Lawmaker Undaunted After Provision to Change Navy's Name Cut from Bill

In this Oct. 25, 2017, photo, Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., poses for a portrait in his office on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
In this Oct. 25, 2017, photo, Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., poses for a portrait in his office on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Since 2001, Rep. Walter Jones has been trying to rename the Department of the Navy to include the Marine Corps.

But with the release of the conference version of the National Defense Authorization Act earlier this month absent Jones' provision, one thing is clear: 2017 won't be the year.

Nonetheless, the North Carolina Republican told this week that he plans to continue fighting for the cause. And he's convinced that one day, he'll get the support he needs to make it law.

Jones, an outspoken lawmaker who has criticized the Iraq war but doggedly supported the causes of military families in his district, says it's important to redesignate the Department of the Navy as "The Department of the Navy and Marine Corps" because it properly acknowledges the service and sacrifice of Marines.

"It's one fighting team," he said.

The Marine Corps is considered a department of the Navy; while the service has its own uniformed leadership and structure, it answers to the secretary of the Navy and relies on the Navy for support elements such as medical providers and chaplains.

Jones said the importance of the name was brought home to him when he attended the 2003 funeral of 31-year-old Marine Sgt. Michael Bitz, who was killed in action in Nasiriyah, Iraq. It was among the first of many military funerals he would attend as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan wound on.

The Secretary of the Navy's condolence letter to Bitz's family, like that sent to the families of all fallen Marines, bore the name and seal of the Department of the Navy, but no explicit reference to the Marine Corps, Jones found.

"I've always felt, as a matter of respect, that the name, Department of the Navy and Marine Corps, is proper," he said.

Through the years, Jones has come close. In 2010, his amendment gained some 425 co-sponsors in the House and another 80 in the Senate, thanks to a companion bill authored by Sen. Pat Roberts, a Kansas Republican.

Jones also touts a positive Congressional Budget Office report that found enacting his amendment would cost less than $500,000, with expenses mainly consisting of stationery redesign and sign updates.

But the primary obstacle to the move is still very much in place: Sen. John McCain, a Navy veteran and the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

"Sen. McCain has never been in favor of this [effort to] respect the Marine Corps since he says the Navy and Marine Corps is one fighting team," he said.

Jones said he continues to lobby senators despite McCain's opposition, meeting recently with Sens. Dan Sullivan and Todd Young, both Marine veterans.

"Nobody knows what the future holds," Jones said. "At some point in time, [passage of the measure] needs to be done as a matter of respect."

For those who are loathe to challenge established military tradition, Jones likes to bring up a major change from the not-so-distant past: the 1947 effort to rename the United States Army Air Corps to the U.S. Air Force, a move that created a new military service branch.

"There's certain things that do change," Jones said. "Good Lord, well, we'll keep trying."

-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.

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