Friday, September 14, 2012

Fidley Watch: Rapid Response

When the US needs to respond to armed conflict, they call out the Marines. Established in 1775 by the First Continental Congress to serve as an infantry unit aboard naval vessels, the Corps has become expert in amphibious warfare and rapid response.

Last month, as part of an executive outreach program, I was invited, along with 19 other executives, to spend a day with the US Marine Corps in Washington DC and Quantico Virginia. I jumped at the chance, for many reasons, including the fact that Seattle is on the short list to host the 2013 Marine Week activities.

The day started at 0610 in the lobby of the Ritz Carlton, Pentagon City, where the assembled executives, most of whom were from the East Coast, were introduced to our Marine hosts. We were given a brief description of our day ahead and told that in terms of protocol we would have the rank of one-star general.

Our group boarded buses to the Pentagon, where we were given a walking tour of the largest office building in the world. A scorched stone at the base of the building memorializes the attack of 9/11. At the time of the attack the Pentagon was undergoing renovation. The section struck by United Airlines flight 77 was also the first section to be renovated, and was not yet fully reoccupied. The renovation had included steel reinforcement, blast-resistant windows and a sprinkler system, and this reinforcement allowed the building around the crash site to remain intact, giving waorkers in the surrounding area time to escape.

Following a visit to the Pentagon press briefing room, we received breakfast and a recently declassified and very informative operations and intelligence brief from General Joseph F. Dunford, Jr., the Vice-Commandant of the Marine Corps. General Dunford explained the strategic importance of the Pacific, noting that as the tempo in the Middle East slows, it’s critical to have Marines in the Asia-Pacific region.

On to Bolling Air Force Base, where we boarded a CH 46 Sea Knight helicopter for a 25-minute flight to the Marine Training facility at Quantico, Virginia. The Sea Knight has flown in every marine action since 1964, and my ride was built in 1969. While the Marines are justifiably fond of the old bird, she’s being phased out and replaced by the more modern tilt-rotor V-22 Osprey.

On the ground at Quantico we chatted with the pilots before being led to the USMC Martial Arts Center of Excellence where instructor-trainers demonstrated the Corps’ martial arts combat system, developed over years of experience and perfected in 2001 by then Marine Commandant James L. Jones. The instructors demonstrated varying degrees of force and explained the idea behind determining how much force can be used in response to the mission, up to and including lethal force. The “one-star generals” were thankfully not asked to participate in the exercise.

On to the Weapons Training Battalion range, where we were given an introduction to, and familiarization with, the basic weapons used by the Marine Corps, including the M4 Carbine, M27 Machine Gun and M9 Pistol. After the weapons talk, which was quite informative and very interesting, came the Meals Ready to Eat (MRE) training (that’s right, you need training to eat an MRE properly). The MRE is the modern equivalent of C-Rations, and the meal was actually pretty good, although it was about 2:00 pm so we were all hungry. A chemical reaction, started with a bit of water, superheats the meal pouch in a matter of minutes. One can imagine sitting on a log in the rain after a week of having bad guys shooting at you that the hot chicken and noodles must taste like heaven.

After lunch our group was turned loose on the weapons range with assault weapons, handguns, machine guns and sniper rifles, hundreds of rounds of live ammunition and a team of very patient instructors while we aimed at targets “downrange” and generally shot up the place.

From the weapons range we travelled to the National Museum of the Marine Corps, where we had a brief tour of the exhibits, including the actual Iwo Jima flag seen in the iconic photo by Joe Rosenthal. The tour ended with a hosted reception in the museum’s recreation of Tun Tavern, the Philadelphia birthplace of the Marine Corps in 1775.

A quick trip back to the hotel to change into business attire and then the group attended a private reception at the Marine Barracks in Washington DC. After what seemed like 10 minutes but was actually more than an hour, we stepped outside to VIP seats on the parade ground for the Friday Evening Parade.

The Evening Parades are conducted on Fridays between Memorial Day and Labor Day, and feature “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band, “The Commandant’s Own” The United States Marine Drum and Bugle Corps, the Marine Corps Color Guard, the Marine Corps Silent Drill Platoon, Ceremonial Marchers, and Lance Corporal Chesty XIII, the official mascot of Marine Barracks Washington. Chesty is a bulldog, and although I outranked him, I didn’t get to be part of the parade.
Anyone visiting Washington DC in the summer should try to see this parade. Tickets are free but require long range planning and reservations, which can be made online.

One of the USMC’s bloodiest battles is the budgetary battle they wage with Congress every year. After accounting for inflation, the cost to equip an infantry battalion in 2012 is 2.7 times the cost in 2000, but the Marine Corps budget is a bare 8.2 percent of the FY2012 Department of Defense budget. Pacific Maritime Magazine appreciates all of the country’s armed forces – those under the Department of Defense as well as those under the Department of Homeland Security, and now more than ever they need the support of the general public. As mentioned in this space last month, our national defense is threatened by automatic spending cuts, or sequester, of 50 percent. In this time of global crisis, our national defense is more important than ever. Where the First Congress saw a clear need for the Marine Corps, the 113th Congress will decide its fate. Let your Senator know you support national defense, and expect Congress to ensure the Marines will still be an effective force when we need them.

Chris PhilipsManaging Editor

Outside Lawyer to Review Port CEO’s Side Job

The Port of Seattle Commission has decided to hire an outside attorney to review whether or not CEO Tay Yoshitani’s acceptance of a seat on the board of a for-profit logistics company represents a conflict of interest.

During its Sept. 11 meeting, the board voted 4-0, with commissioner Bill Bryant abstaining, to have a lawyer review Yoshitani’s acceptance of a position on the board of Seattle-based Expeditors Intl. Whomever is hired would be required to report back to the board with their findings by Oct. 23.

