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Decision To Name Ship After Gabrielle Giffords Engenders Controversy

On Friday, the Secretary of the Navy announced that a new ship would be named after former Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords:

Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus announced Feb. 10 that the next Independence variant littoral combat ship (LCS) will be named USS Gabrielle Giffords (LCS 10).

The selection of Gabrielle Giffords, designated LCS 10, honors the former congresswoman from Tucson, Ariz. who is known for supporting the military and veterans, advocating for renewable energy and championing border security. Giffords recently resigned from Congress to recover from wounds she sustained in an assassination attempt in 2011.

“The Navy motto is Semper Fortis, Always Courageous,” said Mabus during a ceremony held in the Pentagon Courtyard. “Unwavering courage has defined the Navy for 236 years and it is what we expect, what we demand of our Sailors every single day. So it’s very appropriate that LCS 10 be named for someone who has become synonymous with courage, who has inspired the nation with remarkable resiliency and showed the possibilities of the human spirit.”

Mabus also announced the ship’s sponsor will be Roxanna Green. Green is the mother of Christina-Taylor Green, the nine-year-old girl who was killed while attending the meeting of constituents where Giffords was shot. A ship’s sponsor plays an important role in the life of the ship, naval tradition holds that her spirit and presence guide the ship throughout its service life.

“On that dark, tragic day now more than a year ago, Christina-Taylor Green was taken from us. A nine-year-old who had just been elected to the student council, she wanted to become a more active participant in our democracy. Her mother, Roxanna Green, continues to express her daughter’s hope for the future and, as the President said, “of a nation as good as she imagined.”

“I am pleased to honor Gabrielle Giffords and the people of Arizona with the naming of this ship,” said Mabus. “Giffords and the ship’s sponsor, Roxanna Green, are sources of great inspiration and represent the Navy and Marine Corps qualities of overcoming, adapting and coming out victorious despite great challenges.”

A nice sentiment, perhaps, but one that has come with some degree of controversy among retired Navy officers:

Retired Rear Admiral George Worthington, former commander of the Naval Special Warfare Command, told The Daily Caller that there are many people more worthy of a ship bearing their name.

“Here is the issue. There are a lot of dead Marines out there whose names could go on anything that appears to be an amphibious ship,” he said, explaining that a past recipient of the Medal of Honor, Dakota Meyer, might be a good candidate.

Worthington added his email “inbox” has been filled with messages from military friends who are “shocked and angered” by the decision.

“We think fallen Marines and perhaps supporting sailors should go on fantails before random victims,” he said.

Former U.S. Naval Institute CEO, retired Marine Maj. Gen. Tom Wilkerson, expressed disappointment at the recent evolution of ship dedication.

“If you were to look at one thing that has changed with Secretary Mabus it has been going from naming warships to honor people who have served or are intimately connected to the sea services to reaching into a more political environment and doing things almost on a feel-good basis,” he said, noting his dismay at recent decisions to name ships after Cesar Chavez and former Pennsylvania Rep. John Murtha.

Wilkerson went on to say that what happened to Giffords was a tragedy, but that she was neither a service hero nor a major supporter/sponsor of the sea services and their contributions to national security.

“It is a very clear statement that naming warships has become more politicized than at anytime in our past,” he said, “perhaps an effort on the part of the Navy Department leadership to gain more public support

(…)

Former Deputy Undersecretary of Defense Jed Babbin added to that sentiment.

“There is nothing wrong with Gabby Giffords,” he said. “She is a wonderful lady, but how inspiring will it be for a young sailor to go aboard the USS Gabrielle Giffords as opposed to the USS Winston Churchill or the USS The Sullivans?”

According to Babbin, the decision is “absurd and outrageous.”

“It’s certainly tragic what happened to Ms. Gifford, but that does not place her in the ranks of the people for whom ships should be named,” Babbin said.

At the very least, it seems historically unusual for a ship to be named after a living person. Typically, this seems to be something that has only been done in the past to honor service members of note or former Presidents. There’s also something to the point that there are plenty of men who have died in combat over the past ten years, as well as countless men and women who have served the Navy honorably and with distinction, for whom the honor might seem more appropriate. Is it “nice” that they’re naming a ship after Gabby Giffords? Yea, I guess so. I’m just not sure that it’s appropriate.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Al says:

    Personally, I think naming boondoggles after members of congress are a great idea. Who can we name the F-35 after?

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  2. Mike says:

    Not to mention the fact that the naming convention for the LCS class is supposed to be medium sized U.S. cities, class leaders Freedom and Independence notwithstanding. So not only do you have the issue of naming it after a politician whose sole claim to national fame is having an horrific incident happen to them, but it is a gross departure from the class naming convention. Not to say that doesn’t occur (witness the Seawolf class USS Jimmy Carter) but usually when a ship is named after a living person it is at least in line with the naming conventions for that class…i.e., naming an Arleigh Burke class destroyer after a living naval hero or naming a Nimitz class carrier after a living individual who served in or made extensive contributions to the Navy.

