Defense Media Network

Getting the Message Out: The Navy League of the United States

“We believe that the security of our nation and of the people of the world demands a well-balanced, integrated, mobile American defense team, of which a strong Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, and Merchant Marine are indispensable parts.”

– Statement of Policy, Navy League of the United States

 

For more than a century, the Navy League of the United States has been the keeper of a vital truth, which is encapsulated within the Statement of Policy above. It states that the United States is, first and foremost, a maritime nation and power, and always will be to both its benefit and peril. This simple idea, that without free and open sea lanes for trade and transportation America will be at risk and its basic ideals will be threatened, is pretty powerful stuff for a humble nonprofit organization formed in 1902 at the behest of President Theodore Roosevelt. However, given the fact that the 20th century is now called “the American Century,” in great part because of our ability to project power across the oceans and keep most threats at arm’s distance, the Navy League’s point has obvious merit. It was with that spirit that the Navy League came into existence in 1902.

 

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Since that time, Roosevelt’s vision has been proven correct time and time again. As the mood of the nation supporting its sea services has ebbed and flowed, the message of the Navy League has remained as constant as the oceans themselves. Quite simply, the reasons for the League’s existence breaks down this way:

  • To foster and maintain interest in a strong Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, and Merchant Marine as integral parts of a sound national defense and vital to the freedom of the United States.
  • To serve as a means of educating and informing the American people with regard to the role of sea power in the nuclear age and the problems involved in maintaining strong defenses in that age.
  • To improve the understanding, appreciation, and recognition of those who wear the uniforms of our armed forces and to better the conditions under which they live and serve.
  • To provide support and recognition for the Sea Service Reserve forces in our communities in order that we may continue to have a capable and responsive maritime Reserve community.
  • To educate and train our youth in the customs and traditions of the Navy, the Marine Corps, the Coast Guard, and the Merchant Marine through the means of an active and vigorous Naval Sea Cadet Corps.

 

 

So how does the Navy League manage to foster all the above goals? In a word: communications. Few nonprofit organizations have been so effective over such a long period in getting their ideas and messages out, be it through placement of editorials in the mainstream press, or the huge Sea-Air-Space exposition it holds every year in the Washington, D.C. area. Key to this communications effort is its magazine, Seapower, which can be found monthly in the offices of contractors and Members of Congress, as well as on the shelves of libraries and coffee tables of interested citizens. Quite simply, when a particular message about America’s Sea Services needs to get out to the world, the Navy League can get that message heard loud and in a hurry.

 

USS Delaware (SSN 791) Christening Ceremony

Ship’s sponsor Dr. Jill Biden performs the traditional honor of breaking a bottle of American sparkling wine across the hull of the submarine Delaware (SSN 791). Also pictured (left to right) are Cmdr. Brian Hogan, the submarine’s then-commanding officer; Sen. Thomas Carper, D-Del.; and Newport News Shipbuilding President Jennifer Boykin.

 

Helping the Navy League to spread the message of America’s need for sea power are a number of partners, including corporate members and associated organizations such as the Association of Naval Aviation. Other nonprofit organizations like Operation Homefront, Military Spouses’ Career Network, and America Supports You are just a few of the groups that benefit from their association with the Navy League. In addition to its mass media messages, the Navy League also supports long-term educational efforts, like the reading programs of the Chief of Naval Operations, the U.S. Marine Corps, and the U.S. Coast Guard. The support of America’s sea services is a never-ending campaign for the Navy League, and it makes a point of effectively using all the tools at its disposal.

The key to the Navy League’s success is found in its membership, which is organized into a series of regional councils across America and overseas. Hampton Roads has the largest collection of military power in the world today, and its council is particularly engaged in serving and promoting the Sea Services.

“The Navy League of the United States, Hampton Roads is an organization of professionals dedicated to the mission of serving Sea Service members and educating the civilian community in a strong national defense,” said Jim Monroe, chairman of the board of the Navy League’s Hampton Roads Council. “Our board of directors range from influential community leaders and senior civilians to retired flag officers and senior enlisted service members. They donate their personal time to be a part of this prestigious organization.”

