Washington Honors U.S. Merchant Mariners

 

July 2014

 

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Click HERE for a photo gallery from the National Maritime Day Gathering

 

High-ranking military and civilian leaders gathered in Washington, D.C., May 22 to honor the hard work and bravery of America’s merchant mariners.

 

Celebrating National Maritime Day with a pair of events at Department of Transportation (DOT) headquarters, officials recounted the U.S. Merchant Marine’s storied history and called for strengthening its future. Without merchant mariners putting their lives on the line during every armed conflict in the nation’s history, the officials said in their speeches, the United States would never have achieved its position as the greatest nation in the world.

 

“As a person who spent 35 years in the service of this nation, it is readily apparent to me that without the commitment of our merchant marine … we would not be nearly as strong as we are today,” said keynote speaker Gen. Paul Selva, commander of the U.S. Transportation Command (USTRANSCOM). “To this community we owe a debt of gratitude.” Selva was joined on stage by a cadre of Washington leaders. The event featured addresses by Acting Maritime Administrator Chip Jaenichen, Military Sealift Commander Rear Adm. T.K. Shannon and DOT Secretary Anthony Foxx.

 

“Know that this department and our president support you in all your work – and that our support for you doesn’t just start and end with today,” Foxx said. “We’re working every day to strengthen the fleet, rebuild our ports and keep our merchant marine the finest in the world. You deserve nothing less.”

 

The SIU also had a strong turnout at the event. The audience included 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 Port Agent Pat Vandergrift. Dozens of apprentices from the union-affiliated Paul Hall Center for Maritime Training and Education (PHC) in Piney Point, Md. were also on hand, and two of them – Will Pappas and Unta Mattox – were featured in the proceedings.

 

Jaenichen said he was honored to work with such distinguished, patriotic Americans.

 

“We have long depended on the contributions of our American merchant mariners and the maritime industry. They have enabled our nation to build economic strength, to provide vital sealift capability and the capability to support our armed forces and advance humanitarian missions worldwide,” Jaenichen said, addressing the maritime officials and Seafarers in the audience. “We will continue to rely on our commercial ships, our maritime infrastructure. Our mariners will rise to the task without fail and without any fanfare.”

 

He then addressed the dozens of PHC apprentices in attendance.

 

“These trainees are a reminder that we cannot make the mistake of observing National Maritime Day only as a patriotic or historic duty,” Jaenichen said. “We need to be wise and vigilant when it comes to maintaining our merchant mariner fleet and shipyard industrial base so they can continue to serve our nation in years to come.”

 

Selva put some hard numbers to the present day contributions made by merchant mariners. He said the recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have provided a vivid picture of just how important the U.S. Merchant Marine is to the nation and the world.

 

“If you don’t believe me, here are some of the numbers: 126 million square feet of cargo moved into ports in the Persian Gulf and on the coast of Pakistan to support our deployed sailors and Marines,” Selva said. “Twenty-six billion gallons of fuel for the fight have been moved on our merchant fleet by our merchant marine.”

 

The results, Selva said, speak for themselves.

 

“Without that contribution, our success in both of those operations would not be possible,” he said. “You can debate the politics all you want, but without the capability of our merchant marine we would not have brought the taste of democracy to two countries who have known nothing but tyranny for decades.”

 

Foxx added the vital work done by the merchant marine has made an enormous impact in non-combat operations as well. Merchant mariners, he said, have aided in the recovery from natural disasters, brought food to starving people around the world and helped destroy some of the most dangerous weapons on the planet.

 

“When the earthquake hit in Haiti, our merchant mariners were there to help. In the days after Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy, they were there, too,” Foxx said. “And right now, as I speak, there are merchant mariners aboard the (SIU-crewed) Cape Ray, making it possible to destroy Syrian chemical weapons.”

 

Foxx added that merchant mariners are doing more than just punching a clock – they are making a difference.

 

“You are a symbol of hope,” he said. “A horn in the fog. A light on the horizon.”

 

In his remarks, Shannon praised the bravery and sacrifices of merchant mariners past, present and future. As he recognized the apprentices in attendance as a “new generation of young men and women (who) have taken up that patriotic legacy,” he also saluted those who had died within the last year. Shannon led the unveiling of a special parchment bearing the names of those lost since last year’s National Maritime Day.

 

“There are, and always have been, heroes whose only weapons are hard work, integrity and patriotism. Today we honor American merchant mariners for the sacrifices they made for our great nation,” Shannon said. “They have never shied away from duty because it puts them in harm’s way. They have served in every war since our nation began.”

 

Following Shannon’s speech, PHC unlicensed apprentice Unta Maddox was among those tending the memorial wreath, while fellow apprentice Will Pappas rang eight bells in honor of those who died.

 

In an address at a Propeller Club luncheon following the ceremony, Jaenichen echoed earlier sentiments, adding that events honoring the U.S. Merchant Marine and American maritime industry could not be more important.

 

“The best contribution we can give our U.S. Merchant Marine is widespread cultural recognition,” Jaenichen said. “We have to get the word out. Every mention of the maritime industry is important. We can never miss an opportunity to educate people on what the maritime industry is all about.”

 

Several organizations and maritime allies used National Maritime Day as an opportunity to do just that. In statements, press releases and editorials, those familiar with the maritime industry called on everyone to recognize just how important the U.S. Merchant Marine is to the nation’s economic and national security.

 

One of the highest-profile examples was an editorial written by Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.) for The Hill newspaper. In his editorial, Garamendi – who serves as the top Democrat on the House Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation – echoed Jaenichen’s call to get the word out about the industry.

 

“Our recognition today of our identity as a maritime nation has to be more than a celebration – it must be a rallying cry,” Garamendi wrote. “Let this National Maritime Day mark our commitment to revive the industry that has come to the aid of our armed forces in times of war, delivered food aid to hungry nations in times of peace and promoted our trade and commerce.”

 

One driver of that revitalization, Garamendi wrote, could be found in the growing natural gas industry. He added that many new ships could be used for exports – an activity that should happen exclusively on American-made vessels with American crews.

 

“If we are to succeed in the fight for good U.S. jobs, strategic opportunities, and the future of the U.S. Merchant Marine, it will take the active participation and energy of all stakeholders,” Garamendi wrote. “May a future National Maritime Day find us remembering this moment as the inflection point that sent U.S.-flag fleet numbers escalating once again.”

 

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