    We started down this road with the Carl Vinson and the John Stennis, and continued down it with the Reagan and H.W. Bush (as well as the new Ford class), but those were at least justifiable, if somewhat outside the standard. The Murtha, Chavez, and this are just craven political decisions that deserve every bit of criticism they receive.

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  3. Franklin says:

    … dismay at recent decisions to name ships after Cesar Chavez and former Pennsylvania Rep. John Murtha.

    Murtha was a Marine (not fallen in the line-of-duty, of course, but still). But here’s the key: both he and Giffords had the wrong letter after their name. Somebody’s making it political, alright, but it’s not the people naming the ships.

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  4. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Mike:

    Despite all the huffing and puffing these as you yourself point out are rules that are as much honored int the breach as in their observance. This is all pretty small minded stuff no doubt aimed at producing some new imagined grievance. So go knock yourselves out, I don’t see it having much resonance outside of the malcontent class and with a bit of luck it will blow up in face of its authors.

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  5. @Brummagem Joe:

    As Mike points out, it’s only until relatively recently that these breaches have occurred.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 2

  6. Mike says:

    @Franklin:

    Murtha had…issues (he was a corrupt POS), which made his choice at the very least controversial which is something you are supposed to try to avoid when naming a vessel, not to mention the fact that the San Antonio-class (of which the ship that bears his name is a member) is supposed to be named for, yet again, U.S. cities. So not only is it a controversial decision, but it is a gross deviation from the naming convention for the class.

    It may have something to do with politics with some people, but not with me. Either naming conventions mean something, or they don’t, and if they don’t why do we even bother…open the floodgates and just start naming ships after whatever political organization or group you want to try and curry favor with. Mabus deserves every bit of criticism he gets for this, and I say that as someone who respects Ray Mabus and had high hopes for his tenure as SECNAV.

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  7. Septimius says:

    @Franklin: Yes, because naming a naval vessel after a union organizer is not political at all.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 4

  8. Andy says:

    I’m a Navy vet and a traditionalist – I think ships should not be named for any living person, period. I would also like to see traditional names used – we did get “Independence” but I think we need to bring back a “Ranger,” “Constellation” to name two examples.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  9. sam says:

    @Andy:

    “I think ships should not be named for any living person, period”

    Roger that.

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  10. I’ll start giving a crap after they rename the USS John C. Stennis, named after a Senator that, as a prosecutor, had no problem with three people being executed due to a confession that was extracted through extensive torture.

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  11. Mike says:

    @Brummagem Joe:

    As Doug stated, these departures from naming conventions have been relatively recent, and even then they are defensible, if somewhat less so as the years have gone on. Let’s run down the list…(I’m only including classes currently in service…there have been occasional departures from naming conventions in prior classes, but they were extremely few and far between).

    L.A. Class attack subs – naming convention is U.S. cities, the one departure was the USS Hyman Rickover, which given that the individual was an admiral who was the father of the nuclear Navy, I think it was appropriate. Ship was commissioned three years before the Admiral’s death.

    Ohio class ballistic missile subs – naming convention is U.S. states, the one departure is the USS Henry M. Jackson, which I again think is appropriate given the ship’s mission of nuclear deterrence and the Senator’s focus on foreign affairs and his long and distinguished service in the Senate during much of the Cold War. Ship was launched the same year as the Senator’s death.

    Seawolf class attack subs – This is kind of an unusual class, since it doesn’t really have a naming convention due to there only being three of them, and all three are named after something different. The one that was named after a living person was the USS Jimmy Carter, which seems appropriate given his service as a submarine officer.

    Virginia class attack subs – Naming convention is U.S. states, one exception (so far) is the USS John Warner. This one I have somewhat of a problem with, as it could be argued that the naming was somewhat political (and indeed, many of the same people who are criticizing the Murtha, Chavez, and Giffords also criticized this decision) but it is at least a little defensible given that Warner served as SECNAV and spent a long career in the Senate dealing with naval affairs specifically and military affairs in general.

    Arleigh Burke class destroyers – naming convention is naval heroes, two departures are the USS Winston Churchill (named well after his death) and the USS Nitze, which was laid down two years before his death. Both names are defensible I think given the outsized role each played in Western policy during the Cold War.

    Ticonderoga class cruisers – naming convention is significant battles in U.S. history (with some overlap occurring with carriers that served with distinction during WWII because they had the same naming convention). The one exception is the USS Thomas S Gates, who served as SECDEF under Eisenhower after serving with distinction as a naval officer during WWII.

