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Trump executive order eases veteran transition into Merchant Marine

A merchant mariner aboard the fast sealift ship SS Capella (T-AKR 293) mans the helm as the ship is underway to conduct a 120-hour turbo activation. The U.S. Transportation Command (TRANSCOM) conducts turbo activation to measure personnel and material readiness of the selected Ready Reserve Force. Capella, more than 40-years-old, is still among the fastest cargo ships in the world and capable of transporting nearly all equipment needed to outfit a full mechanized brigade of the U.S. Army. (Petty Officer 2nd Class Billy Ho/U.S. Navy)

President Donald Trump signed an executive order Monday easing the process for veterans to transition into the Merchant Marine.

The order will clear the way for the Merchant Marine to waive licensing fees for sea-service veterans and count their military training toward its credentialing system, said Peter Navarro, a White House trade policy adviser.

Trump’s administration is positing the action as part of a broader effort to transition veterans into civilian jobs. It’s also a method to boost the number of highly-qualified mariners in the Merchant Marine, which has faced a shortage in recent years, Navarro said.

“I think the whole point here is to leverage their experience that they gain and education they gain in the military to move directly into the Merchant Marine and do it in a way where the fees and costs are minimized,” Navarro said Monday during a briefing with reporters.

The Coast Guard already runs a “Military to Mariner” program to help transitioning servicemembers get credentialed for the Merchant Marine. Navarro said the new order was part of the “ongoing process” of the initiative.

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The Merchant Marine includes a fleet of private- and government-owned vessels manned by civilian mariners to transport cargo and passengers. In wartime, it can be used as an auxiliary to the Navy. During World War II, the Merchant Marine transported vast quantities of equipment and troops.

Mark Buzby, administrator of the Maritime Administration at the Department of Transportation, told Congress last year that he was concerned about a decreasing number of mariners who were qualified to operate large ships. The U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, N.Y., as well as other maritime academies, graduate more than 1,000 officers each year, but there’s a shortage of mariners to serve in senior-level positions, Buzby said.

There might not be enough mariners to help if called upon during a crisis, he warned.

The Government Accountability Office called attention to the shortage of mariners in a November report. The GAO estimated there were about 11,770 qualified and available mariners as of June 2017 – about 2,000 short of what would be needed for a drawn-out military effort.

“The men and women of the Merchant Marine have always stood up in times of need to meet any task set for them and would likely extend their time at sea beyond normal tours if called upon to do so,” Buzby wrote in a statement to Congress. “However, it is critical to ensure we have enough qualified U.S. mariners to safely crew our government vessels so that the readiness of the force is not negatively impacted.”

Buzby was at the White House on Monday when Trump signed the order, which is titled “Supporting the Transition of Active Duty Service Members and Military Veterans into the Merchant Marine.”

In addition to helping national security, Navarro said the order would assist veterans with securing high-paying jobs.

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Getting credentialed for the Merchant Marine can cost up to $25,000 in fees – a cost from which sea-service veterans would now be exempt, Navarro said. Citing statistics from the Department of Transportation, he said water transportation workers earn more than $65,000 each year on average.

“The executive order will help our sea veterans more quickly find high-paying jobs worthy of their skillsets,” Navarro said.

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© 2019 the Stars and Stripes

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