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USTRANSCOM Commander speaks at ceremony honoring merchant mariners

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SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. (USTCNS) --- Gen. John W. Handy, Commander of U.S. Transportation Command, was the keynote speaker at a ceremony honoring the crew of SS Wright in the Port of Baltimore, Md., on June 16, 2003.

“Coalition forces have secured victory in Iraq,” Handy told the civilian sailors at the shipboard event, awarding them the Merchant Marine Expeditionary Medal for their service in the combat zone during Operation Iraqi Freedom, “a victory made possible by America’s dedicated merchant mariners.”

The Merchant Marine Expeditionary Medal is awarded to U.S. merchant mariners serving aboard U.S.-flag ships in support of operations involving American and allied military forces.

SS Wright is part of the Ready Reserve Force; a fleet of 68 ships maintained by the U.S. Department of Transportation's Maritime Administration. RRF ships are kept in a heightened state of readiness and can be activated on short notice in order to meet surge military sealift requirements in the event of war or military deployment. When activated, RRF ships come under the operational control of Military Sealift Command, the Navy’s component command of USTRANSCOM.

“SS Wright began with a maintenance crew of nine mariners who kept her in superb condition, ready to serve within five days of notice,” Handy explained to the assembled guests and earlier speakers, including Vice Adm. David L. Brewer, MSC commander, “When SS Wright was activated, that crew soared to a full complement of 34 mariners sailing for five months in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.”

The mission of SS Wright, an Aviation Logistics Support vessel, included transporting a helicopter platform, a complete repair shop, and equipment for fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft, as well as the 300 Marine Corps personnel who provided service and repair support to the Marine Corps Aviation Combat Element.

In his remarks, Handy acknowledged that merchant mariners today have a greater challenge than did those that served during Operation Desert Storm. “In the last 12 years, our military forces, reserve fleet, and U.S.-flag commercial fleet have grown in effectiveness while decreasing in numbers,” he said, “You face the challenge of a dwindling fleet and a desperate need for mariners.”

Even so, Handy said, there was no shortage of civilian seafarer volunteers, “… who sailed into harms way to deliver America’s power on distant shores, and no doubt, stand ready to do it again, any place, any time.”

“To date,” he added, “more than one million tons of material have been moved by sea alone, just in support of the operations in Iraq.”

[MARAD Public Affairs contributed to this story]

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