“I am of the firm belief that this nation is and will always remain a maritime nation.”
With these words, the commander of the U.S. Transportation Command, Gen. Paul Selva, proclaimed his support for the U.S.-flag maritime industry during the MTD Executive Board meeting last month.
Selva was the first speaker at the two-day event, held in Atlanta February 19-20. He spelled out why he ardently backs the Jones Act, the Maritime Security Program (MSP) and its related Voluntary Intermodal Sealift Agreement (VISA), and the men and women in every component of the maritime industry.
Selva noted that the MTD board and guests in the audience included representatives from all components of the maritime industry. He said the nation “depends on you not only for its economic security but for its actual physical security. I’m a big fan of saying if we have to get into a fight, I want it to be an away game. You are the people that make that possible, whether you’re crewing the ships that are in our surge fleet or our Ready Reserve fleet, or whether you’re crewing the American-flag international trade vessels that are so important to our national defense.”
The general then explained why he believes in the great value of the MSP and VISA.
“We depend on the ships and the crews in the Maritime Security Program and the Voluntary Intermodal Sealift Agreement to be successful,” he stated. “You carry fully two-thirds of all of the cargo that will ever go to a fight that we send our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines into. You are the very backbone of our national defense, and it is incredibly important that we protect that relationship.”
Selva then pointed out that with the U.S. military transitions out of Iraq and Afghanistan, government spending on transportation “has declined from a dollar value of nearly $12 billion a year … spent in the Defense Department just two years ago to the pre-9-11 rate of about $6 billion a year.”
Because of that development, the U.S. is moving to “the very set of circumstances that the Maritime Security Program and the Voluntary Intermodal Sealift Agreement was designed to sustain,” Selva continued. “The stipend that comes to the 60 ships in the Maritime Security Program – which I value for their military utility – is a peacetime scheme. The Voluntary Intermodal Sealift Agreement, where industry gives the Defense Department access to both their over-ocean and inland capacity, is a peacetime readiness scheme designed to make us ready in crisis. And so you’ll find that I’m an ardent defender of both.”
After describing how the commercial maritime industry played a vital role in Operation Enduring Freedom and how it continues providing essential support in current military missions, Selva praised “the dedicated men and women from the trades that make this industry work. Whether you build the ships, crew the ships or repair the ships, you make this possible. And that’s why I am committed to supporting the Jones Act. The Jones Act isn’t about a political statement, and to be honest, while it is an incredibly patriotic piece of legislation, my interest in it has nothing to do with patriotism. It has to do with coldhearted math.”
He continued, “The Jones Act trades – all of that trade that happens on our interior and coastal waterways – supports the industry that allows this nation to be successful. If I run the numbers, it’s an easy call. There are … merchant sailors who operate on ships that participate in Jones Act trade that have crewed and will crew Ready Reserve ships and surge sealift ships…. It’s easy for me to say the economics favor the Jones Act; national security favors the Jones Act; and my operational requirements demand access to the labor pool that is supported by the jobs that are provided by the Jones Act.
“Without the contribution that the Jones Act brings to support of our industry, there is a direct threat to national defense,” he concluded.
Selva said he appreciated the chance to discuss what he views as “the foundation of the strength of our nation, which is our maritime trades and the ability to move our forces to any point on the globe at the time of our choosing. Without you – without all of your efforts – that would not be possible.”
The commander praised his relationship with MTD President Michael Sacco, describing him as “a counselor, a teacher and a friend – a person who isn’t bashful about making your case to our nation’s leaders. He has served you well.”
The general also acknowledged the proud legacy of the U.S. Merchant Marine. “Throughout the history of our military and throughout the history of this industry, you have stood side-by-side with us,” he said. “It’s almost not fair to call you civilians; you are part of our military. You are part of the fiber that makes us successful. In any fight, I can guarantee that 75 percent of the cargo that moves to sustain the fight or deploy to the fight is going to move on the vessels that you build, crew and maintain.”
Selva then talked about the need to replace Ready Reserve Force vessels that soon will “age out” of the inventory. He also discussed cyber attacks against our military and how modern technology is an integral part of new ships.
He wrapped up his remarks by pointing out, “Together, the strength of this nation can be put on any point on the globe that we choose, because we have combined military and civilian capacity in a way that no other nation can, and no other nation ever will. I’ve had more than one national leader from around the world say to me precisely the following: ‘We have no idea how you do what you do, but we’re glad America knows how to do it.’ And you’re it. I thank you for your dedication, your support, your patriotism, your loyalty to this task of defending our nation.”
Selva added that he personally appreciates the respect shown by the MTD and its affiliates to U.S. military personnel, including those who have finished active duty and found work ashore. “You have welcomed them with open arms,” he stated. “You take care of us the way you take care of each other.”