The commissioners’ decision to have a review represented a reverse from the official position the port took last month, said that it has carefully looked at the agreement and found that Yoshitani would not be in violation of any port rules or regulations.

But the tide of opinion began to turn following receipt of a letter last month from 13 King County, Washington legislators urging the port to look more closely into various issues raised by Yoshitani’s acceptance of the second job, including the possible conflict of interest.

In the Aug. 24 letter, the lawmakers said Yoshitani serving on the Expeditors board could result in the company’s clientele gaining a competitive advantage over non-Expeditors port customers.

Yoshitani, who has been the port’s executive director since March 2007, was announced Aug. 7 as the newest member of Expeditors’ board of directors. In the role, he stands to earn more than $230,000 in annual compensation – consisting of $30,000 in cash and up to $200,000 in restricted stock options – on top of the nearly $367,000 a year he earns at the port.

Yoshitani did not appear before the commission during its Sept. 11 meeting because he was out of town, but afterward he released a prepared statement through the port.

“I have reviewed the motion and I’m prepared to fully cooperate with the review so the matter can be resolved and the port can move forward,” he said. “I believe that I have followed all the proper steps, but will accept accountability if anything I have done is contrary to any statute or applicable policy.”

Seattle City Council Approves Arena Deal

A sports arena proposal that the Port of Seattle has repeatedly warned could have a negative effect on area maritime transportation businesses, has apparently won approval by the Seattle City Council.

On Sept. 11, the Council announced it had reached a tentative agreement with developer Chris Hansen to build a $490 million basketball and hockey arena in the city’s SoDo industrial area.

The deal, which was approved by the King County Council earlier this year, still faces a formal Council vote, which could come later this month. Increasing its chances of approval is a recent revision to the plan that includes a $40 million road improvement fund.

Container operations, railway lines and truck activity are all currently located within blocks of the proposed arena site, and multiple Port of Seattle studies have determined that traffic congestion and pressure on industrial businesses brought by a sports facility near the waterfront could squeeze out small businesses, disrupt port operations and limit the potential for port growth.

During an Aug. 7 panel discussion at the port, three experts noted several key issues that must be addressed regarding the proposed arena, including how port terminal operations are significantly impacted on game days because game traffic makes reaching terminals difficult for trucks.

Also according to the panel, congestion increases transit time and costs and makes the gateway less attractive for customers, therefore, SoDo’s well-documented traffic management issues could theoretically worsen the situation.

However, the $40 million road improvement fund, which would be covered by tax revenues, would go toward the study and prioritization of area transportation improvements. The city has also said that additional funds might be secured from the port and federal government.

The port released a statement the same day the potential deal was announced, saying it was not yet ready to endorse the plan.

“We will carefully review this proposal to ensure it addresses the traffic and environmental risks the Commission found in the initial proposal,” the port said in its statement. “Failure to adequately address those issues and fully review alternative sites could jeopardize the marine operations that support more than 30,000 jobs in our region and generate $3 billion in revenue each year and would weaken the port’s ability to create jobs and strengthen our maritime-industrial community.”

US Govt. Creates Freight Policy Council

US Department of Transportation has announced the launch of a freight policy council to focus on improving the condition and performance of the national freight network to ensure the ability of the United States to compete in the global economy.

The council is tasked with developing a national, intermodal plan for improving the efficiency of freight movement. It will work with states to encourage development of a forward looking state freight strategy.

“Our freight system is the lifeblood of the American economy, moving goods quickly and efficiently to benefit both businesses and consumers across the country,” said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “With the launch of the Freight Policy Council, we have an opportunity to make not only our freight system, but all modes of transportation, stronger and better connected.”

The DOT’s Freight Policy Council will implement key freight provisions of the recent federal transportation bill, Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century, or MAP-21, which was signed by President Obama in July. MAP-21 established a national freight policy and called for the creation of a national freight strategic plan.

The council will be chaired by Deputy Transportation Secretary John Porcari and is expected to include DOT leadership from highways, rail, ports and airports and economic and policy experts from across the Obama Administration.

The freight and logistics industries, consumers and other stakeholders will also play an advisory role, according to the DOT, and states will be asked to offer proposals for improving the freight system in their region.

“With increasing competition abroad, Washington businesses require a 21st century approach to moving goods,” said US Senator Maria Cantwell, D-WA, who joined LaHood for the announcement at the PCC Logistics Duwamish Facility in Seattle. “This new Freight Policy Council provides the roadmap our nation needs to stay competitive and grow our trade economy.”

Railroad Receives Line Construction Permit

Alaska Railroad Corp. has received a permit from the US Army Corps of Engineers to fill dozens of acres of wetlands as it builds the Port MacKenzie Rail Extension project, a 30- to 45-mile rail line that would provide freight services between the port and interior Alaska.

The new rail line would be an extension of the Alaska Railroad’s current system, which connects ports in Seward, Whittier and Anchorage with Interior Alaska, including Denali National Park, Fairbanks and North Pole.

The permit, which was announced Sept. 12, authorizes the railroad to permanently fill about 96 acres of wetlands to construct a new rail line about 36 miles long. The new line, which would carry bulk commodities, would connect into the existing main rail line just south of Houston, Alaska and end at Port MacKenzie.

The existing main line runs from Seward through Anchorage to Fairbanks.

The permit includes special conditions to avoid and minimize potential adverse impacts and to compensate for unavoidable adverse impacts to the aquatic ecosystem and to ensure that the project would not be contrary to the public interest.

The $270-$300 million project is a joint effort between the state-owned railroad and the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, which operates Port MacKenzie. The extension is projected to be complete by 2016.