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Retiring Navy secretary looks back at career in Camp Pendleton visit

By ERIKA I. RITCHIE | The Orange County Register (Tribune News Service) | Published: October 20, 2016

CAMP PENDLETON — Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus – an often criticized but progressive leader of the Navy and Marine Corps – visited the seaside base Wednesday for the last time in his nearly eight-year career.

“For me, leading the Department of the Navy is the greatest honor of my life,” Mabus, who announced his plans to retire earlier this year, told the several hundred Marines gathered around him on the parade field.

During a sometimes contentious tenure, Mabus focused on social change and environmental issues. He led a series of energy-saving initiatives for the Marine Corps and Navy, implemented uniform changes to make males and females look more similar, created gender-neutral job titles and extended maternity leave for female service members.

Mabus, 68, talked Wednesday about changes he has seen in the Marine Corps and Navy. And he said he is focused on four key priorities that set the foundation to enable the Navy and Marine Corps to maintain a global presence.

“What the Navy and Marine Corps uniquely give America is presence,” Mabus said. “In where you need to be, when you need to be there and being in the right place – not just at the right time but all the time – around the globe and around the clock. There is no next best thing to being there.

“The way we get that presence is through four things; people – our Marines, our sailors; platforms – the ships, the aircraft; power – how we power these things, how we get our energy sources; and partnerships – our partnerships with people around the world, our partnership with the American people.”

Mabus stressed the need for ship-building and its importance to continued national defense. He said the Navy has contracted for 60 more ships, a number that will bring the fleet back to 300 by 2019 and get to the current assessed need of 308 ships by 2021. Thirty-three will be amphibious ships to support Marines from sea to land, he said.

“We need to make sure you’ve got the tools you need when you go ashore,” he said. “It takes a long time to build ships and a long time to rebuild a fleet. We’re living with the fleet size we have today because of decisions made 12 to 15 years ago. Ships we’re building today will determine the fleet size in 2025.”

Mabus also spoke about the importance of reducing the Marine Corps’ and Navy’s dependence on non-renewable sources to make them more energy independent.

As part of that effort, he recognized four commands at Camp Pendleton, Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Marine Corps Air Station Camp Pendleton and Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego with awards for energy efficiency.

“This will make us better war fighters,” he said. “At our bases we’re at 50 percent today, five years earlier than expected. It will allow is to pull ourselves off the grid.”

Despite opposition from Marine Corps brass, Mabus has pushed for women to serve in combat units. The Marine Corps was the only military branch in 2015 to ask for an exception to a Pentagon mandate opening previously closed combat jobs to women. Officials backed their request with a study they said showed that Marine Corps teams with men and women underperformed when compared to all-male teams.

Mabus publicly criticized the study and refused the request.

“The decision to open all ground combat to women made us a more diverse force and a stronger force,” he said.

At the end of his talk Wednesday, Mabus took questions from Marines ranging from how transgender service members will fit in to why Marines haven’t been sent over to “wipe-out Isis.”

“Every time we open the Marine Corps, we become stronger,” he said in reaction to the question on transgender individuals. “We’ll make it through and in a couple of years, people will wonder what the fuss was all about.”

On the Islamic State, Mabus said there hasn’t been a lot of support from the American people to put “more boots on the ground.”

“At the end of the day, it will have to be the people who live there to carry the fight,” he said. “The problem with [the Islamic State] is that it metastasizes. We need to confront it but not a way that it doesn’t put a whole lot of Marines in the front end of combat.”

Mabus said he stayed in the job as long as he did because of his love for the Marines and sailors.

“I love this job, the challenges they have given me,” he said. “They’ll know if you’re telling the truth and if you’re sincere.”

As far as obstacles, Mabus said he doesn’t look at those. He looks at accomplishments.

“We’ve had some rough patches and have taken some incoming fire,” he said. “I’m a volunteer not a draftee. I stayed because I wanted to stay and I set my own priorities.”

Mabus’ last visit to Camp Pendleton was part of a nationwide “Thank you” tour.

Earlier in the day he toured two Navy ships and spoke with sailors and command staff in San Diego. On Thursday, Mabus will address a class of midshipman at USC in Los Angeles.

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©2016 The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.)
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