High-level leaders from the military and government recently made it clear that America not only appreciates its maritime history, but also plans to invest in its future.
Those sentiments were reflected in remarks at this year’s National Maritime Day ceremony at U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) headquarters in Washington, D.C. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao gave the keynote address during the May 22 gathering. She was followed by Gen. Darren McDew, commander of the U.S. Transportation Command (USTRANSCOM); Lisa Wieland, director of the Massachusetts Port Authority; and U.S. Coast Guard Vice Adm. Charles Ray. Maritime Administration (MARAD) Executive Director Joel Szabat served as master of ceremonies.
SIU President Michael Sacco introduced Chao and was part of a typically strong SIU contingent that also included Executive Vice President Augie Tellez, Vice President Contracts George Tricker, Legislative Director Brian Schoeneman, Port Agent Pat Vandegrift and apprentices from the union-affiliated Paul Hall Center for Maritime Training and Education (PHC). Apprentice Raphael Henson served as a wreath tender while classmate John Hodges rang the traditional eight bells.
Sacco said of Chao, “We’ve got the right leader at the helm of DOT. Secretary Chao knows our industry extremely well. Throughout her previous work at MARAD and the Federal Maritime Commission and, of course, as the Secretary of Labor under President George W. Bush, Secretary Chao has always been proactive, fair, approachable and energetic.
“One of the main things I personally appreciate is the time she has spent visiting American-flag vessels and, more importantly, our American crews,” he continued. “I’ve seen her up close in those situations and it’s very obvious she cares about the American worker. She wants our people to succeed, and I know she is committed to helping ensure that as new technologies emerge, our mariners and shipyard workers and longshoremen keep up with the times so we remain the world’s best. And I also know from our conversations that she is committed to the growth of the American-flag fleet.”
Chao thanked the SIU president “for your strong and steady leadership on behalf of the men and women of the SIU, and your great concern for the state of the U.S. Merchant Marine. I also want to thank you for your friendship, and your guidance and counsel over the years, which I have treasured.”
The secretary described the ceremony as “recognizing the dedicated seafaring men and women of the U.S. Merchant Marine who have served our country since its founding. This includes the tens of thousands of U.S. citizen mariners currently employed in ocean-going, inland river, Great Lakes and maritime-related shore-side jobs.
“Throughout our history, the American Merchant Marine has contributed significantly to our country’s economic strength and national security,” she continued. “Merchant mariners have played a vital role by ensuring the safe and efficient waterborne delivery of commercial cargos here at home and across the globe. And they are a key factor in our country’s military readiness. They transport supplies and equipment during times of conflict to our military forces abroad. The maritime industry has been a steady and important influence nationally for more than 240 years.”
Chao also pointed out that, as reflected on the U.S. Merchant Marine flag, mariners answer the call both in peace and in war.
“We will never, never forget that America’s merchant mariners are always among the first to be called to action to help those in need, both at home and abroad,” Chao stated. “Whether it’s rushing aid to hurricane victims on the Gulf or East Coast of the United States, or shipping food, water and medicine to victims of the earthquake in Haiti, U.S.-flag vessels bring hope and critical supplies to the victims of natural disasters. In war time, the U.S. Merchant Marine has served heroically from the Revolutionary War to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and every conflict in between. Never has this been more evident and costly than during the Second World War.”
She reiterated the administration’s support for the industry and added, “The Department of Defense still relies on U.S.-flag ships, crewed by American civilian mariners, to move our war fighters’ equipment and supplies whenever and wherever they need to go. The U.S. Merchant Marine plays a key role in defending our country and in making the world a better place.”
McDew noted that he spent most of his career focusing on air power, but, since taking the helm at USTRANSCOM, “The last 21 months have made me realize how vital our nation’s merchant mariners are to projecting a decisive combat force anywhere on the planet.”
He mentioned that he recently spoke at the christening of the USNS City of Bismarck, a Navy expeditionary fast transport, in Mobile, Alabama. (That vessel will be crewed by members of the SIU Government Services Division.)
He said the ship “embodies everything that makes America’s combat readiness the best in the world. It also reminded me of something that has been a cornerstone of American life since our founding, and it is especially prevalent in our maritime force. It is simply embodied in one word: resolve.”
The general cited the earliest days of World War II, when U-boats were sinking allied ships faster than they could be built. “Our allies called for help, and the American maritime industry answered, producing and manning Liberty ships at an unbelievable rate,” he said. “In a matter of years, the emergency shipbuilding program put more than 6,000 ships in the water. That is resolve.”
Today, he declared, “Logistics readiness is war-time readiness. In the future, our merchant mariners may face some of the most contested sea lanes the world has seen, and their resolve – our resolve – may determine our fate as a world superpower, and may preserve democracy as the world knows it.”
McDew also said the U.S. maritime industry is “the decisive force, the decisive advantage” for the nation. “There are many who believe our mariners just deliver things. You and I know they do much more than that,” he said. “Really, you deliver one thing: options. Options for our president and for America. Options for our decision makers and our allies. Options that no other nation can match.
“I thank you for what you do,” he concluded. “I thank you for who you are, and I thank you for what you represent to this nation. It is my honor to be part of a team that makes America’s resolve a reality.”
Wieland described the solid partnerships her port enjoys with maritime labor. She said ports contribute to America’s growth “and to our identity.”
Ray stated, “America is a maritime nation and we always will be.”
He expressed appreciation for having a group of World War II mariners in attendance along with the PHC apprentices. Like McDew, he said America’s maritime strength is “a leading source of our influence in the world.”
He also pointed out, “While automation is approaching, there is still a place for merchant mariners. They are the ones who will decide whether we succeed or not.”
The ceremony also featured recognition for the aforementioned World War II mariners as well as a newly produced MARAD video promoting American-flag shipping and U.S. crews.