Navy Secretary Under Fire for Politicizing Naming of Ships

Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus
Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus / AP
September 14, 2016

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus is under fire for naming military ships after politically controversial figures, including the late gay rights activist Harvey Milk and union leader Cesar Chavez.

Retired Vice Adm. Doug Crowder criticized Mabus’ decision to name a ship after former Rep. Gabby Giffords (D., Ariz.), who survived a gun shot wound to her head five years ago and has been a leading voice advocating for stricter gun control measures.

Crowder, who served as a deputy chief of naval operations before retiring in 2010, told the Associated Press on Wednesday that while the Navy secretary has the authority to name ships, there is an "inherent risk" in military leaders making a series of political statements.

"It just doesn’t help at all for what the basic sailor or officer thinks of his chain of command, up to the secretary of the Navy," he said. "Is it catastrophic? No. But that’s the risk you run."

Mabus defended his decision. He told the AP he wanted to honor people who have displayed heroism outside of the military. A replenishment oiler will be named after abolitionist Sojourner Truth, for example.

"I have named ships after presidents. I have named ships after members of Congress who have been forceful advocates for the Navy and Marine Corps," Mabus said.

"But I think you have to represent all the values that we hold as Americans, that we hold as a country. And so that’s why I’ve named ships the Medgar Evers, Cesar Chavez, John Lewis, the Harvey Milk. Because these are American heroes too, just in a different arena," he added.

Mabus plans to announce five new ship names beginning Saturday during visits to Mississippi and Massachusetts.

Rep. Duncan Hunter (R., Calif.) said naval ships should be named after service members who have inspired valor among their crews.

Mabus noted that nine of the ships will bear the names of Medal of Honor recipients, including World War II Marine Gunnery Sgt. John Basilone.

A legislative measure that would have barred the Navy from naming ships after lawmakers who never served in the military or as president recently stalled in the House, according to the AP.