In Honoring Giffords Mabus’ Flouts Navy Ship Naming Conventions Again
Since President Obama took office, his Navy Secretary, Ray Mabus has been, shall we say flexible in following the conventions of Navy ship naming that have been set down. He has strayed tradition enough to have prompted a review of ship-naming policy. And he has done it again.
Now Mabus has named a new vessel after retiring Representative Gabrielle Giffords. The logic behind this is difficult to take issue with–except it still flies in the face of past precedent. The Giffords will be an LCS, a littoral combat ship (these are pretty cool looking ships!), which have been named (with the exception of the first two) for smaller cities; a convention Mabus followed until now.
Ship naming has always been subject to some level of politicization. There is a Virginia-class attack submarine named after former senator John Warner and the aircraft carriers are usually named after presidents except when they’re not! Then there is the Bob Hope Class of vehicle cargo ships which are all named for individuals who have received the Medal of Honor (as are several other AKR class vessels). Well, except for Mr. Hope of course. Another example of inconsistency more familiar to Rhode Islanders would be the Seawolf class attack submarines named Seawolf, Connecticut and Jimmy Carter.
Yet, these exceptions have occurred over a period of years and decades. Mabus is set apart because he has a pretty high batting average in flouting ship naming conventions during his 3 years as Navy Secretary. Mabus started his tenure by naming a San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock ship–traditionally named after cities–after the recently deceased Democratic Representative John Murtha.
Next up is the T-AKE Class of naval support vessels, the Lewis and Clark Class, which had been named after explorers and pioneers*–until Mabus took office. Then the Medgar Evars and Cesar Chavez were named to join the likes of Sacagawea, Alan Shepard, Amelia Earhart, Mathew Perry, Washington Chambers et al. In his defense, Mabus’ supporters argue that Chavez, a Navy veteran, was a “pioneering” organizer of migrant farm workers. While it’s harder to criticize Mabus for naming the Evers (also a Navy veteran), it is pretty clear that he has broadened the original definition of pioneer since the keels were first laid for this class of ships. Overall, I counted 4 out of 7 ships that have been named by Mabus that didn’t appear to follow prior convention. Is this going to sink the Navy? No. Yet, it does appear to be an unprecedented level of politicization by one Navy Secretary.
*Incidentally, the description of the AKE class naming convention has been “retcon’d”: there are a lot of articles supporting Mabus saying these ships were originally to be named after explorers, pioneers and “visionaries.” The “visionary” qualification is a recent appellation. The original intent was to name them only after explorers.