News & Politics

Rep. Duncan Hunter Questions Navy Sec's Political Ship-Naming Practices

A California Republican congressman is questioning the U.S. Navy’s recent decision to name a new destroyer after retired Sen. Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat and former chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. According to  Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., a former Marine who served in Iraq and Afghanistan,  the choice follows a pattern of  naming naval ships after Democrats and liberal activists like union organizer and activist César Chavez.

“I would like an explanation as to how this decision properly reflects Navy ship-naming rules,” Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., wrote Tuesday in a letter to Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, who oversees the service’s ship-naming process.

“It is important that the Navy adhere to its own ship-naming rules and take every effort necessary to avoid politicization of this process,” Hunter wrote.

Hunter, a House Armed Services Committee member who has been a long-time critic of Mabus’ choices for ship names, made a point of noting in his letter that his most recent objection was not aimed at Levin personally, but at the questionable practice of naming a non-veteran for a destroyer.

Mabus’s public affairs officer responded to Hunter in a letter which says the Navy secretary has the power to name warships as he pleases.

Via the Washington Times:

“The secretary gives careful consideration to every new ship name and is mindful of the established ship naming policy,” wrote Capt. Patrick McNally. “While the ship naming conventions provide a guideline for names, there have been a number of deviations from those conventions throughout the history of the U.S. Navy.”

Capt. McNally cited the fact that two aircraft carriers were named after members of Congress: John C. Stennis and Carl Vinson. The current convention for naming carriers is far less restrictive than for naming destroyers. Lately, carriers have been named after former commanders in chief.

Capt. McNally invited Mr. Hunter, who deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq, to read a research paper on the subject produced by Mr. Mabus’s staff in response to Republican complaints.

Said Joe Kasper, Mr. Hunter’s chief of staff, “The problem with Mabus is that this decision wasn’t a one-off. If it were, there probably wouldn’t be much criticism. But for Mabus it fits a pattern of bad judgment all around, from disrespecting the Marine Corps to rewarding his friends. He wrote the book on how to politicize ship naming conventions and the USS Levin is just another chapter.”

The Washington Times notes that the convention for guided-missile destroyers like the one named after Levin “is that the individual be a deceased member of the Navy, Marine Corps or Coast Guard, including Navy secretaries. Mr. Levin did not serve in the military.”

A good number of Arleigh-Burke-class honorees were/are Medal of Honor recipients. Most are historical war heroes.

A review by The Washington Times showed all but one of 71 names basically complied with the convention until the Levin decision––Winston Churchill, the fabled wartime leader of Great Britain. Some of the naval war heroes are still alive.

Some Republicans on the Senate Armed Services Committee’s Seapower subcommittee supported the choice, including the chairman, Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., who said, “Thank you for that pleasant news item about the [USS] Carl Levin. I think you saw heads nodding on both sides of the table. Senator Levin is a distinguished and thoughtful American statesman and was as even-handed a chairman as I’ve ever served with in my 21 years in the House and Senate. So, that’s excellent news.”

Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H. said, “Let me just add my congratulations to Senator Levin. I can’t think of a better person to name the ship after. That’s great.”

Here are some other examples of Mabus’ ship names:

He named combat logistics supply ships after civil rights leader Medgar Evers and leftist farmworker Cesar Chavez. All previous Lewis and Clark-class cargo ships had been named for famous explorers or people who made significant contributions to the military, as called for in Navy conventions.

He named a littoral combat ship after former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, Arizona Democrat, who was seriously wounded in a January 2011 assassination attempt. Some Republicans said there are hundreds of wounded veterans if that is the criteria.

He named a San Diego-class docking ship after another Democrat, the late Rep. John P. Murtha of Pennsylvania. The previous nine ships had been named after U.S. cities, a park and a county, following Navy conventions.

In January Mr. Mabus again broke with past tradition. He named a fleet replenishment oiler, TAO-205, after civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis, Georgia Democrat. Mr. Lewis voted for removing all U.S. troops from Iraq in 2007 and from Afghanistan in 2011. He also has favored deep cuts in military spending.

Mabus decreed that this class of ships from now on will be named after civil rights and human rights activists, although Navy guidelines had said such ships “are named for rivers or people instrumental to maritime and aviation design and production.”

Mabus also ruffled Republican feathers last fall when he rejected Marine Corps studies that found that all-male land combat units performed better than mixed-sex units.

Now, the Corps is in the process of letting women try out for direct ground combat.