Veteran tries to bring Navy license plates to Virginia
By KATHERINE HAFNER | The Virginian-Pilot | Published: August 25, 2020
Roger Hirsh thought it would be an easy task.
The retired Navy captain often saw license plates sporting the logos of the Army, Coast Guard or Marines when driving around. But Virginia, which offers more than 300 specialty license plates, had none for the Navy. The Navy Reserve, Naval Air Station Oceana, the Navy Cross, but not the branch itself.
So Hirsh, who lives in Suffolk, set out to change that.
Three years later, he’s still working on it. He’s gone through most of the necessary steps — application with the Department of Motor Vehicles and approval from the Navy’s licensing office. He’s even got a legislative sponsor prepared to take it through the General Assembly.
He’s just stuck on one requirement: getting 450 prepaid orders of the $25 plate. He’s at 210.
“I thought, ‘This should be pretty easy,' ” said Hirsh, 70, explaining he’s surprised by his struggle given the large naval presence in Hampton Roads and across the commonwealth. “It’s been almost like a separate job. It has become a major portion of my post-retirement life.”
Hirsh served three decades active duty in the Navy, then another 10 years in civil service as a pharmacist at Naval Medical Center Portsmouth. He retired in 2018.
He doesn’t play golf. Fielding calls from state and military lawyers and figuring out how to make the Navy license plate a reality is sort of his equivalent pastime, he said.
He isn’t intimidated by the process, though. As a career military man, he’s used to complex guidelines.
Specialty plates are popular in Virginia due to their relatively low cost, usually just $10.
The $25 price tag for Hirsh’s is because it would be a “revenue sharing” plate. Of each plate sold after an initial 1,000, $15 would go to the nonprofit Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society, which provides financial assistance to sailors, Marines and their families.
“What a great sense of pride to be able to see Navy license plates and know we’re supported,” said society spokeswoman Gillian Gonzalez. “To see cars driving around in Virginia and know they’re helping a sailor or Marine somewhere.”
Since setting out on his mission, Hirsh has also changed the original license plate design — taking off the words “Honor Courage Commitment” and “One Team, One Fight” and replacing them with a simple “U.S. Navy.”
Suffolk Del. Chris Jones had been Hirsh’s legislative sponsor, but lost his seat last year. Sen. Jen Kiggans of Virginia Beach’s 7th District came on board instead — Hirsh had reached out before she was even elected, she said.
“We see (plates from) all the other branches of service around town ... but the Navy as a service, we don’t have our own plate,” said Kiggans, a former Navy pilot. “It was really an easy answer for me to say yes to that.”
She said if she can’t bring a bill next year, she’ll keep trying.
Virginia requires that a proposed plate have 450 paid pre-orders before the start of the General Assembly session where it’s introduced. That gives Hirsh until December for the 2021 session. After the plate receives lawmaker approval, it will take another nine months or so to get on the road.
Hirsh has done everything he can think of to get the orders: leave applications with businesses that’ll allow it, get information into military newsletters and journals and start a Facebook group dedicated to the effort, create and host a website.
With the pandemic restricting his ability to give presentations in person, he even made an animated video of a “typical coffee shop discussion” about it.
Applications are open to anyone currently or formerly in the Navy. He’s gotten a few requests from parents or children of active duty service members, but had to turn them down per DMV rules.
Hirsh said he doesn’t plan to stop until successful. He feels the plate is not only a marker of pride, but a way to remind elected officials and fellow citizens that, “hey, there are a lot of us around.”
“Every time I’m driving now and see Army, Marine Corps or Coast Guard, I just kind of grimace,” he said. “What about us?”
Anyone interested in placing an order can learn more and download an application at https://www.navyplatevirginia.com/.