Proud to Support Our Troops

 

August 2013

 

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SIU President Michael Sacco reflects on the U.S. Merchant Marine’s historic and ongoing role supporting our military

 

Whether you’re a new member or an old salt, active or retired, sailing or working as a union rep, at some point we’ve all had the experience of telling someone what we do for a living, and getting a reply along the lines of, “The U.S. Merchant Marine? Oh. What branch of the military is that again?”

 

We of course aren’t part of the armed services, but anyone who knows the SIU knows we’re proud to support our troops. That’s been the case since our founding in 1938. We were there in World War II, delivering the goods in every theater as more than 1,200 SIU members lost their lives. We were there again in Korea and Vietnam, arguably less-remembered fights that still saw our SIU brothers and sisters willingly put themselves in harm’s way.

 

We were there for the first Persian Gulf War, when members came out of retirement and joined with active Seafarers to help meet sealift needs that had been neglected by others. And we’ve been there most recently for Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom/New Dawn, as America fights a new kind of battle. We were first described as America’s “fourth arm of defense” in World War II, and it’s a label that still fits today. In fact, one of the positives to emerge from our recent (and ongoing) battles to protect America’s Food for Peace program was hearing top officers at the U.S. Transportation Command say they simply couldn’t get the job done without us. The new commander of the U.S. Military Sealift Command said the same thing, and the sentiment was echoed by Democratic and Republican members of Congress, both at a recent hearing and in communications related to the Food for Peace fight, as they examined our role in transporting government cargoes.

 

I’m grateful and not surprised to know that our military leaders have our backs, just like we’ll always have theirs. They understand and appreciate our work as much or more than anyone. They know the value we bring – economically, for sure, but far more importantly in the reliable delivery of materiel for our uniformed men and women around the world. They know that a U.S.-flag ship with a U.S.-citizen crew will do whatever it takes to deliver cargo to our troops, wherever and whenever needed. Like it says in concluding the line from “Heave Ho!”, the World War II-era song of the U.S. Maritime Service, “Damn the submarine! We’re the men of the Merchant Marine!” (The modern lyric would be edited to reflect our many union sisters who go to sea, but you get the point.)

 

Our economic value is important, too, especially when our nation has had such a rough stretch these last five years. Food for Peace helps sustain tens of thousands of good jobs – more than 100,000 if you include all the ones related to the program. The Jones Act pumps billions of dollars into our economy while sustaining around 500,000 American jobs. The U.S. Maritime Security Program helps keep our Defense capabilities at acceptable levels, and for a fraction of what it would cost the government to replicate from scratch. (The commonly quoted estimate from our military is that it would take billions – yes, billions – of dollars to do so.) All three of those programs, the pillars of the U.S.-flag deep sea industry, maintain a reliable pool of American mariners who are ready, willing and able to “turn to” for our military.

 

To me, the bottom line is that our industry is good for the country. Our programs make sense. Our performance is consistently reliable. And whether it’s on a containership, a tanker, an ATB, a RO/ RO or a mobile landing platform, whether it’s along the coast or halfway around the world, I know for a fact that we will never, ever let anything stand in our way when it’s time to deliver the goods for our men and women in uniform.

 

You can’t put a price on that kind of loyalty, service and dedication. That’s why we need a strong U.S. Merchant Marine.

 

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