Jones aims to rename Dept. of the Navy

Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.) has been relentless in his quest to rename the Department of the Navy as the Department of the Navy and Marine Corps.

The congressman, who has bipartisan support in the House and whose district includes the Marine Corps’s Camp Lejeune, has spearheaded five consecutive failed efforts to break down opposition among Senate defense authorizers.

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But he hopes his sixth attempt will be different. Having had no luck convincing Sen. John Warner (R-Va.), a former secretary of the Navy, to back the change, Jones said he hopes Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) will back the move, which would give the Navy and the Marine Corps equal official representation.

Levin said he was unaware that language to change the name of the Department of the Navy was in the House version of the 2008 defense authorization bill, adding that so far he not has been involved in the issue. Yet, he said, he considered the Department of the Navy to be a “historic name.”

When asked, Levin said he would “keep an open mind” on whether to support Jones’s language in the House bill. The Senate is unlikely to introduce any provisions related to the matter in its version of the bill, turning the issue into fodder for conference negotiations later in the year.

Before defense authorizers reach conference, however, Levin will face an onslaught of Michigan Marines, and possibly other service members, championing Jones’s language.

The commandant of the Michigan department of the Marine Corps League said he is preparing a large grassroots effort in support of Jones’s provision. “I am telling people we are building up and getting ready to aggressively voice our opinion to Sen. Levin,” Commandant Gerald Alcorn said.

Alcorn said he is planning to get other departments of the Marine Corps League involved in campaigning their senators. The league has departments in 48 states.

“If anyone were to look at [the proposal] logically, it does not make any sense whatsoever not to do this,” Alcorn said. The Marine Corps should get the recognition it deserves, he added.

But supporters of Jones’s legislation will have to battle those who say the services — and the distinctions between them — are steeped in tradition.

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.

The origins of the Marines date 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. Also, Marine Gen. Peter Pace is now the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

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 those 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.

One Michigan-based Marine Reserve Infantry Battalion (1st Battalion, 24th Marine Regiment) lost 23 Marines on its second tour of duty in Iraq alone, Alcorn said.

“Some of the opponents, the only arguments they have is that it is not traditional,” he said. “With that logic, our Defense Department should still be called the War Department and the Air Force the Army Air Corps.”

Warner, however, disagreed. “There would need to be a compelling reason for Congress to upend 208 years of Marine Corps and Navy tradition in the naming of the Department that has served both services so well,” he said in a statement. “America is tremendously proud of our Marines, but Marines everywhere are just as proud of their long history and traditions.”

Supporters of the Department of the Navy’s name change are quick to note that the move does not signal the Marine Corps wants to break away from the Navy. The name change also would not alter the responsibilities of the Navy secretary or how resources between the Navy and Marine Corps are allocated.

“We are about tradition. Nobody knows their tradition and history more than the Marine Corps,” Alcorn said.

“I know there is a lot of national interest in this because the majority of the people who have communicated with this office have said it is the right thing to do,” Jones said in an interview. “It is just the right thing to do.”

Despite Warner’s reluctance to change the name, former Secretary of the Navy and current Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England had his stationery redesigned a few years ago to display the seals of both the Navy and the Marine Corps.

The former commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. James Jones, said in 2002 that he and the chief of naval operations had no objection to renaming the Secretary of the Navy as the Secretary of the Navy and Marine Corps. Initially Rep. Jones had pushed for a change in the secretary’s name, but current legislation only refers to department.

A spokeswoman for the Navy said that the service does not comment on pending legislation.