Observing Memorial Day

Hello everyone,

I hope you had time this weekend to enjoy the company of your loved ones, and to pause and reflect on the families nationwide who had an empty seat at their barbecues and family gatherings.

Every year when Memorial Day approaches, I keep coming back to one question:

“If you were asked to describe Memorial Day in one word, what would it be?”

I keep landing on the same one: honor.

Since it was created, Memorial Day has been a time to acknowledge our family, friends, and loved ones who answered a calling when our nation was in need, and gave everything. On this day, we remember those who risked it all in conflicts or missions large and small for the hometowns and neighborhoods they came from.

They trekked through deserts, mountains, and jungles so America could continue the idea that only those who are self-governed are truly free.

In our region especially, we feel the weight of heroes and heroines alike who can give us perspective on the cost of our freedoms. We draw on the stories of a submarine veteran who served in World War II and the memories of a recently returning servicemembers from Afghanistan and Iraq willing to share stories of selflessness from those who served beside them and did not return.

Remembering the USS Thresher

One story that I think is important for our region is that of the USS Thresher. The USS Thresher was launched at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard on July 9, 1960. She departed for her final voyage on April 3, 1963 with 16 officers, 96 sailors and 17 civilians aboard. Tragically, everyone aboard perished on April 10, 1963 approximately 300 miles off the coast of New England due to a construction flaw which caused water to flood the submarine.

In response to the loss of the Thresher, the Navy established new safety regulations for the submarine program, eventually leading to the creation of the Submarine Safety and Quality Assurance Program (SUBSAFE), which is now one of the most comprehensive military safety programs in the world.  

Since it was created, no SUBSAFE-certified submarine has been lost at sea.

In fact, the SUBSAFE program has been so successful at preventing disasters, NASA adapted it for the Space Shuttle and International Space Station programs after the Columbia tragedy.

A lot of folks in our region are safer because of the sacrifices of the crew and shipyard workers who were on board the Thresher. I recently joined with Rep. Carol Shea-Porter of New Hampshire to ask officials at Arlington National Cemetery to approve a memorial to the Thresher at the cemetery.

We wrote about the effort the crew’s family is making to that end in an op-ed for Navy Times that came out last Monday.

Keeping the promise

I take this personally. I’m the son and grandson of two women who were liberated by allied forces in World War II. I think often about the series of events that freed them, and enabled them to come to the United States, where they were welcomed in a new country.

How many soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, merchant marines, and coast guardsman worked to get them free?

Indeed, thanks to them, we are privileged, and those privileges come with responsibilities.

One way I try to live up to those responsibilities and honor those who sacrificed so much for our nation is to make sure Congress keeps its commitments to everyone who wears or has worn a uniform of our armed services.

To that end on Thursday, Congress voted on the National Defense Authorization Act, and I supported it.

The bill includes a 2.6 percent raise for troop and sailor pay. That’s the largest increase in nine years. It also authorizes almost $90 million in funding for the construction of the Pier and Maintenance Facility at Naval Base Kitsap. This investment will help the Navy most-effectively continue its national security mission, and ensure this important military construction project meets environmental and safety standards.  

The civilians who support the Navy and Department of Defense should also get a fair shake from the government. The NDAA includes two things on which I’ve worked hard.

It authorizes overtime for the shipyard workers who service our aircraft carrier stationed in Japan. These folks work long hours away from their families to make sure the Navy completes its vital mission in the Pacific. They’re not on vacation, and they ought to be paid for their overtime.

On a similar front, in 2014, the DOD cut per diem rates for federal employees and members of the military who travel longer than 30 days for work. The cuts meant workers on extended travel would be paid between 25 percent and 45 percent less than under the old policy, depending on how long they’re working away from home. 

I introduced a bipartisan bill in March 2015 to reverse those cuts. Since then, I’ve worked with a bipartisan group of lawmakers to make sure the House NDAA has included this provision each Fiscal Year, including 2019, until there’s a permanent fix. Congress needs to get spending under control. But nickel-and-diming federal workers and asking them to foot the bill when they’re on work travel isn’t how to do it.

The bill also authorizes the Navy to spend money on new technology to make the Navy’s EA-18G Growler quieter. I worked with Rep. Rick Larsen, our Congressional next-door neighbor, and a member of the House Armed Services Committee on an amendment that got this done. This is a great step forward. I hope it ultimately leads to a solution that works for the community and the Navy.

The NDAA is just the approval to spend money, it is not the funding. So, I’ll keep you posted as the budgeting process continues. Know that I’ll be working hard to make sure our region has the funds it needs. Here’s more information on the NDAA from the Kitsap Daily News.

Working for you

It’s a privilege to serve every one of you.

I recently had the chance to celebrate Armed Forces Day in Bremerton. It was awesome spend the evening with everyone. I was humbled to receive a Plank Owner certificate for the USS Washington. I’ll definitely put this in a place of honor on my wall.

Our armed forces fought so that we can use our rights to make our country stronger. One group that’s doing that is NAACP Unit 1134, which was founded by a group of families that moved to Bremerton to support the war effort in World War II. The chapter celebrated its 75th Anniversary last week, and I had a great time seeing everyone there.

That’s all for right now. Talk to you soon!