Ray Mabus is an elegant man ... and gracious.
As Secretary of the Navy, he has been making the rounds of shipyards this fall, thanking the people who are building ships for the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps, ships that he has worked to get under contract.
It’s a farewell tour, since the administration that appointed him is coming to an end.
He was at Ingalls Shipyard on Friday, back in his home state, where he was once the youngest sitting governor in the country.
Workers leaving his speech at Ingalls recapped: “He said he’s leaving, and we build great ships. And he said how important we are.”
He told others that the skills, dedication and talent of these workers have driven down the cost of building military ships. They are the reason more ships can happen, he said.
“They can build a destroyer for $300 million less” than what they used to, he said. “They’re doing it better and faster, ahead of schedule and on budget.”
He said, because of that, the United States is able to build more with a smaller budget.
He said it’s good for the taxpayers and the security of the country.
The Obama administration “has strengthened the Navy and Marine Corps more than any other administration in a long, long time,” he said.
When he was appointed secretary eight years ago, there had been 41 ships under contract from 2001 to 2008. From 2008 to 2016, he has put 86 under contract, more than the last three secretaries of the Navy combined.
The fleet got down to 278 in 2008, but will be back up to 300 by 2019 and 308 by 2021.
The Navy is strong now, he said. He said he hopes the new administration will keep it strong.
If it stays on course, “we’ll get back to where we need to be,” he said.
“It takes a long time to build a ship.”
Mabus said he’s proud of how the Navy treats its sailors and how it works to attract the best with better pay and tools. He’s proud of a more diverse work force because it makes the military stronger and less predictable.
“Don’t go backwards,” he warned.
He said that he is simply leaving the job.
“I don’t retire,” he said. “I’m a political appointee. I just leave.”
But he leaves with one undisputed claim: He’s the longest-serving Secretary of the Navy since World War I.
And he’s from Mississippi, born and raised.