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Mabus has motto if Navy wants one

Apr. 20, 2013 - 09:16AM   |  
Navy Secretary Ray Mabus seems to prefer “Semper Fortis” as the Navy's motto, often incorporating it into his speeches.
Navy Secretary Ray Mabus seems to prefer “Semper Fortis” as the Navy’s motto, often incorporating it into his speeches. (Thomas Brown / Staff)
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The Navy’s recruiting slogan has its detractors, but Navy Secretary Ray Mabus is not among them. “America’s Navy: a global force for good” meets its mission, Mabus said, and brings in new recruits.

But for those who think it goes beyond recruiting and serves as a poor stand-in for a motto, Mabus has two words: Semper Fortis.

That can translate to English a few ways, including “always strong” or “always courageous,” according to Latin dictionaries.

“It’s been there as long as the Marines have had ‘Semper Fi,’ ” Mabus said in an interview with Navy Times. “Semper Fortis is to the Navy what Semper Fi is to the Marine Corps.”

One difference is that Semper Fidelis, or “always faithful,” is the Corps’ “official” motto. The Navy technically doesn’t have one, according to Naval History and Heritage Command. A search for “Semper Fortis” on the command’s website produces zero results. It does, however, provide another unofficial motto, “Non sibi sed patriae” or “not self but country.”

SECNAV appears to prefer Semper Fortis, which he often incorporates into his speeches.

Capt. Michael Junge, in the February issue of the U.S. Naval Institute’s Proceedings magazine, wrote that the expression “is rarely used — conversationally or officially.”

“The one exception to that seems to be the sitting secretary of the Navy, Ray Mabus,” said Junge, a career surface warfare officer and faculty member at the Naval War College in Rhode Island.

A search online, however, will show that it’s resonating with at least some sailors. It’s not hard to find photos of sailors with it tattooed on their arms and chest.

But Semper Fortis’ impact on sailors can’t compare to Semper Fi for the Marines, Junge wrote in his article, “Semper Huh?”

The reason is cultural, he said. The Marine Corps is focused on “overall unit cohesion and identity. … The Navy, in comparison, appears to be an organization continuously in search of an overall identity and repeatedly falls short for the same reason, culture.”

Would having an official motto help instill a sense of culture in sailors? That’s unclear.

A Navy spokesman said Mabus hasn’t indicated whether he wants to make Semper Fortis the official motto.

Junge, in an interview with Navy Times, said Mabus would have more success if he just kept saying it and didn’t make it official.

“If his relief picks it up, if CNO picks it up, if Fleet Forces picks it up and it starts to spread out — then Semper Fortis has a chance to become the motto,” he said. “If anyone tries to force it on the Navy, it would get so much pushback.”

In the meantime, sailors young and old continue to debate “a global force for good.”

A poll released in February found that 20 percent of the American public supports the recruiting slogan. The Rasmussen Reports poll asked people whether the Navy’s primary goal was being a global force for good or defending the U.S.

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