Actor known for his military roles lobbies for bill on naming of Marine department

The actor who played the drill sergeant in “Full Metal Jacket” is coming to Washington, D.C., next week to lobby Congress to pass a long-stalled bill.

R. Lee Ermey is the national spokesman for a growing grassroots effort behind legislation sponsored by Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.) and Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) that would rename the Department of the Navy as the Department of the Navy and Marine Corps.

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Ermey, who was in the Marine Corps for 11 years, has been in over 100 movies, including “Apocalypse Now,” “Dead Man Walking” and “Leaving Las Vegas,” according to imdb.com.

Over the past decade, Jones has repeatedly pushed his colleagues to pass his bill. Jones’s bill has 367 co-sponsors. Roberts (R-Kan.), a Marine Corps veteran, introduced companion legislation last year.

The Marine Corps League, which is orchestrating the grassroots effort with Ermey, has started a petition-writing campaign and is bringing supporters of Jones’s legislation to Capitol Hill on Thursday.

“Marines have fought and died with their Navy brothers and sisters for more than 200 years,” said Michael Blum, Marine Corps League executive director in a statement. “It’s finally time to give the Marine Corps the recognition the branch has long deserved.”

Although the Marine Corps has been a separate service since the National Security Act of 1947, it does not get equal billing with the Navy, Air Force and Army, each of which has a Pentagon department named after it. Since the Marine Corps’s earliest days, it has operated under the Department of the Navy.

Former Sen. John Warner (R-Va.), a former secretary of the Navy, was Jones’ biggest obstacle in the upper chamber. Year after year, Warner refused to back the change as part of the defense authorization bill.

But even after Warner’s retirement two years ago, Jones’s efforts gained little traction in the Senate.

Jones wants his bill to get a vote on the House floor and in the Senate. House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) said he would help Jones bring up the bill as a standalone once he had 350 co-sponsors, Jones's spokeswoman said. It is unclear when the bill will hit the House floor.

The origins of the Marines date back to Nov. 10, 1775 when the Continental Congress called for the creation of two battalions to serve as landing forces with the fleet during the Revolutionary War. It was not until July 11, 1798 that Congress officially passed an act to establish the Marine Corps. On June 30, 1834, Congress passed another act placing the Marines under the umbrella of the Navy.

The Corps functions in war and peacetime as a separate branch in nearly every way. It has its own military command structure.

The running joke has been that the Marines constitute the “men’s department” of the Navy. Yet the issue of receiving recognition is no laughing matter to many who serve in the Marine Corps. The families of those who die in combat and are awarded service commendations receive letters from the secretary of the Navy, with no mention of the Marine Corps on the letterhead.

Families of those dying in combat also receive the condolence letters on Navy letterhead with no explicit mention of the Marine Corps anywhere in the letter, according to a sample of a letter posted by the Marine Corps League.

Supporters of changing the name are quick to note that the effort does not signal that the Marine Corps wants to break away from the Navy, nor would the change cost more than the immediate change in stationary sent to families. The name change also would not alter the responsibilities of the Navy secretary or how resources between the Navy and Marine Corps are allocated, the supporters argue.

The bill is backed by FedEx founder Fred Smith, a former Marine and former secretary of the Navy Lawrence Garrett.