Ray Mabus is the 75th and longest-serving Secretary of the Navy since World War I. He visited Stanford on Tuesday to deliver a talk at the Walter H. Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center on rebalancing the distribution of the Navy to focus on the Asia-Pacific region. With Mabus set to retire soon after eight years in office, The Daily sat down with him after his talk to discuss his legacy in the Navy.
The Stanford Daily (TSD): What do you think will be the lasting impact of your tenure as Navy secretary?
Ray Mabus (RM): I hope it’s in several areas. One is how we manage the force. We’re managing the force very differently. We’re promoting more on merit, less on time. … We’ve diversified a lot. … I pushed for the elimination of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and, when it got eliminated, implemented [the changes] in the Navy and Marine Corps. I pushed very strongly to open ground combat and special warfare to women, and that decision got made in January of this year. Now we’re opening the service to transgender [individuals]. Every single time we expand or diversify the service, we get stronger. A diverse force is a much stronger force. If everyone thinks in the same way, has the same background, you become too predictable, and a predictable military force is a defeatable military force. … I’ve expanded paid maternity leave from six weeks to 18 weeks because we were losing too many women in the service, because they were having to choose between family and service.
And finally, the partnerships with our allies and our friends, and the partnership with the American people because the Navy and Marine Corps are America’s away team. We never get a home game. We don’t want a home game. Making sure that the American people understand what the Navy and Marine Corps does for them but also keeping that close connection between those being protected and those doing the protecting.
TSD: What prompted you to make the Navy less dependent on fossil fuels?
RM: The main reason we’re doing it is to make us better war-fighters. Fuel is a vulnerability. Energy is a vulnerability. If you want to see how it can be used as a weapon, look at what Russia did in Crimea. Look at what Russia did in Ukraine. When I came in we were losing a Marine, killed or wounded, for every 50 convoys of oil we were taking into Afghanistan. That’s way too high a price to pay. … The main reason was to be better fighters [and] to be better at our jobs.
There’s another reason, though, that we can’t ignore. That’s climate change. As climate change speeds up, as the Arctic begins to melt, our responsibilities increase. … We are also the largest user of fossil fuels on earth — the Department of Justice is. If we change, the civilian sector usually follows. We’re seeing it now. FedEx, UPS, Virgin Air, Alaska Air, United Airlines are all beginning to fly at least partially on biofuels, and they’re in the profit-making business. They’re not doing this for altruistic reasons. They are still able to make money and do that.
TSD: You have visited over 150 countries as Secretary of the Navy. How do you think the American military is perceived abroad? Are these perceptions fair?
RM: The way the Navy and Marine Corps are mostly perceived is in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief efforts. They are perceived very well. We get a request for humanitarian assistance or disaster relief on average once every two weeks. … We send ships around the Pacific, around Africa, around South America to do things like training with their militaries, but we also do helpful things. We have doctors on board. We have vets on board. We do vision. We do dental. We do health checks. We build schools. We refurbish clinics. We try to do things the country says they need that will help in a non-military sense but in a more holistic way. I believe the American military is viewed very favorably. I know there are some areas, particularly areas of conflict where there may be differing views. By and large and pretty overwhelming, the Navy and Marine Corps are viewed positively by most of the people.
TSD: You worked hard to increase the size of the Navy fleet to surpass 300 ships by 2020 after a decline in the 2000s. Why is it important that our military, and in particular our Navy, be strong?
RM: We’re the only global navy. We’ve kept the sea lanes open for 70 years, and the world’s economy is doing as well as it is because of the U.S. Navy keeping the sea lanes open for everybody involved in peaceful commerce, which is a first in history. … The numbers of ships are important. Quantity becomes a quality all its own. You’ve got to have enough ships to provide that presence to be in the right place, not just at the right time, but all the time. You’ve got to be forward a ship. A ship in San Diego, a ship in Norfolk — if there’s a crisis somewhere across the world it’s going to take too long to get there. It’s no use. You have to have [ships] there. There’s no next best thing to being there.
Contact Sophie Regan at sregan20 ‘at’ stanford.edu.