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Lawmaker calls for replacement at top of Navy, Mabus fires back

With guided missile destroyer USS Stockdale in the background, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus talks about how the Navy is creating the "great green fleet," with the Stockdale becoming the first Navy ship to regularly run on a biofuel blend of traditional fuels and blend of cattle-fat that was turned into biodiesel. The Stockdale, part of the USS John C. Stennis Carrier Strike Group left North Island Naval Air Station on a seven-month deployment after the speech on Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2016.

Howard Lipin/San Diego Union-Tribune/TNS

By Jeanette Steele | The San Diego Union-Tribune (Tribune News Service) | Published: January 20, 2016

CORONADO, Calif. (Tribune News Service) — In what’s a growing dispute between the longest-serving Navy secretary since World War I and a San Diego County congressman, tensions rose this week.

On Tuesday, U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., dispatched a letter to the Pentagon suggesting that Navy Secretary Ray Mabus should be replaced because of an apparently abrupt order he issued to the Marine Corps to merge men’s and women’s training.

The letter follows friction between Mabus and Marine Corps leaders over the issue of opening ground combat jobs to women. In recommending the integration last year, Mabus defied a Marine Corps study that said women got injured more often and dragged down the performance of combat teams.

“Unfortunately, the only way this relationship can be repaired, I believe, is through the leadership of a new Navy secretary—specifically one who does not regularly make a point to undercut the Marine Corps, distract its mission and insult its leaders,” Hunter wrote.

That letter was a follow-up to one from Hunter the previous week. On January 11, Hunter wrote to Defense Secretary Ashton Carter that Mabus “continues to make a compelling case for the Marine Corps to be an autonomous military department with its own civilian leadership.”

Mabus, who was in Coronado on Wednesday, shot back during a question-and-answer period with reporters.

“Look, I’ve got that letter framed. That’s one of the biggest compliments I’ve ever gotten,” Mabus said, guffawing.

Mabus stood his ground on several controversial stances he has taken during his seven-year tenure as the civilian leader of the Navy and Marine Corps.

One is the integration of women into Marine infantry, Navy SEALs and other direct-combat jobs by April.

“If you can meet the standards, why should it matter if you are male or female? Why should it matter if you are straight or gay?” Mabus told reporters.

The other issue was the secretary’s push toward deploying ships and planes powered by alternative fuels, including biofuels made from mustard seed, algae or animal fat.

Mabus was in Coronado on Wednesday to preside over the deployment of an aircraft carrier group that included some ships burning a 90-10 blend of petroleum and animal fat fuels.

The secretary’s biofuels initiative became controversial when it became known that a 2011 buy of biofuel cost $15 a gallon for a 50-50 blend—four times the price of regular Navy ship fuel.

“Every single time there were naysayers,” Mabus said during a speech at the launch of his “great green fleet” Wednesday.

He was describing the Navy’s long history of embracing new power sources, including oil and later nuclear energy for ships.

“They were wrong again this time.”

The tenure of Mabus, a former Democratic governor of Mississippi, has included major social changes for the U.S. military—all of which he supported.

They included the end of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” ban on openly gay service members.

Hunter, a Republican who served in Iraq and Afghanistan as a Marine Corps officer, has been a frequent critic.

After Mabus’ “I’ve got that letter framed” quip on Wednesday, Hunter’s chief of staff, Joe Kasper, returned fire, saying, “This is about the Marine Corps and not politics. … What Mabus is trying to do is effectively diminish the fighting capability of Marines.”

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©2016 The San Diego Union-Tribune

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