More on Ship-Naming Controversies: About the USS Gabrielle Giffords

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The next Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) will be named for Representative Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), who recently resigned from Congress so she can concentrate on healing after an assassination attempt last year. This news was announced some time ago, and though I have been on record saying I think more ships should be named for women, I hesitated to celebrate this event because I was not quite sure about the honoree.

I would have liked to see a woman who had much more affiliation with both the Navy and with supporting women in combat, such as Joy Bright Hancock (a Navy veteran of both World War I and World War II, and was the Director of the WAVES, and later Navy Women’s Policy, prior to, during, and after the process that culminated in the passage of the Women’s Armed Services Act of 1948). But after hearing the same old criticism about the naming, I am now on board to fully support naming the next LCS for Giffords.

The fact that Giffords is being honored for her sacrifice is appropriate. After all, she would not have been a target of an assassin’s bullet had she not been a politician. And there is ample precedent for naming ships after politicians, even if they were not shattered by attempted murder.

Most of the aircraft carriers are named after politicians. One that comes to mind that is especially galling to me, is the naming of an aircraft carrier after Carl Vinson, a Congressman from Georgia, and Chair of the House Armed Services Committee. Granted, he supported a massive shipbuilding effort to support World War II, but he also singlehandedly helped pass legislation that prevented the full integration of women in the armed forces that has legacies to this day!

During the hearings for the Women’s Armed Forces Act of 1948 there was little question that women would see combat. The law provided limited opportunities for peacetime service for women, primarily in clerical and other “women’s jobs.” Nevertheless, there was a need to keep a cadre of women in case of future war, which would alleviate having to “reinvent the wheel” of gaining approval for women’s service.

However, Vinson made sure that women would not serve at sea or aircraft. He inserted an amendment, known as Section 6015 of Title 10, which stated, in part, “Women may not be assigned to duty in aircraft that are engaged in combat missions nor may they be assigned to duty on vessels of the Navy other than hospital ships and transports.” This law was not fully rescinded until 1992. Women began to be assigned to combat aircraft in 1993, and combat ships in 1994. Although not codified by law, the Army and Marine Corps to this day rely on the “intent of Congress” in that 1948 law to keep women out of combat.

So, what has Gabby Giffords done for the military, for the Navy, to earn such an honor? Well, for one she is a Navy wife, (“the hardest job in the Navy”) by marriage to recently-retired Navy Captain and astronaut Mark Kelly; she was on the Armed Services Committee, subcommittees on readiness, and tactical air and land forces; and she voted for the contentious May 2007 Iraq Emergency Supplemental Spending bill, saying, “I cannot, in good conscience, allow the military to run out of money while American servicemen and women are being attacked every day.” It may not be the most robust resume for support of this honor, but I am glad that at least a woman was so honored. I would like to see many more in the years ahead!