Last month, the Navy announced that its newest Lewis and Clark-class of dry cargo/ammunition ships would be named after former sailor (1944-1946) and union organizer Cesar Chavez.
Designated T-AKE 14, USNS Cesar Chavez is being built by General Dynamics’ NASSCO shipyard in San Diego, in the heart of Barrio Logan where many of its Latino residents will help build the underway replenishment ship.
Ships of this class are named after famous American explorers, pioneers and “visionaries.” The Navy said the ship was named after Chavez because he was a leader of a labor movement and a civil rights activist who co-founded the National Farm Workers Association, which later became the United Farm Workers.
Within a day of the announcement on the Chavez, U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter Jr. (R-52nd California) fired a broadside at the Navy.
“This decision shows the direction the Navy is heading,” said Hunter. “Naming a ship after Cesar Chavez goes right along with other recent decisions by the Navy that appear to be more about making a political statement than upholding the Navy’s history and tradition.
“If this decision were about recognizing the Hispanic community’s contribution to our nation, many other names come to mind, including Marine Corps Sgt. Rafael Peralta, who was nominated for the Medal of Honor for action in Iraq. Peralta is one of many Hispanic war heroes — some of whom are worthy of the same recognition.
“And we cannot forget about John Finn, a lifelong San Diego resident who won the Medal of Honor for what he did during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Finn is another worthy candidate that was evidently overlooked in the selection process.”
So now the congressman wants to have a cargo ship named after either a Medal of Honor nominee or recipient.
I don’t want this to be considered a political piece, but rather pointing out Hunter’s folly, and despite his service in the Marine Corps, he is ignorant of the military (he serves on the subcommittee of Seapower and Projection Forces).
Here’s what a Navy adviser would have offered, and a reporter who knew his stuff would have asked:
1. If Hunter Jr. had any staffers who served in the Navy they would have said “This class of ships doesn’t get named after Medal of Honor recipients, destroyers do.” They also would have said, “destroyers are named after distinguished Navy and Marine Corps officers and enlisted men. We should ask that a destroyer be named after Peralta.”
2. Medal of Honor recipient John Finn lived in Hunter’s district. “We should ask that a destroyer be named after Finn.”
It still amazes me how a congressman — especially one who has served in uniform — doesn’t understand naming conventions the Navy uses. Reporters and editors need to know these as well. So, here’s a general guide on how the Navy names its ships.
The Chavez will be designated as a United States Naval Ship (USNS) and operated by the Navy’s Military Sealift Command with a crew of civil service mariners.
Here is the Navy’s announcement: http://www.navy.mil/search/display.asp?story_id=60467
Here is the information about the Lewis and Clark-class ship: http://www.msc.navy.mil/factsheet/t-ake.asp