Secretary of Navy talks jobs, more ships in Jacksonville Naval Air Station visit
By JOE DARASKEVICH | The Florida Times-Union (Tribune News Service) | Published: November 4, 2016
Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus visited Jacksonville Naval Air Station on Thursday for the final time in his official capacity for one of two speaking engagements on the First Coast.
The visit came on a week when the military community is on full display with the Jacksonville Sea and Sky Airshow, and the Navy vs. Notre Dame football game both taking place Saturday.
Mabus talked about the great relationship the Navy shares with the city of Jacksonville and explained an important decision he made to ensure people who live in the community are the ones working on area bases.
He said in 2009 when he took over as secretary 21 ships were based at Mayport Naval Station, but by 2021 there will be 41. The reason for that is the Navy recently announced Mayport as the East Coast home for half the fleet of new littoral combat ships.
The aluminum-hull ships are designed to operate close to shore with steerable jet propulsion. The first ship is scheduled to arrive early next year.
Mabus said when the Navy was forced to start retiring frigates based at Mayport in 2009, the push was to bring an aircraft carrier to Northeast Florida as a replacement.
He said if that decision was made, the vessel wouldn't arrive until at least 2019. Mabus also said many of the people who work on aircraft carriers are specialized personnel flown in from other places.
Instead of an aircraft carrier, the USS Iwo Jima amphibious assault ship came to Mayport about three years ago, Mabus said. With that ship and the new littoral ships rolling of the assembly line, the Mayport military presence will be strong well into the future, he said.
"All the work on these ships is done by people here in the region," Mabus said.
His first stop Thursday was an all-hands call in the morning at the Naval Air Station where sailors were given the chance to take pictures with the outgoing secretary after he answered their questions and spoke on the future of the Navy.
"It has been the greatest honor of my life to lead the Navy and Marine Corps," Mabus said to the room of sailors.
He's been the only secretary of the Navy under President Barack Obama, but a new secretary will take his place in the next administration.
The bulk of the questions from the group were about an overhaul to the enlisted rating titles in the Navy that started this fall.
One sailor told Mabus the change came so fast it seemed like he went to lunch one day with a rating and by the time he finished eating he no longer had one.
"We change the names all the time," Mabus said of certain titles. He said any military changes come with detractors, but the rating changes came after a thorough research process.
Mabus said the rating change is meant to help make the transition from military life to civilian life much easier as well as offer more chances for promotion.
Previously, enlisted ratings were becoming so specialized that veterans were having difficulty finding jobs when they left the Navy, Mabus said.
"Nobody knows what a corpsman is," Mabus said of the former Navy title.
He said the specialized ratings also made it hard to advance if someone with the same specialization was blocking a sailor's path.
Mabus assured the sailors they will still become experts at their particular jobs, but the new system will give them the option to learn a wider variety of skills to become hireable civilians after their service.
After posing for photos with a long line of sailors at the base, Mabus left to attend the JAX Chamber's 14th annual Military Appreciation Luncheon at the Prime Osborn Convention Center where Mike Fleming, senior vice president of university relations and development at Jacksonville University, was named the winner of the Kevin F. Delaney Hall of Fame Award, which honors veterans who created a "positive impact" on the Jacksonville community.
Mabus was introduced by U.S. Rep. Ander Crenshaw, who commended the secretary for ensuring a heavy military presence in the area. "When I look out over the Mayport Basin I see the future of our Navy," he said. "When I look out I see the work Secretary Mabus has done."
Mabus took time to tell the crowd how fortunate it was to have someone like Crenshaw looking out for their military community over the years. Crenshaw is stepping down after completing his current term.
Mabus told the group Navy operations are usually done away from the United States so it's impossible for Americans to see exactly what they are doing. He compared the Navy to a sports team that plays all its games on the road, and he said it's his job to tell the country about all the great things the Navy is doing.
After the luncheon he told news outlets how significant it is to host a football game featuring the Navy in a town like Jacksonville.
"It actually makes it like a home game," he said of Saturday's game between Navy and Notre Dame.
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