Former military brass ‘shocked,’ ‘angered’ over USS Gabrielle Giffords
Despite the country’s respect for former Arizona Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, not everyone in the military community was thrilled with Navy Secretary Ray Mabus’ Friday announcement that the Navy’s new Independence variant littoral combat ship (LCS) will be named for her.
“The Navy motto is Semper Fortis, Always Courageous,” said Mabus during the Friday ceremony with Giffords, who was shot last year during an assassination attempt in Tucson.
“Unwavering courage has defined the Navy for 236 years and it is what we expect, what we demand of our sailors every single day,” said Mabus. “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.”
According to a number of former and current military members, however, the decision to name the LCS after Giffords was not, in fact, “very appropriate.”
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. (RELATED: More stories on Gabrielle Giffords)
“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.”
“Why do we name a ship?” Wilkerson rhetorically asked. “In large part it is to inspire those who will serve over time in ships company and to make them feel that they are serving in a part of American history that has direct positive impact and inspires them to do their best.”
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.
Infantry Lt. Col. Bill Connor likewise told TheDC that while he was saddened by what happened to Giffords, it was not a sufficient reason to name a ship for her.
“My heart goes out to her and her husband,” said Connor, “and we are all impressed with her recovery and our prayers are with her and were with her when she was shot. It is not her fault, but I am angered at the decision, I want that to be clear, she didn’t ask for it to happen. But I am a little angered at the decision considering we have so many of our service members, including the ones I served with and commanded in places like southern Afghanistan, who will never have a ship named after them.”
Former Navy SEAL Scott Taylor added that Giffords is an inspiration for her courage and deserves recognition, but that naming a Navy vessel for her is not the way to do it, as “there are more deserving women or men to have a Navy ship named after them.”
“Regrettably starting with the naming of a ship in 2011 after a former labor leader [Cesar Chavez], the current Secretary of the Navy is heading down a path of making a political statement, rather then upholding the Navy’s great history and tradition,” Taylor told TheDC. “It is borderline offensive the Naval Secretary or those above him fail to find heroism justifiable for such an honor in any race or gender within the military itself, particularly, considering the incredible sacrifices and valor exhibited during the current conflicts.”
American naval expert Eric Wertheim told TheDC that while the country has a great deal of respect for Giffords, he is uncomfortable with naming ships after living people.
“I think that Giffords is a true inspiration, and I have nothing but respect for her and what she has accomplished and overcome, but I am concerned about naming ships after living people,” he told TheDC in an email. “It worries me that the navy is making legends of people before they are able to go through the vetting process of history. The potential problem here is that any living person, theoretically, could later do something that changes our opinion of them.”
Wertheim added that many have been troubled by the fact that “dedicated Americans who have given their lives for the country” have been passed over for such high honors.
According to The Washington Times — which ran an editorial Monday blasting Mabus’ decision — due to “the Obama administration’s [series of] questionable, politically motivated Navy ship namings,” Missouri Republican Sen. Roy Blunt offered an amendment to the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act requiring a report on Navy vessel naming.
The Defense Department is expected to submit a report on the current and historical ship-naming practices to Congress in June.
Follow Caroline on Twitter