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In San Diego, Navy secretary Mabus touts his changes as making world safer

By CARL PRINE | The San Diego Union-Tribune | Published: October 19, 2016

SAN DIEGO (Tribune News Service) — In what’s likely his last visit to San Diego County as the nation’s 75th Navy secretary, Raymond “Ray” Mabus declared Wednesday morning that America and the world are safer because of sweeping changes he launched since 2009 for shipbuilding, energy use and an “antiquated personnel system.”

“The force that defends America can’t be divorced from the America it defends,” said Mabus, arguing that the diversification of Navy and Marine Corps units by gender and sexual orientation has not lowered standards on ships at sea or battalions in battle in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Mabus, who is not expected to join the next presidential administration, delivered what he termed a “State of the Navy” address before a special breakfast hosted by the San Diego Military Advisory Council, a group of defense contractors, agencies and nonprofit groups that advocate for increased military spending in Southern California.

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In the packed audience at the Admiral Kidd Club on the Point Loma Naval Base were notables such as Reps. Scott Peters and Susan Davis, both Democrats from San Diego, and a roster of the region’s top military brass and industry officials. The gathering marked the start of a busy day for Mabus.

He is slated to address workers at the General Dynamics-NASSCO shipyard, sailors aboard the amphibious assault ship America, Marines at Camp Pendleton and then reserve officer commissioning classes at UCLA and the University of Southern California.

Mabus is the longest-serving Navy boss since World War I. He oversees 190,000 uniformed and civilian personnel, 3.5 million acres of land and a $170 billion annual budge. Since taking the position seven years ago, has has orchestrated vast changes in the way the service engages in combat operations overseas and recruits, trains and retains uniformed personnel.

He has opened up slots once closed to women on submarines, riverine patrol boats, Navy SEAL commando teams and even Marine infantry rifle companies. He also has hiked female enrollment at the U.S. Naval Academy, tripled paid maternity leave to 18 weeks, unveiled unisex uniforms and tried to further crack down on alcohol use and sexual abuse in the ranks.

In his crusade to go green and reduce the American military’s dependency on fossil fuels, he has ushered in biofuel programs across the fleets.

Mabus on Wednesday discounted critics who have questioned the high expense of alternative fuels bought by the Navy, saying that global climate change and diversifying the fleets’ energy suppliers trumped their concerns.

The Navy always has pioneered innovative energy use, going from sail to coal to nuclear powered vessels, each time confounding opponents of the changes, according to Mabus. 

“We’ve got a lot of naysayers now, but this time they’re wrong, too,” he said.

Mabus served as a former junior Navy officer aboard the missile cruiser Little Rock in the early 1970s. As Navy secretary, he has ramped up warship building during an era of slimmer budgets — 86 ships are currently under contract for construction — and embarked on an unprecedented expansion of drone aircraft, including the carrier landing of the experimental unmanned X-47B.

San Diego is expected to become the homeport for 84 ships, and Mabus predicted higher defense spending in the region during years to come.

Perhaps most controversially, Mabus has scrapped more than two centuries of Navy tradition by removing ratings for enlisted sailors, disregarded a Marine study that raised caution about gender integration of combat units and named a handful of support vessels after American figures with few or no ties to military service.

Mabus has defended those decisions, saying the Navy and Marine Corps remain the “greatest expeditionary force” in global history amid those developments.

cprine@sduniontribune.com

©2016 The San Diego Union-Tribune
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