”


A current example of cooperation between unions and the agency, Buzby noted, is a revised agreement covering thousands of civil service mariners. That agreement, known as the CMPI 610, “is the first major revision that we have made to [it] in 25 years, and it addresses some of the critical issues faced by our mariners,” he stated. “The real story, though, is the cooperation, respect and partnership between MSC and the unions – the Seafarers chief among them – that showed again through this negotiation process. It was long and hard and went on for at least two and a half years if not three. The end result is an agreement that everyone involved can use and understand and, most importantly, can be fairly compensated by.”


Buzby specifically praised SIU Assistant Vice President Government Services Chet Wheeler, Representative Kate Hunt and Counsel Deborah Kleinberg for being “absolutely key to the quality agreement that was struck. Seafarers are very well-served by these professionals.” (They weren’t at the convention because they were visiting ships, along with MSC representatives, to explain the updated agreement.)


The commander also said he’d recently approved the agency’s strategic plan for the next five years – and the convention delegates were the first people outside of MSC to hear about it. Buzby said the planidentifies four “high-level goals,” including providing task-ready ships; developing, enhancing and enabling the agency’s work force; focusing on the customer so our armed forces benefit; and managing organizational change and growth, in part because “I have every expectation that MSC will have more missions and more responsibility in the coming years, but with a smaller budget.


“Our combined efforts work toward maintaining a strong U.S. maritime industry that’s critical to our continued leadership in a world that depends on the seas and the maritime trade,” he continued. “None of it will happen without U.S. Mariners manning the lines.”


Herberger remains an effective, highly regarded industry spokesman. A former union merchant mariner and Navy commander, he cited the American military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan as the latest examples of U.S. Seafarers standing up as the nation’s fourth arm of defense.


“During the past 10 years the U.S. military relied on commercial U.S.-flag shipping and worldwide intermodal logistics systems to support U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq and Afghanistan,” he stated. “Since 2002, almost 52 million measurement tons of cargo have been delivered to the U.S. coalition forces by sealift.”


Quoting retired TRANSCOM Commander Gen. Duncan McNabb, he further pointed out that sealift “has been responsible for delivering over 90 percent of all the cargo to Afghanistan and Iraq, because of the superb volunteer participation of commercial U.S.-flag vessels and mariners.”


Herberger said that although it may seem repetitive to express need for support of America’s key maritime programs – the Jones Act, cargo preference laws, and the Maritime Security Program – the sentiments are worth repeating.


“It remains so important that members of Congress, and those in the executive branch, the media, the American public, understand the important role played by commercial vessels and the civilian, union mariners in ensuring sealift support for U.S. military forces worldwide. The rough seas have to be calmed,” he said, adding that the industry constantly is attacked by foreign-flag interests.


He continued, “Our overall objective that we need to continue to work together on is to increase public awareness of the value of the U.S. Merchant Marine and the maritime industry. We need to promote the industry in all facets, as it exists now and should be in the future. The industry has involved, and so must all advocacy…. We must get the Maritime Administration back in the game of promoting the industry. That’s a mouthful for me, being a former maritime administrator, because I know what should be done and what has been done in the past, and why we need it badly again.”


Herberger concluded by mentioning the excellent work of the Navy League of the United States, which promotes the U.S. Merchant Marine in addition to the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard.



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