The Delaware’s Matron of Honor Leslie Hogan, selected by the ship’s sponsor. Mrs. Hogan is the spouse of the former commanding officer of USS Delaware, Cmdr. Brian Hogan, who is now stationed at the Pentagon working for the secretary of defense. The journey toward the commissioning of a ship takes years, and many service members, contractors, civilians, and family members have a stake in the ship through their hard work and support.

From Hampton Roads to Los Alamos, New Mexico, the Navy League councils are organizing events for speakers, placing stories in local media, recognizing outstanding sea service personnel, and making the mission of the U.S. sea services relevant for Americans, no matter how far they are from an ocean or river.

Sometimes that message is simply pointing out how much of the local economy is tied to use of the sea lanes to import or export goods in and out of their area, or how even the smallest landlocked congressional district has a significant contractor/employment contribution from the sea services. Other times, the Navy League is in the midst of a national discussion, as it was in the 1970s and 1980s during the battle for what became President Ronald Reagan’s 600-ship Navy. Whatever the question of the day, count on the Navy League being there to make itself known on behalf of those in the sea services who are not allowed a voice of their own.

This last point is vitally important, as active service members are not allowed membership in the Navy League. The Navy League is deeply committed to the fundamental constitutional principle of civilian control over the military and its operations, while helping give the Sea Services and its personnel a voice in the national media and discussions about sea power. Therefore, the organization walks a fine and delicate line, while always promoting the ideals originally set forth by Roosevelt back in 1902. That said, however, the Navy League has now done so for more than 100 years, and clearly has become a cornerstone of any discussion about national defense and sea power. This respect for the Constitution and propriety is one of the reasons politicians, military leaders, and the captains of American industry have no concerns about speaking and appearing at Navy League events like Sea-Air-Space.

 

Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy (MCPON) Russell Smith (center) discusses U.S. Navy manning during the Senior Enlisted Panel at the 2019 Sea-Air-Space (SAS) Exposition. The annual exposition, hosted by the Navy League of the United States, brings together key military decision-makers, the U.S. defense industrial base, and private-sector U.S. companies for an innovative, educational, and professional maritime-based event.

 

Perhaps the most visible promotion of America’s sea services by the Navy League is its program of sponsoring the commissioning of new vessels into the sea services, such as the commissioning taking place today.

“One of our greatest legacies has been the direct support of 28 commissioning events of United States Navy ships,” said Monroe. “Each of these projects can encompass over five years of dedicated, experience-based oversight and support. Commissioning ceremonies highlight a tradition some three centuries old, observed by navies from around the globe. Our own Navy has a rich history of ship commissionings since they began in 1775 with the Alfred, the first ship of the Continental Navy, which was commissioned in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.”

Federal law, ethics rules, and service regulations heavily limit the Sea Services in what they are allowed to do during the fitting out and commissioning of new vessels, and the Navy League has made it its mission to help out and finish the job the way it should be done. This is because, in the view of the League, commissionings represent a rare chance in this day and age to allow the public a chance to touch the painted metal of a ship’s hull, and interact with the crew in a way simply not available when the vessel is on cruise or operations. Also, like a newborn child, every ship and its crew deserve a great start to build their own legacy, and the Navy League helps make that possible.

The Navy League’s contribution to a ship commissioning begins long before the vessel ever goes into the water, working with the shipbuilders and other contractors, and the Sea Services themselves.

 

The crew of the USS Virginia (SSN 774) man the ship during a commissioning ceremony. The first-in-class Virginia was designed for the 21st century, but her sailors were made aware of the ship’s earlier namesakes and the lineage of the name.

 

“Our journey in working with the Navy to bring PCU Delaware (SSN 791) to life began a few years ago under the leadership of Capt. Brian Hogan,” said Maryellen Baldwin, president and CEO of Navy League Hampton Roads. “His dedication in the early stages of the ship’s history include forming the crew and setting the tone of positive leadership that continues today under the direction of Cmdr. Matt Horton. The demands of commanding this ship are second to none. It requires a commitment to serve and protect our nation under extraordinary circumstances. The sailors who will serve aboard this ship for the next 35 years will do so with the understanding that our nation recognizes the sacrifices that are made every day. We are proud to be part of Navy history.”The roles of the Hampton Roads Council provide an insight into what can be done within the commissioning process itself to promote the mission and messages of the League. Hampton Roads has the largest collection of military power in the world today.

