Commanding Officer of USTRANSCOM Strongly Supports U.S. Merchant Marine


March 2016


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The commander of the U.S. Transportation Command (USTRANSCOM) left no doubt that he believes America must maintain a strong U.S. Merchant Marine.


Gen. Darren W. McDew wrote an op-ed earlier this year that first was published in The Virginian-Pilot newspaper and shortly thereafter was picked up by various websites. McDew is in charge of the agency that oversees global transportation for the Defense Department.


Headlined “Losing Our Sea Legs,” the general’s article begins with an admiring recap of the U.S. airlift and sealift efforts during the Persian Gulf War (the latter an undertaking greatly aided by SIU members). McDew said the mobilization “represented the ultimate show of national resolve in the face of aggression.”


He continued, “We all remember the news clips showing helicopters rolling off massive airplanes, but as a career Air Force offcer, I must tell you the reality is almost 95 percent of all cargo went by ship. The mere five percent moved by air required near full mobilization of commercial industry and maxed out our military airlift fleets. Indeed, sealift transported more than 2.1 million tons of cargo, which included everything from 2,000 main battle tanks to millions of Meals Ready to Eat.”


While acknowledging that many people deserve recognition for U.S. success in that war, McDew wrote that the favorable outcome “was due in large part to the 10,000 U.S. mariners who sped 220 shiploads of decisive U.S. combat power throughout the buildup known as Operation Desert Shield. Without those mariners and vessels, our ability to project decisive force and demonstrate our national resolve would have been a mere fraction of what was required to ensure the swift victory the world witnessed. Simply put, moving an army of decisive size and power can only be accomplished by sea.”


But the general’s op-ed wasn’t merely a history lesson. In fact, one of his main points was that the U.S. may not currently be able to duplicate its sealift performance from the Persian Gulf War – a development he described as shocking and unacceptable.


“As a country, we have collectively worked to maintain a strong maritime industry that supports our needs,” McDew observed. “From enacting the Cargo Preference Acts of 1904 and 1954 to the Jones Act of 1920, and from a 1989 National Security Directive to the Maritime Security Act of 1996, we have sought to delay the day when U.S. national security interests could no longer be supported by a U.S. mariner base springing from our commercial sealift industry.


“In the 1950s, there were more than 1,000 U.S. ships engaged in international trade,” he continued. “Each of these vessels employed and trained a pool of U.S. mariners we could rely on in a time of war to sail our forces to the fight. Today, there are only 78.”


Predictably, he said, there has been a corresponding decline in the number of American civilian mariners. This puts the nation at risk, the general stated, because “the mariners who move international trade and those who transport wartime cargo come from the same dwindling pool of U.S. mariners. If that U.S. mariner base gets too small, we will have to rely on other countries to deploy our combat power.”


After describing some of the current unrest around the globe, McDew wrote, “As a military professional and senior leader, I think about and plan for what the future may hold, and I would tell you we must prepare for the real possibility we will not enjoy the uncontested seas and broad international support experienced in 1991. If either of those possibilities becomes reality, and if we remain committed to responding to security incidents around the globe, the only way of guaranteeing we decisively meet our national objectives is with U.S. ships operated by U.S. mariners.”


The full article is widely available online.


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