    Nimitz class carriers – naming convention is a little more nebulous, but is basically significant U.S. individuals (we’re talking on the level of extremely important Presidents, five star Admirals who won WWII, etc) who may have had an important role to play in Naval affairs. The two most egregious exceptions here are the Stennis and the Vinson, as both were mere Congressmen, but both also played extremely important roles in Naval affairs, with Vinson spending his entire career in Congress advocating for the Navy and Stennis playing an important role in the development of the modern Navy. Both were alive when their namesakes were commissioned, but both died the same year.

    Contrast this with the Giffords and Murtha, not to mention the Chavez (an individual who said his two years in the Navy were the worst in his life.) You can keep trying to turn this into a “BUT THE RETHUGLICANS ARE JUST COMPLAINING ABOUT THE DEMS GETTING SOME SHIPS NAMED AFTER THEM NOW HURR” but you’re off base.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 2

  12. sam says:

    @Mike:

    It may have something to do with politics with some people, but not with me. Either naming conventions mean something,

    Brings up a tangential pet peeve of mine (which is related, I think, if we want to bring political motives into it): How we’ve gone from Operation Overlord or Operation Galvanic to Operation Enduring Freedom or Operation Iraqi Freedom. The last two are, in my opinion, bullshit names dreamed up by political operatives for, essentially, domestic political purposes. I mean, really, who can be against military operations with the word ‘Freedom’ in the moniker? Only commies and jihadists. (For operations named by, you know, guys who shoot people, instead of guys who send guys who shoot people, see, List of coalition military operations of the Iraq War.)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  13. Mike says:

    @Andy:

    When the Big E retires next year, it will be only the second time in 75 years that there is not a commissioned vessel in the U.S. Navy named “Enterprise.” That’ll be a sad day. I’d also add Lexington and Saratoga to your list, as well as a Coral Sea and Midway.

    I think my one exception to your “do not name ships for any living person, period” rule would be Navy/Marine Corps individuals awarded the MoH or the Navy Cross…I would love to see a USS Dakota Meyer, just as there is a USS Jason Dunham and USS Michael Murphy.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  14. Rob in CT says:

    Meh.

    I’m with those who don’t want ships named after living people, especially politicians – and frankly, people at all. Oh, maybe the Founders.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  15. Mike says:

    @sam:

    I would agree. The funny thing is that within the military about the only time you will actually see or hear people utilize the full name is when you have to…like writing up a decoration or performance report or the like. The rest of the time it is OIF/OEF/etc. IIRC the name the military originally came up with for OEF was “Infinite Justice” but that got shot down due to it being deemed offensive because of the comment that those who believe in God/Allah/Yahweh/FSM/whoever think that only he/she/it can dispense true justice or something. I understand the desire to pick a name/phrase that has something to do with the operation, as opposed to a random two word phrase, but I think it’s gone a little too far. Desert Shield/Desert Storm would seem to be the gold standard here, as they were both descriptive without assigning any political motives to the operation.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  16. @Mike:

    My understanding is that there is a movement afoot already to name CVN-80, the third Ford-class supercarrier, Enterprise. Of course, that ship isn’t scheduled to be ready until sometime around 2021

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  17. @Mike:

    H.W. Bush (as well as the new Ford class)

    H. W. Bush and Ford were at least both actually in the Navy and saw combat during World War II.

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  18. Tsar Nicholas says:

    Hell, with this airheaded administration at the reins pretty soon we’ll have the “U.S.S. Rosa Parks,” the “U.S.S. Solar Energy,” the “U.S.S. Gays in the Military,” the “U.S.S. Jon Corzine,” the “U.S.S. Nobel Peace Prize,” and the “U.S.S. Hope ‘N Change.”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 16

  19. @Tsar Nicholas:

    I’m reminded of the old joke of naming ships things like “USS Frank Exchang of Opinions” or “CVN Our Sincerest Apologies”.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  20. DRS says:

    Sorry, just why exactly is Rosa Parks in your list, Tsar?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 2

  21. John Peabody says:

    Don’t forget the U.S.S. Greenpeace…instead of metal bulkheads, everything will be built from recycled plywood…with speaking tubes instead of pesky electronics…stout lines between the wheel and rudder… and sails… beautiful, wonderul sails…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 3

  22. sam says:

    BTW, I think it would be entirely appropriate for the Navy to name a ship after the late Charlie Wilson. He was a naval officer and, while in Congress, he arguably had as much to do, if not more, with the demise of the Soviet Union than Ronald Reagan. His CO when he was aboard ship gave him the very highest complement a CO can give. Charles was, his CO said, “the best officer on ship but the worst in port.”

    Charlie sounds like he was my kind of naval officer (but then, I was a Marine).

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  23. WR says:

    It’s so nice to see that the righties have a new shiny object to be outraged over. I was afraid that after they’d flown into a tizzy over the mean Dems obliterating religious freedom by not allowing a group of old white men to control the medical decisions of every woman in America they might not be able to summon up a fresh serving of pointless anger. But here we are!

