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The fall of the Berlin Wall in the late 1980s led many policymakers and defense experts to advance the idea that the United States did not need to focus on sealift as a primary strategic concern.  However, Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990—the nation’s first post-Cold War crisis—proved just the opposite.  Not only did American civilian mariners handle themselves with honor and distinction, but the U.S. maritime industry—management and labor alike—proved to be an irreplaceable national asset.

One historical account of the altercation reported, “In Desert Shield/Desert Storm, more than 350 ships in more than 500 voyages supported the multilateral coalition … delivering an average of 42,000 tons of cargo each day …

“At the height of the shipping activity, there was a ship every 50 miles—a steel bridge—along an 8,000-mile sea lane between the United States and the Persian Gulf.  U.S.-flag ships—both privately owned and government vessels operated by U.S. companies—manned by U.S. citizen-seafarers carried 79 percent of all seaborne cargoes.  Sealift accounted for 85 percent of all dry cargo transported to the war zone.”

U.S. civilian mariners were highly praised by military figures during and after the war for their professionalism, patriotism and skill.  As Colin Powell, who then was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, noted, “Since I became chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, I have come to appreciate first-hand why our merchant marine has long been called the nation’s fourth arm of defense …

“The American seafarer provides an essential service to the well-being of the nation, as was demonstrated so clearly during operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm.”