Sheila McNeill is a member of the Naval Submarine League, was nominated for the 2002 Civilian Distinguished Award, is National Vice President for Legislative Affairs of the Navy League of the United States, Chairman of Friends of Kings Bay, and a member of the Georgia Governor’s Military Affairs Coordinating Committee. She has also served on defense committees for both Republican and Democratic Senators.
I’m a volunteer. Most of my adult life I’ve been involved in organizations that support the military. I’ve also had many mentors. I’d like to share with you some of the ways a civilian can get involved and at the same time tell you of the impact this involvement brings. In my early years in the world of military committees, some of the most impressive and forward thinking military officers who were encouraging to me were: Admirals Chiles, Bowman, Boorda, Ellis, Giambastiani, Pages, Beers, and Konetzni. Vice Admiral Ed Giambastiani who, with his staff, gave the best briefing at a DACOWITS conference that we’d ever had. Admiral Kelso, who very recently gave me the encouragement I needed to continue with my work. Rear Admiral Jerry Ellis, who insisted that I had the right stuff to be recommended by the Navy for DACOWITS and encouraged me to work for that goal. And even today at Kings Bay, Rear Admiral Gerry Talbot who keeps me in the loop on issues where the community involvement is important.
Just a few years back, Generals Burba and Reimer (sorry folks these are Army types-former CINC Forces Command and Chief of Staff for the Army) and now Admirals Jim Loy and Vern Clark gave me the encouragement and inspiration to continue making those trips, (40 to Washington in the past 24 months) and working the sea services legislative issues.
One of the ways that I am most involved is with our educa-lion/lobbying Congress. I was fortunate to have Captain Randy Zeller, then Commanding Officer of the Trident Refit Facility who briefed me on issues and stressed the way those briefs had to be given-concise and well prepared with a handout with explanatory notes. At the same time Rear Admiral Chuck Beers who, with great vision, established Friends of Kings Bay, gave me more knowledge of the operations of the Navy and encouraged me to stay involved, endured my first DACOWITS visit with great wisdom, and now serves as my National Chairman of Legislative Affairs for the Navy League.
Let me share with you a study conducted several years ago by Worthland Worldwide for the American Society of Association Executives concerning grassroots influence on Capitol Hill. This particular study was done only for the House of Representatives-not the Senate. The study showed that a congressional member who is opposed to a particular position would change his position to neutral if he/she receives as many as 80 letters from constituents who are in favor. And for those issues where the congressman is neutral, only 20 letters from constitutes who are in favor will, 9 of 10 times change to support.
And I’ve found that the letter doesn’t have to be in a complex, technical language. In fact, some of my most effective correspondence has been the most simple.
I’ve heard too many say that Congress will not listen-not so-not if you are vigilant, persistent, know your subject and do your homework. The first time I spoke to our Congressman, Jack Kingston, on the SSGN was about 5 years ago when he came off the house floor for a few minutes to listen to this great new concept. He was as excited as I was when he heard of the concept. The same was true for Senator Cleland. If fact, Senator Cleland spoke at the 201li anniversary of Kings Bay and his subject included the necessity for the nation to convert the four Tridents from nuclear to conventional warfare with a platform for special operations forces. He continued to work toward this end.
Congressman Jack Kingston traveled with President Bush and several other congressmen shortly after President Bush was elected when he visited Ft. Stewart in Georgia. He really didn’t expect face time with the President but on the return flight they asked the congressional members if they would like to join the President in the wardroom (or the equivalent on Air Force One!) Jack said he thought to himself, what would I talk about in the five minutes allowed? What ideas do I want to put forward? How can I make the best use of this time? Then he thought of the civilians in Camden County, lobbying for the SSGN and he made the decision. After Congressman Kingston gave the same brief he heard several years prior, the President liked the concept turned to his staff and asked that he get a complete brief upon his return. We all remember his speech at the Naval Academy a few months later.
Do I think that the SSGN was approved because a group of citizens made several trips to Washington? Do I think it was approved because of all those chocolate SSGN submarines and position papers that we delivered to every member of Congress? No, I don’t. But it didn’t hurt!! I believe it was approved because it is an awesome use of 80+ years of submarine life that would be lost had not some very smart individuals many years ago come up with this concept. I’ve heard rumors but I am never sure exactly who to thank for this!
While I’m talking about community support let me tell you about the Kings Bay memorial for the lOOlh anniversary of the Submarine Force. Rear Admiral Chuck Beers saved the sail from USS GEORGE BANCROFT when he was Group Ten Commander at Kings Bay with the idea of one day building an exhibit. In 2000 our community and our military did this in record time. This project, much like the museum was a project with a true joint effort. My co~chairman was MMCM(SS) John Crouse, retired, the manager and curator of the St. Marys Submarine Museum-I’ll talk about the museum later. Built in less than a year with everything paid for and completed by the projected date (yes, even the last minute grass sodding) gave us the opportunity for a glorious celebration of the 1 ()()th anniversary of our Submarine Force. It was a beautiful Georgia day with bright blue skies against that new fresh green grass and the stark reality of the submarine built like a submarine rising from the sea. (There was even a call to the base reporting a sighting of someone trying to bury a submarine in front of the base!) There were about 3,000 in attendance at the dedication of the 100th anniversary memorial and the exhibit has been used for many retirements, changes of commands, reenlistments, and commissioning. The entire community is proud of this large exhibit, one of the largest military static exhibits in the World.
