For those tuned into the Navy news/blogosphere, this post is late in coming. For the non-Navy news nerds, the Secretary of the Navy just announced that the next Littoral Combat Ship, LCS-10, will be named the USS GABRIELLE GIFFORDS. To the non-Navy reader, that might seem uncontroversial- after all, the one thing that everyone at the State of the Union could agree on was just how great Gabby Giffords and how inspiring her story is. For many in the Navy though, this represents just one more episode in an ongoing saga of using warship naming as a political football.
Let me back up. If you’ve ever known someone who sails, you know that the relationship between the sailor and ship is not the same as the one between a driver and car, or even pilot and airplane. Doubly so for a warship – Navy Sailors live, sleep, breathe and eat on their ships for months and years at a time. An enlisted Sailor may spend five years of their life priming, painting and maintaining that ship – and may someday be called on to die protecting that ship.
I’ve served on two different warships – one named for a Civil-War battle, another for a Medal of Honor winner. In both cases, the ship’s namesake was an integral part of the ethos and espirit de corps of the ship – pictures and memorabilia adorned the passageways, newly reporting officers were expected to know the history of the ship and her namesake before they could gain their qualifications. To a Sailor, a ship’s name matters.
Gabrielle Giffords was an honorable public servant and a courageous victim of a deranged attacker. Like everyone else, I have been captivated and amazed by her determined recovery and selfless devotion to duty in the aftermath of the attack. I would, in particular, recommend the 20/20 interview detailing her recovery – even if she weren’t a Congresswoman, the detailed footage of her recovery is fascinating television because you can actually see her brain reconstruct itself in front of your eyes. At the end of the day though, she is notable for being a politician, and notable for being a victim. Neither gets at the core of what a warship is.
LCS-10 is due to be commissioned sometime in the 20-teens- which means it could be in service well into the 2020’s or 2030’s. Sailors that haven’t been born yet may be called on to fight and die on her – they will not be politicians, and they will not be victims. Gabrielle Giffords deserves to be recognized with a worthy piece of legislation. I would be proud to serve on a ship with her as a sponsor. But a warship is first and foremost a lethal instrument, intended for the defense of a nation.
The name of a warship should be named for the nation it’s defending or for the people who have defended it before.