National Press Club

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus details progress with people, energy and shipbuilding in Obama era

October 13, 2016 | By Jesse Rifkin |

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus illustrates ship technology.

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus illustrates ship technology.

Photo/Image: Noel St. John

Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus told an Oct. 12 National Press Club Luncheon audience that the U.S Navy and Marine Corps have made great strides developing people, energy and shipbuilding during the Obama administration.

Mabus said he helped lead the transition in allowing women to serve in combat roles starting in January, repealing 1993’s “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy, which prevented gays from openly serving in the military and returning ROTC programs to many colleges which hadn’t had it on campus for decades, including Harvard, Yale, and Princeton.

“We’re doing this not as diversity for diversity’s sake, but a diverse force is a stronger force. It’s a dangerous thing for members of the military to think too much in the same way. A more predictable force is a more defeatable force,” Mabus said. “While there’s no good argument to lower standards, there is also no good argument to bar anyone who has met those standards from serving alongside sailors and Marines in every time and place.”

Mabus also spotlighted his efforts to reform several longstanding Navy personnel policies: All personnel must now be screened for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder before being discharged administratively. Fitness tests were revamped to better align with the actual physical tasks in jobs. A secretary-level senior leadership position was created to prevent and respond to sexual assault. And paid maternity leave was tripled from six weeks to 18 weeks.

“We’re going to train all our aircraft folks to FAA standards. We’re going to train our corpsmen and our medics to EMT standards,” Mabus said. “Right now when you leave the Navy or leave the Marine Corps, a lot of times, even though you have the skill level, you don’t have the certification. So you can’t get a job working at United Airlines right across the street.”

Mabus said that early in his tenure he set a goal of having at least half of all naval energy come from non-fossil fuel sources by 2020. He said that threshold was reached last year for onshore energy, and that sea and air are on pace to meet the self-imposed 2020 deadline. The benefits aren’t just environmental but also financial and tactical, with $60 million saved ashore and 700 pounds per military company shed by switching from batteries to solar panels, he added.

“The geostrategic example I use is in Singapore. There’s an oil refinery, owned majority by the Chinese. Right down the road is a biofuel refinery, owned by the Finns,” Mabus said. “I do not want to be dependent on China for fuel in the western Pacific, when we have the choice of doing something else.”

The Navy dropped from 316 ships in 2001 to 278 ships in 2008; last year the number of active ships was the lowest since 1916, the secretary said. But under Mabus’s Obama-era tenure, the Navy has put 86 ships “under contract,” with the goal of getting to 300 ships again by 2019 and the current assessed need of 380 ships by 2021, he said.

“We’ve also protected research and development in science and technology dollars, so that we will continue to have a technological advantage,” Mabus said. “I don’t ever, ever want to send Marines and sailors into an unfair fight.”

Mabus served as the governor of Mississippi, the youngest in the country, from 1988-92 , as President Bill Clinton’s Ambassador to Saudi Arabia from 1994-96 and as Secretary of the Navy and Marines since May 2009, making him the longest serving person in that position since World War I.

Asked for his opinion about the famous annual Army vs. Navy football game, Mabus noted that Navy has won the past 14 match-ups and beat sixth-ranked Houston last week. “We’ll just be humble about this,” Mabus said, “and take it one decade at a time.”