Navy Secretary Richard Spencer takes first tour of Camp Pendleton
By ERIKA I. RITCHIE | The Orange County Register (Tribune News Service) | Published: August 31, 2017
CAMP PENDLETON — Just weeks after his Senate confirmation, Navy Secretary Richard Spencer on Wednesday, Aug. 30, toured assets of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force at Camp Pendleton and chatted with Marines from the 3rd Assault Amphibian Battalion who showed off their amphibious vehicles.
“It’s easy to be back in the Pentagon where decisions are made and paper is moved in budget sessions,” said Spencer, 63, who started his job Aug. 3, two days after his Senate confirmation. “But you don’t have an understanding until you get into the field. Marines will tell you what they think, they’ll speak their mind.”
That was confirmed when Spencer passed by Pfc. Josue Rivera, 19, of Denville, N.J. who was working on a vehicle. Rivera asked the secretary when a new version of the amphibious assault vehicle might be ready — most were built in the 1970s. Typically, Marines spend 12 to 13 hours servicing the vehicles for one hour of operation. Spencer told him a timeline was being put in place to get the new vehicles going.
Spencer, a Marine aviator who flew CH-46 helicopters while serving at Marine Corps Air Station Tustin and lived in Newport Beach in the late 1970s, toured through multiple versions of amphibious assault vehicles.
Gunnery Sgt. Jerome Corbett, a 17-year veteran of the Marine Corps, escorted him aboard the AAVP7, an armored full-track vehicle that transports Marines from ship to shore.
He explained the vehicle weighed more than 25 tons and is armed with a .50 caliber machine gun and a 40mm rapid fire grenade launcher. It can cross land at 45 miles per hour and can surf 10-foot waves.
“He looked like he was interested in being here,” said Corbett, 37. “He wanted to get into the vehicle and look around.”
Later, while taking questions from reporters, Spencer called recent U.S. Navy ship collisions “unacceptable.”
On Aug. 21, U.S. Navy destroyer the John S. McCain collided with an oil tanker near Singapore leaving 10 American sailors dead. On June 17, a U.S. warship, the U.S.S Fitzgerald, collided with a Philippines-registered container ship and seven sailors died.
Spencer said reviews of strategies are being conducted, with input from active-duty military, retired military and members of the private sector.
“We will review the complete surface warfare strategy,” he said, adding that training and modernization are key to being better prepared and more lethal.
He also said he has put a priority on restoring billions of dollars to the military following cuts during the sequestration deal — legislation in 2013 that attempted to reduce government debt partly through defense spending cuts.
Critics say those cuts not only reduced troops but stalled necessary training.
Increased funds will help with quality of life for troops and with modernization of assets that will lead to increased readiness and fire power, he said.
He added that his priorities are people, capabilities and process. “The Navy and the Marine Corps are a business,” he said.
Asked whether Marines were being deployed to help the victims of tropical storm Harvey, Spencer said 2,500 sailors and Marines in Norfolk, Va., were loading emergency supplies onto the Naval amphibious assault ships Kearsarge and Oak Hill, which sailed for Texas on Thursday.
Spencer, a Wall Street banker for 16 years, was the Trump administration’s second pick for Navy secretary. Previous nominee Philip Bilden, a businessman and former intelligence officer in the Army Reserve, withdrew in February citing concerns about privacy and separating himself from his business interests.
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