U.S. military and government transportation leaders focused on the future and honored the past and present service of U.S. merchant mariners during an observance of National Maritime Day at the U.S. Department of Transportation in Washington, DC on May 24, the first such in-person event since 2019 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Speakers at the event paid tribute U.S. Merchant Marine Veterans of World War II. Their demonstration of courage and patriotism set a profound example, and it is evident in the men and women who move U.S. cargo around the world, said Commander of Military Sealift Command Rear Adm. Michael Wettlaufer.
"In 2022, as in 1945, American mariners remain essential to our economy and our defense," he said. "The close collaboration between and integration across our commercial and labor partners, the U.S. Coast Guard and the Maritime Administration, the shipbuilding and repair industry, certainly the Department of Defense and the Merchant Marine allow our nation to maintain and retain a vital strategic advantage - an advantage that allows the joint force to maneuver across the globe at the time and to the place of our choosing, in both peacetime and in conflict."
Wettlaufer stressed the importance of sustaining national support for the U.S. Merchant Marine. Programs such as cargo preference, the Maritime Security Program, the Voluntary Intermodal Sealift Agreement and the recently created Tanker Security Program generate excellent jobs for U.S. mariners and new ships to make the maritime industry even more attractive to new recruits.
At the end of the day, the people who sail aboard these vessels make the difference for the future prosperity of the United States, said Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Karl Schultz.
"In our world, it's easy to focus on the ships, the ports and the other infrastructure that enable us to execute the mission. But it's really about the mariners," he said. "It's not the steel, it's not the concrete. It's the people that make this important industry the great industry it is."
U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg commended the maritime industry for its dedicated work during the global pandemic. As many others sheltered in place, mariners worked even harder to ensure crucial medical supplies and necessary goods and commodities continued to flow across the country, he said.
"Our mariners are the reason food reaches families' table around the country," Buttigieg said. "They are the reason supplies reach our service members around the world."
While National Maritime Day offers the opportunity to reflect on the past contributions of the U.S. Merchant Marine, recent events have shown how crucial merchant mariners are to the country's future, said Maritime Administrator Rear Adm. Ann Phillips (U.S. Navy retired).
"The Maritime Administration is focused on core values that focus on the future of the maritime industry: culture, promoting fair and dignified treatment for all mariners, climate, exploring innovations in maritime technology, and commitment," Phillips said. "The work of our mariners remains critical for every American. They ensure our economic strength and our national security, and secure the future of our maritime industry."