And while I speak of retirement and changes of commands, two of the most rewarding events in my life were being asked to speak at the retirement of CMC (SS) Royal Weaver, command master chief of SWFLANT and the change of command of Captain Frank Stagl, Commanding Officer of Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base and Captain Walt Your stone. They didn’t see anything so unusual about a civilian woman speaking at these events-well maybe they did, but they did it anyway!!
I had the honor of serving as commissioning president of the committee to build the St. Marys Submarine Museum that was built with a minimum of funds. The community just pitched in and made it happen. One day, during construction, I walked around with a video camera interviewing the workers. Their reasons for their contribution had one theme. They appreciated the Navy and Marine Corps in Camden County, they were proud of the submarine service and they wanted to honor both the veterans of past wars and the present day warriors who give so much so we can be free. From electricians to painters to carpenters, they all came and they all donated their time. It was worth it all when our first WWII subsets came through. THE SUBMARINE REVIEW printed an article on the museum when it was first built back in 1995. At that time I said,. I have told those who have volunteered their time and energy for the submarine museum that we will have reason to be very proud of what we are doing. Those who have come and gone from Camden County always try to put their finger on just what it is about this community that makes the difference. I believe it is the esprit de corps, which is evident in many of Camden’s events. This spirit is once again seen in the commitment to make a submarine museum a reality.”
This year we welcomed our 76,500th visitor and, yes, John Crouse is still with us. Our museum continues to receive artifacts from our WWII subvets and other past and present submariners who want to make sure that their memories are preserved and shared with the next generation. John continues to receive requests from well-known news sources, publications, and organizations for information on the Submarine Force. Our active duty force has used the museum for commissionings, reenlistments, and retirements. Some of the Trident submarine commanding officers have used the opportunity the museum affords to educate their new, young sailors on their heritage. This has been a wonderful place also to let our general public become engaged by offering the most modern American periscope on public display. It most likely is the only wheelchair handicap accessible periscope. Presently the museum is installing major shipboard components from USS JAMES K. POLK (SSBN 645). Just recently John was called to come pick up a torpedo breech door from a WWII Sub Vet. The door will go on display at the George Bancroft 100th Anniversary memorial soon.
We are pleased to work with Ben Bastura, curator of one of the most complete personal submarine libraries/museums in the world. He, like John at the museum, continues to receive requests for information on the Submarine Force. Several years ago, Shirley Fages (formerly on the Submarine League staff and now in Brussels) drove me to Mr. Bastura’s home/museum in Middle-town, Conn. At that time he made the commitment to leave his extensive library and artifacts to the St. Marys Submarine Museum. We hope this is many years in coming and that Mr. Bastura continues to expand his collection. We realize what an honor he has given to us at the St. Marys Submarine Museum as we try to honor our submariners past and present.
Our numbers of WWII veterans are decreasing. We lose significant numbers of veterans each day. Where will we find the support for our military support organizations when our greatest generation is no longer here? It gets harder and harder to attract younger people. Perhaps that’s what every generation thinks-but eventually each generation comes through recognizing the
importance of a strong national defense to our nation’s freedom. Vice Admiral Al Kontezni made a good case for the younger generation at the Navy League’s national convention in New York. He most emphatically said the young people in the military are as fine a group as we’ve ever had in the military. I agree. But these are the cream of the crop and those inclined toward public service. How do we attract this age to our support organizations-this is a challenge we have to meet in the Submarine League, in the Navy League, in many of the 13 organizations in the Military Coalition.
With the United States at war there is no better time to refocus our vision and to involve our citizens in this support for a strong national defense. As President Theodore Roosevelt said in November 1902: “Every man owes a part of his time and money to the business or industry in which he is engaged. No man has a moral right to withhold his support from an organization that is striving to improve conditions within his sphere.
Since the events of September 11th we have seen both retention and recruiting improve. It is heartwarming to hear of stories of those active duty members who had discharge or retirement papers in the system and asked that their papers be withdrawn. Our military continue to be stretched but, under the excellent leadership of Admiral Vern Clark they continue to perform amazingly well.
I’m also amazed at the amount of time our military spends on volunteering their time. They are deployed for weeks and months, away from families yet, when they are home-many hours are given back to the community. Just think, if all military volunteers stopped for a week-what a negative impact it would have on our communities, schools, organizations and churches. Who knows, some day it might be absolutely necessary to curtail some of this volunteer time of sailors and other military. In this time of increased optempo/itempo, demands on sailor’s times are greatly increased and just how much can we continue to expect from our military? As a businesswoman and community worker, I think we should tell our military much more about how we appreciate how they affect our community by their hard work and sacrifice both in the service and in their community.
At the recommendation of Rear Admiral Jerry Ellis, (then Group Ten Commander at Kings Bay) and endorsement by others mentioned in this article, I was nominated for and served for three years on the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services. I served as Vice Chair and installation visit coordinator after my first year. In the three years I served I visited 45 installations worldwide listening to the concerns of over 3,000 military men and women in every branch of the service. I was responsible for reading and compiling the results of issues from official DA CO WITS visits for the SECDEF. The main issues we saw in the last two years I was on the committee were not gender issues. The military wanted the resources to do their jobs and they wanted their families taken care of. The least we civilians can to do is to support that.
I am but one volunteer-supported in my work by many. To belong to an organization is one thing. To be active in support of the organization’s mission is another! I would urge all Submarine League Members to consider the positive impact they can make individually by becoming more active member.