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Trump order aims to ease move from military to merchant marine

Jun 4, 2019 02:18 PM
Steven Moore, a merchant mariner aboard the hospital ship USNS Mercy, signals the oiler USNS Rappahannock during a replenishment operation in the Pacific Ocean in May 2018. An executive order by President Trump is designed to make it easier for active-duty service members to become civilian mariners.

U.S. Navy photo

Steven Moore, a merchant mariner aboard the hospital ship USNS Mercy, signals the oiler USNS Rappahannock during a replenishment operation in the Pacific Ocean in May 2018. An executive order by President Trump is designed to make it easier for active-duty service members to become civilian mariners.

Maritime industry leaders are pleased with an executive order signed in March by President Trump that is designed to make it easier for veterans to transition from the U.S. military to the merchant marine.

Under the order, all military and training experience will be reviewed to see if it can be used for maritime credentials. Verification of sea service is to be provided no later than one month after discharge. All fees associated with the Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) will be covered for active-duty personnel, and all fees for license evaluation, issuance and examination will be waived. Costs associated with obtaining credentials are estimated to run as high as $25,000 per veteran.

There is such a shortfall of merchant mariners that it would impede the country’s ability to fight a large-scale war with full military mobilization, said Peter Navarro, director of the White House Office of Trade and Manufacturing Policy.

“After just six months, the most powerful country in the world could find itself challenged to supply its overseas military personnel,” he said.

In the past several decades, the number of merchant mariners with unlimited oceangoing credentials who have sailed in the past 18 months has fallen below 12,000. The United States could have an expected shortfall of 1,800 qualified mariners in the event of war, according to Mark Buzby, head of the U.S. Maritime Administration (MarAd).

On the industry side, employers are eager to hire veterans. Veterans are ideal employees, according to Matt Woodruff, vice president of public and government affairs at Kirby Corp.

“We recognize that in the maritime industry, and we want to get as many (veterans) as we can, but unfortunately other (employers) have figured it out as well. People fight for these veterans,” he said.

Making the transition process easier is crucial. If a service member is about to leave active duty and would like to pursue a career in the maritime industry, “he can just say, ‘Send me a TWIC,’ then he can walk in and we can commit to him right away. (If) he’s a candidate for us, the uncertainty is gone,” Woodruff said. “We’ve lost a lot of candidates just through simple stuff like that, which this executive order will help us deal with.”

Trump’s executive order is the latest in a series of steps designed to strengthen the merchant marine. In 2014, at the request of MarAd, the Military to Mariner Task Force was created to coordinate federal efforts to help veterans find work in the merchant marine, according to Buzby.

“The executive order puts us over the finish line to ensure that those already trained in sea-related fields within the military sea service … can apply those skills to a merchant mariner credential, should they so choose,” he said.

Maritime jobs pay well. Water transportation workers earn an average of $65,720 a year, and those in the merchant marine earn even more, according to Navarro.

“This is a great opportunity for sea veterans to seamlessly transition into really good, high-paying jobs that will help our national security front,” he said.

Officials are not sure how many veterans Trump’s executive order might attract, but it removes a hurdle that could be discouraging some to attempt the transition.

“Anecdotally, we know of active-duty officers and senior petty officers with sea service training who have not been able to apply their experience to acquire or maintain their merchant mariner credentials,” Buzby said.

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