Navy Secretary flatters Naval Base Kitsap on farewell tour
By JOSH FARLEY | The KitsapSun (Tribune News Service) | Published: October 22, 2016
BREMERTON, Wash. — Getting a good deal on a submarine isn't altogether different from a frequent user program at the local coffee or sandwich shop.
So argued Ray Mabus, America's longest serving Secretary of the Navy since World War I, in describing efforts to restore a depleted Navy fleet that includes purchasing $18 billion in new Virginia class submarines.
"It's like having one of those little punch cards," Mabus said to laughter at the Kitsap Conference Center Friday.
Mabus, on a self-described farewell tour as President Barack Obama's second term comes to an end, came to Bremerton for likely his last time Friday to praise its sailors and Marines, and the community that he sees as steadfast in its support of them.
"This is a community that gets it," he told a gathering of mostly top Navy brass and local government and civic leaders.
In office since May 2009, on Friday Mabus touted a tenure of cultural shifts, such as women joining the submariner ranks and environmental reforms toward cleaner energy used by some vessels. He told those gathered he inherited a Navy deplete of vessels and set out to change that, bringing 86 ships under contract on his watch. He believes that the 278 the Navy had in May will grow to more than 300 by 2021.
He sees an increasing workload for the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, as Naval vessels stand watch in conflicts from the South China Sea to the Persian Gulf.
"The outlook is very bright for the shipyard," Mabus said. "They do great work."
He lamented the use of sequestration and continuing resolutions in Washington D.C., rather than the government passing budgets to provide stable funding. Such maneuvers created hiring freezes and precarious times, leading to backlogs at places like the shipyard.
"We've stressed them," he said.
A constantly changing world will bring new challenges to his successor, who will be appointed by the next president, he said. Even as Rodrigo Duterte, president of the Philippines, has been making plans this week to move away from its partnership with the U.S. and align more closely to China, Mabus expressed the need for patience. "So far, what he has said has not been matched by his actions," Mabus said.
Mabus proudly talked up changes to Navy life that he felt made the service more attractive in his time as secretary: expanded maternity leave, bolstered day care hours and revamped fitness testing.
An overhaul of the Navy's rating system has also begun under his watch, drawing the ire of sailors who argued against a break in tradition. He said he fielded many questions on the topic in his time on the base at Bremerton.
Titles come and go, he responded. Ratings, which describe occupations and skill sets, were due to be simplified, he said. He cited aircraft mechanics, a position with six different ratings, that he believes was holding down some sailors from promoting because the ranks are "clogged." He hoped the changes would also make it easier for the Navy to link certain ratings to careers, like those in aviation, upon discharge.
"This will give them more flexibility," he said.
During his tenure he named vessels not only after Navy and Marine legends and states and counties, but also after whom he called "human rights heroes," like Harvey Milk, Earl Warren and Cesar Chavez.
"It's important to connect every part of American society," Mabus said.
He also touted his environmental record, which including establishing the "Great Green Fleet" comprised of a nuclear powered aircraft carrier and supporting ships fueled in part by biofuel. He argued it was not only important to reduce the Navy's carbon footprint but also to ensure energy independence. Navy vessels in Singapore could rely on one of two refineries there: China's for oil or Finland's for biofuel.
"I don't want to be dependent on China for our oil," he said.
The Navy's global presence is what sets it apart within the country's military capabilities, Mabus said. He cited the rapid response of the USS George H.W. Bush aircraft carrier in August 2014 when President Obama ordered its jets to strike Islamic State militants. The next such strike option would have been weeks away. He said he often referred to the Navy and Marine Corps as America's "away team," given their reach all over the world.
Mabus, the former governor of Mississippi and the United States ambassador to Saudi Arabia during Bill Clinton's presidency, said after his remarks Friday he was unsure of where he would end up next. But, of his current profession, he offered no regrets.
"It's the best job in the world," he said.
©2016 the KitsapSun (Bremerton, Wash.)
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