Navy Secretary Ray Mabus answers questions during an exclusive interview with the Navy Times in his office at the Pentagon March 27. (Thomas Brown / Staff)
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When it comes to the state of the service, it's the budget that “overlays everything,” Navy Secretary Ray Mabus says. And the ripple effects of belt-tightening have yet to be realized for 2014 and beyond.
“There already have been, and there are going to be, some tough decisions,” Mabus told Navy Times in a March 27 sit-down in his office. “But one of the things we try to keep in the forefront is … that you do no harm to the greatest expeditionary fighting force the world has ever known. That you take care of sailors, Marines and their families. That you make sure that [because] they have kept faith with us, that you keep faith with them.”
On April 3, to show solidarity with the civilian workforce during the budget crisis, Mabus announced that he will donate a portion of his almost $180,000 salary to the Federal Employee Education and Assistance Fund, which provides scholarships, emergency loans and child care subsidies to federal civilian workers. The donation, announced via Facebook, will be the amount Mabus' salary would be cut if he were subject to the 14-day furlough.
Despite cuts, Mabus said two of his primary goals are still on track.
The service is still scheduled to hit 300 ships by the end of this decade, he said. That's 17 more than there were as of April 4.
Mabus said the Navy also is still tracking to meet his 2020 energy goal. By that time, he wants at least half of all Navy energy coming from nonfossil fuel sources.
More interview highlights:
Creating a safer fleet
Mabus introduced 21st Century Sailor and Marine a little more than a year ago — an initiative seeking to tackle myriad issues including safety, physical fitness, nutrition and the pervasive issue of alcohol abuse.
“One of the things we found, as we looked from program to program, was that alcohol is the common element in sexual assault, spousal abuse, suicide and fitness failures,” he said. “To not try to address that would've almost been derelict.”
As part of 21st Century, the Navy is rolling out ADDs, alcohol detection devices, to the fleet.
“We don't want to tell you what to do in your personal time, but when you come back to work, you shouldn't have alcohol in your system,” he said.
In pilot programs using alcohol detection devices to test sailors, only about 1 percent were above the blood alcohol limit of 0.02 percent when reporting for work, Mabus said.
“The pilot breath testing program did result in fewer sexual assaults,” Mabus added.
It's unclear whether alcohol detection devices across the fleet will have the same effect in other areas, since the program is just being rolled out. All units across the Navy are expected to get ADDs this year.
Though the Navy is trying to get sailors to drink responsibly, it's not trying to keep sailors from going out, Mabus said.
“What it is trying to do is deglamorize alcohol,” he said. “It's trying to make sure that sailors don't have a career-ending or career-altering or life-ending or life-altering event that is due to alcohol.”
Time for fitness
There's been a lot of debate over the past year whether command physical training should be a requirement of units.
Mabus said he doesn't care if sailors PT individually or by command — so long as they get it done and maintain their physical readiness.
“[We're] trying to make it a culture of fitness, not just getting ready for a PT test,” he said.
And for those who say they can't make time in their busy schedules, Mabus is setting an example.
“I get up and do 100 pushups every morning, and 100 crunches,” he said.
More jobs for women
Women should be eligible to join the SEALs, Mabus said, as well as other jobs previously closed to women, such as riverine units.
“My personal view is that you keep the absolute standards,” he said. “Whoever can meet the standards, that's fine.”
The Defense Department has asked each service to evaluate their standards to ensure they are up to date and gender-neutral. Results will be submitted to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel by May 15.
Women are already serving in one former male-only community: submarines. Female officers are serving aboard guided- and ballistic-missile submarines, and Mabus announced in January that Virginia-class attack subs would be opened to women as well. The first women are expected to serve on Virginia-class subs in fiscal 2015. The next step is opening sub service to enlisted women.
High-profile valor awards, such as the Medal of Honor and Navy Cross, have been given out sparingly for actions in recent conflicts. Only two sailors have received the Medal of Honor, both posthumously, along with a handful of war fighters in other services.
Critics have said defense leaders aren't doing enough to award today's heroes. Mabus, while defending the awards process, said he has tried to find other ways to honor service members.
Last year, Mabus named a destroyer after Marine Sgt. Rafael Peralta, who died in Iraq after smothering a grenade with his body, saving the lives of his comrades. He was awarded a Navy Cross, not a Medal of Honor, because he had already sustained a fatal head wound and it was unclear whether he consciously made the decision to cover the grenade.
Mabus said in December that he supports Peralta receiving the Medal of Honor. Lawmakers continue to lobby for the Marine, with hopes the new SECDEF will also approve.