A high-ranking officer from the U.S. Transportation Command (USTRANSCOM) told the Maritime Trades Department, AFL-CIO Executive Board that U.S. Merchant Mariners are vital to the nation’s military operations.
Maj. Gen. Giovanni Tuck (USAF), USTRANSCOM director, operations and plans, addressed the board February 19 in San Diego. In addition to praising the performance and reliability of civilian mariners, he expressed solid support for the Jones Act, the Maritime Security Program (MSP) and its related Voluntary Intermodal Sealift Agreement (VISA).
Tuck stated that his agency is actively promoting programs that boost American-flag sealift.
“The U.S. Transportation Command’s commander’s top priority is to ensure our nation maintains the capability to take the fight to the enemy,” Tuck stated. “This capability is solidly grounded in our ability to crew U.S. ships with U.S. mariners.
“The bottom line is we trust you, and our nation’s leaders trust you to carry our military men and women and their equipment anywhere in the world, across contested seas and at a moment’s notice,” he continued. “The question I have is, our combat forces are ready – but are we?”
That question didn’t involve individual willingness, but rather, sufficient numbers of mariners and U.S.-flag bottoms.
“We’re definitely concerned,” Tuck said. “As that supply of U.S.-flag vessels and American mariners slowly ebbs, we are faced with a tough situation. Which other nation will project American combat power if we can no longer project it for ourselves? That is a fundamental question that we really have to have answered.”
With that in mind, tuck stated, “I’m going to keep championing that we need to put things on (commercial) ships…. We need the power of sealift and the mariners that deliver it to keep that anytime, anywhere promise we make to the American people.
“We have a significant goal in common: a strong and healthy national maritime industry,” he added. “Your commitment to our nation’s maritime strength has led to legislation that ensures we are growing our own fleet rather than financing” foreign builds.
Tuck said the Jones Act “contributes to a robust domestic maritime industry. It helps uphold the U.S. industrial shipyard base and an infrastructure to construct, repair and overhaul U.S. ships. The Jones Act requirement for U.S.-built and U.S.-crewed vessels provides additional capacity and trained merchant mariners that can also crew our reserve fleet whenever needed.”
He also said the MSP and VISA programs are crucial.
“Access to commercial sealift capacity is critical to meeting the nation’s requirements,” Tuck said. “There is strength in unity. Simply put, we can’t do this without you.”
He mentioned recent speeches by Gen. Darren McDew, USTRANSCOM’s commanding officer. Anyone who heard those remarks would “know the command is acutely aware of the importance of the U.S. maritime community and all you represent,” Tuck said. “While we can deliver the first combat vehicle quickly by air, we need sealift to deliver a combat brigade.”
Tuck stressed that the need for strong sealift capacity isn’t hypothetical. “The world we live in is dangerous – not just in the past or in the future, but today,” he stated.
For example, he said the “strategic lift necessary to respond to a crisis in Korea would rival the incredible volume we moved in support of Desert Shield. All the while, we are reducing our global footprint, which of course increases our strategic lift requirements. We are facing an increasingly contested global commons, which complicates strategic lift.
“All these factors and others point to a need to increase our sealift capacity rather than watch it dwindle,” he continued. “So what’s next? TRANSCOM will continue to engage our nation’s leaders where readiness gaps are concerned, not just because it’s our mission to be ready but because we are called. And we are called on the other end of that line, as a joint task force commander, with a critical and often immediate need. If we’re going to remain ready to answer that call, we must evaluate our sealift capacity with open eyes.”
Briefly reflecting on a distinguished career that included prior work at USTRANSCOM, Tuck said he was impressed with what he saw and heard during the two-day MTD meeting.
“One huge takeaway that I got from being here is how well you all work with each other,” he noted, pointing out that people from most if not all segments of the industry were present. “I’m very charged up by that, because I don’t know many other organizations like this. People come because they really want to do right by their workforce and right by the mission that’s laid out before them.”
He compared his return to TRANSCOM, including the related work with the MTD and its affiliates, to “being back with family.”
“Our command has always and will always depend on America’s Merchant Marine,” he concluded. “Thank you for your continued commitment to our nation’s defense. You’re so critical to our national strength and USTRANSCOM’s ability to accomplish its mission. When there is a fight to be had, you take the fight to the enemy. You ensure our commanders on the ground have what they need to achieve national objectives. There is strength in unity. Together, we deliver.”