Commissioning Committee and Sponsors

Embedded in the ship enhancements program, as in all Navy League activities, is the containing mission of conveying the need to support the sea services. On board every aircraft carrier since USS John F. Kennedy (CV 67) is a special compartment off of the hangar deck called a “tribute room.” Part museum, part exposition, these spaces provide visitors with a chance to learn about the ship’s namesake, and the lineage of the ship’s name in other ships that have borne the name. The last point is carried on in vessels other than aircraft carriers, as was shown several years ago with the nuclear-powered attack submarine USS Virginia (SSN 774). The first of a new class of boats for the U.S. Navy, the Virginia had been preceded by a number of other American warships carrying the same name, including a nuclear-powered guided missile cruiser, a battleship, and one of the first Civil War ironclads. As part of her commissioning, the Hampton Roads Council made sure that the proud name being attached to SSN 774 was recognized as being part of a distinguished line of American warships named Virginia going back more than a century. This is also the case with the commissioning of USS Delaware (SSN 791), and one measure of the appreciation for the proud history of U.S. Navy ships bearing the name Delaware is that the boat will be commissioned in Wilmington. Support for this commissioning has been particularly strong.

“The Navy League, in partnership with the commissioning committee and with the support of Delawareans across the state, successfully raised funds for the USS Delaware commissioning,” said Baldwin. “It is important to note that taxpayer dollars do not fund ship enhancements or activities surrounding the commissioning ceremony, so our heartfelt thanks goes out to so many individuals that have assisted. Please read the committee listing, made up of patriots who have worked tirelessly to make this happen in Wilmington, Delaware. We especially thank Sen. Tom Carper and Mr. John Riley, who both took the lead on the endeavor to bring this ship to life right in the Port of Wilmington.”

Other parts of the commissioning process are specifically geared toward the crew members who have worked hard to take their pre-commissioning units and turn them into commissioned American service vessels. Called “plankowners,” these hard-working young men and women have a special status in the history of a ship, and there are events and presentation items especially for them during the final stages of the commissioning process. For all concerned, the Navy League’s contributions are a critical part of the commission in process, and would be empty events without their special aid.

USS Delaware (SSN 791) Plankowners

“With 28 commissionings to date, we are proud to support events and ship enhancements. Depending on the size of the ship, one priority is always an endowed scholarship to benefit families of crew members,” said Baldwin.

Commissionings, however, are hardly the only ways for councils like Hampton Roads to give sea service personnel the recognition they are so richly due. Programs like “Sailor of the Quarter” and “Sailor of the Year,” give ships, squadrons, and shore-based units a chance to recognize their finest young professionals, and are a vital part of what the Navy League does to support those who go to sea to protect our nation and interests.

For more than a century now, the Navy League has kept faith with the sea services and the nation it serves. Even in times when America was not interested or listening, the Navy League has managed to keep its message of sea power’s influence out in the public domain, where it needs to be if the United States is to sustain itself as the preeminent maritime power in the world. As a nation, the United States owes the Navy League a debt of thanks for its persistence and steadiness, along with the hope that as long as there is a United States, there will be a Navy League.

“I am honored to serve as the Chairman of the Board of Directors at the Navy League of the United States, Hampton Roads,” said Monroe. “The programs and special activities which support the service members of the Sea Services also highlight their work in our local communities and demonstrate the importance of a strong maritime defense. The camaraderie, relationship-building, and the friendships forged over time are priceless. Navy League of the United States, Hampton Roads is an organization worthy of your valuable time and we appreciate continued community support.”

To learn more about the Navy League of the United States, obtain membership information, or make a donation, please contact the Navy League at: www.navyleaguehamptonroads.org.

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John D. Gresham lives in Fairfax, Va. He is an author, researcher, game designer, photographer,...

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