By the Honorable Ray Mabus
75th Secretary of the Navy
Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus recently surpassed one million miles of travel during his time in office. Since taking office in 2009, he has been to more than 130 countries and territories visiting with forward-deployed Sailors and Marines, enhancing our nation’s international partnerships and promoting the presence uniquely provided by the Navy and Marine Corps Team. He achieved the million mile mark upon arrival at Iwo Jima where he took part in a ceremony honoring those who, like their counterparts today, fought far from home, in the historic battle for Iwo Jima more than 70 years ago. The following is his account of why the leader of the world’s premier expeditionary – global – fighting force must, to be effective, also be global.
Our world faces a global security environment full of uncertainty and change. Social disorder, political upheaval, and technological advancement across the planet continue into the 21st century and have a dramatic impact on world affairs. For the United States of America, the Navy and Marine Corps provide global presence on a scope that is unmatched. That presence gives our national leadership options in times of crisis, from diplomatic opportunities, to humanitarian assistance missions, to combat operations when needed.
To do my job as Secretary of the Navy it is critical to understand that global landscape, the security challenges, and opportunities. Briefings and power point slides can never match the value of firsthand observation, as anyone who has served aboard a ship, at a forward outpost, or in a war zone, can tell you.
I’m proud of the fact that in almost six years as Secretary, I’ve logged more than one million miles to visit the Sailors, Marines and civilians on the frontlines around the globe. I talk with them about their concerns and reassure them that a distant America hasn’t forgotten them. Sharing a meal with our nation’s sons and daughters and answering their questions at “all hands calls” is the only way to get their “deck-plate” view, a view which is vital to making the right personnel decisions and policy choices back in the Pentagon.
That’s the “recruit and train” part of the Secretary’s responsibilities as outlined in our Constitution and federal law. I’m also responsible for “equipping” our Navy and Marine Corps and my travels enable me to see the condition of the bases and facilities where our Sailors and Marines live and work. In talking with senior uniformed leaders I get a feeling for what might be needed in the future, or ways that we can improve our efficiency and capability today. From Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti on the Horn of Africa, to 12 visits to Afghanistan, to long standing bases in allied nations like Japan and Korea, I visit these locations in order to assess how well the taxpayers’ dollars are being spent, and how we might best improve those conditions.
Third, as part of our nation’s defense strategy which encourages us to build and strengthen our international partnerships, I visit with foreign military and government leaders. Those meetings are critical to building relationships that can help us deter conflict or respond in a more coordinated and effective manner to a variety of crises. For 239 years our Navy and Marine Corps have been a vital element of our nation’s diplomatic efforts. That continues today.
You cannot surge trust. The relationships with our allies must be maintained, and trust must continue to be built with new friends and established partners. No single nation has the capability to secure the maritime commons and protect free trade and security around the world alone. We must work with our allies, partners, and friends to ensure the global system remains secure.
These first hand observations have assisted our department’s ability to accomplish what is needed for our nation’s security. From reversing the decline in the number of ships, to completing the negotiations needed for the forward stationing of ships in places like Spain and Singapore, to signing energy agreements with Australia, Italy, and Chile, we have achieved a great deal. The insight I gain from talking with our deployed service members also helps guide important personnel policy decisions like the authorization of high tempo deployment pay.
It has been my great honor to serve as Secretary, leading the 900,000 Sailors, Marines, and civilians who make up the Department of the Navy. In that time I have visited more than 130 country and territories in order to make sure I’m getting the unvarnished truth and on-the-ground understanding of our global challenges. It is my responsibility to do this, despite the hectic schedules, because I must have the right information in order to make the right decisions for the Department of the Navy.
Our Navy and Marine Corps are the most powerful expeditionary fighting force the world has ever known, and it is our job, no matter the circumstances, to keep it so.