Pacific Maritime Magazine - Marine Business for the Operations Sector

Opinion - Military Experience for Maritime Strength

 

A crewmember steers the 174-foot landing craft Runnymede out of Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and into open waters. Photo by Sgt. Barbara Liau, 123rd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment courtesy of the US Army.

In March, I had the opportunity to host a Listening Session in Washington, DC where I heard the views of military and maritime industry stakeholders on the present hurdles that limit the ability of military veterans to transition to a civilian maritime career. We discussed opportunities to improve the transferability and alignment of military experience to civilian maritime credentials and strategies to expand access to job opportunities in the civilian maritime workforce. It became clear that this issue is about taking care of military veterans but also about ensuring that we have a vibrant US mariner base to meet our national security needs.

Throughout our history, we have relied on the US mariners on US flagged vessels to carry weapons and supplies and ferry troops to the battlefield. During Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, US flagged commercial vessels transported 63 percent of all military cargos moved to Afghanistan and Iraq. An additional 35 percent of the total cargo was carried on government-owned sealift vessels activated from reserve status and crewed by American mariners.

In testimony prepared for a recent subcommittee hearing, Paul Jaenichen, Administrator of the Maritime Administration, stated that "Given the high average age of the credentialed mariner workforce, the expected separation rate of workers from the industry (i.e., those leaving the industry, retirements and expected job growth) and time needed to gain shipboard experience, there could be a critical need for senior mariners to meet employment demand between now and 2022." Without these qualified and experienced mariners our nation would be dependent on a third party to transport military cargo and our troops in the event of another major sealift.

A potential source of experienced civilian maritime professionals to address a looming gap in this skilled workforce could come from trained mariners separating from military service. Throughout our armed services, men and women who served as engineers and deck officers, are uniquely qualified to transition to a civilian maritime career. But when they seek to get the necessary civilian credentials, these individuals often run into administrative hurdles and discover that there are gaps in their military training that leave senior military officers who have commanded their own ships unable to obtain more than an entry level credential after leaving the Service.

Improved coordination is essential to simplify the process for former military mariners to obtain US Coast Guard (USCG) mariner credentials once they leave military service. The Howard Coble Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act of 2014 encourages opportunities for sea service veterans by allowing the Secretary of Homeland Security (DHS) to issue an officer endorsement to a military mariner who has at least three months of qualifying service on a vessel of the uniformed services. The bill also established The Merchant Marine Personnel Advisory Committee (MERPAC) to advise the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security on matters relating to personnel in the United States merchant marine, including training and qualifications.

More recently, I proposed legislation to require our military services to report to Congress on the steps they have taken to maximize their training to meet US Merchant Mariner certifications, and how they are improving their coordination. They would also be required to report on efforts to ensure that there is awareness among service members of the requirements for post service training and experience should they seek to transition to civilian service. Finally, the armed services would be directed to take an inventory of their training programs to determine which programs have been approved for credit towards merchant mariner credentials, and what programs could become eligible with minor changes.

As the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee continues to examine this issue, I'll continue to work with stakeholders in both the government and private sector to ensure that our country has the workforce it needs to have a strong and healthy maritime sector.

Congressman Duncan Hunter represents California's 50th Congressional District consisting of East and Northern County San Diego. He currently serves as Chairman of the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation subcommittee.

 
 

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