    I just wonder which southern member of congress will propose naming a ship after Jared Lee Loughner in the name of balance.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 6

  24. Mike says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    Yeah, there is definitely a movement, but as far as I know it has only been online petitions and people advocating for it…nothing official from the Navy one way or the other.

    @Stormy Dragon:

    True, which is why I said you could make a case for those, although it would be more of a stretch than some of the others (not as much of one as was made for the Vinson or Stennis, though).

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  25. @Mike:

    This is true, although any decision on naming CVN-80 is several years away at least.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  26. @WR:

    I don’t find this outrageous. I do find it inappropriate given the fact that there are countless numbers of service members from the Navy and Marines who would have been more fitting to honor with this tribute than a Member of Congress who has no ties to the Navy.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  27. merl says:

    @Mike: I thought naming a ship after Murtha makes sense. He was a decorated Marine. Chavez makes no sense and neither does Gifford

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  28. merl says:

    @DRS: blackness, probably the same reason he hates the President.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  29. WR says:

    @Doug Mataconis: Sorry, I was really referring to some commenters, not your calm post. But having lived through the right-wing attempt to name literally every public building or institution after Reagan, I find it hard to get flipped out about this kind of “controversy.”

    Besides, no doubt pretty soon we’re going to start selling off the naming rights to corporations in exchange for a few bucks, so it won’t matter. It will be the USS Coke Zero.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  30. Tillman says:

    Surprised they haven’t hired writers to come up with vague philosophical ship names yet. I’m thinking Halo ship names, e.g. USS Truth and Reconciliation, USS High Charity, and so on.

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  31. Vast Variety says:

    CVN-80 should definately be named Enterprise.

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  32. Vast Variety says:

    Enterprise lineage

    Continental Navy

    Two ships of the Continental Navy were named Enterprise:

    USS Enterprise (1775) armed sloop (18 May 1775 – 7 July 1777), the first American ship to bear the name served on Lake Champlain

    Enterprise (1776) schooner (20 December 1776 – February 1777), the second American ship to bear this name served on Chesapeake Bay during the Revolutionary War.

    United States Navy

    Six ships of the United States Navy have been named Enterprise:

    USS Enterprise (1799) 12-gun schooner / 14-gun brig (17 December 1799 – 9 July 1823), the third ship to bear this name, was built as schooner, and later rerigged as a brig. She fired the first shots in the First Barbary War against the Tripolitanian ship Tripoli

    USS Enterprise (1831) 10-gun schooner (15 December 1831 – 24 June 1844), the fourth ship to bear this name

    USS Enterprise (1874) barque-rigged screw sloop (16 March 1877 – 1 October 1909), the fifth ship to bear this name

    USS Enterprise (SP-790) motor yacht (1917–1919), the sixth ship to bear this name, was non-commissioned, serving in the Second Naval District during World War I

    USS Enterprise (CV-6) Yorktown-class aircraft carrier (12 May 1938 – 17 February 1947), the seventh ship to bear this name, served with great distinction in World War II, becoming the most-decorated vessel in the history of the U.S. Navy.

    USS Enterprise (CVN-65) Enterprise-class aircraft carrier (25 November 1961 – Present), the eighth ship to bear this name, is a unique design, and the first nuclear powered aircraft carrier. It is scheduled to be decommissioned in 2013.

    U.S. Navy building

    USS Enterprise (BLDG 7115), commissioned building (27 May 2005 – Present), this recruit barracks is a building the Navy treats like a ship for training purposes.

    Other American vessels

    Enterprise, a steamboat that participated in the Battle of New Orleans and then demonstrated for the first time by her epic 2,200-mile voyage from New Orleans to Brownsville, Pennsylvania that steamboat commerce was practical on America’s western rivers.

    Enterprise (balloon), a balloon used by the Union Army during the American Civil War.

    Space Shuttle Enterprise (OV-101), the first Space Shuttle Orbiter, used for test flights in earth atmosphere, landing procedures, and ground tests between 1975 and 1985.

    USTS Kennedy (T-AK-5059), former USTS Enterprise (2003–2008), USNS Cape Bon (1985–2003), and SS Velma Lykes (1967–1985). Currently a training ship at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy, which renamed it after the 1874 Enterprise (the Academy’s first training ship) before renaming it after Senator Kennedy.

    Of course that’s not including the 12 ships from Star Trek and the VSS Enterprise built by Virgin Galactic.

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  33. Once I remembered that Giffords was a Navy spouse, I had no problem with the naming decision.

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  34. MarkedMan says:

    Mike, thanks for the thorough overview. I don’t know the Navy Commands thought process in going down this path but it seems foolish.

    Oh, and as for the blame Obama crowd, does anyone know where this decision was made and if it has anything to do with the White House?

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