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What Christians need to know about USNS Harvey Milk (T-AO 206)

News came to the Christian twittersphere yesterday via Dr. White that the U.S. Navy is naming a ship after homosexual rights icon Harvey Milk.  I have nothing unique to contribute in terms of the record of Harvey Milk’s life, but I am a seven-year Navy veteran who specialized in floating gray vessels, so it’s probably a good idea to dispel some potential myths or untruths that have arisen or may arise later concerning the nature of this news.

If you are a Navy veteran of any kind, this post will probably teach you close to nothing.  The aim here is to assist fellow Christians in understanding the particulars and especially to help Christian bloggers to avoid perpetrating erroneous information.

Why USNS, not USS?

USS (United States Ship) is the prefix given to commissioned warships.  Commissioned warships have an all-military crew.  You can think of these as the ships that put “warheads on foreheads,” whether from shipborne weapons, aircraft, or Marines launched at a beach.

USNS (United States Naval Ship) designates a non-commissioned ship, typically manned by a civilian crew working for Military Sealift Command.  They may contain a small team of military personnel in order to carry out certain missions or to protect the ship from attack.  These auxiliary ships conduct support missions such as delivering supplies, delivering fuel, and providing medical support.

There are a few special cases that make these designations confusing, but none that affect Harvey Milk.

What is “(T-AO 206)”?

This is called a “hull number.”  It states the purpose of the ship as well as a number that distinguishes it from others of the same type.  In this particular case:

  • “T” indicates that it falls under Military Sealift Command.
  • “AO” means that this is a “Fleet Oiler.”
  • 206 indicates which T-AO.  The U.S. Navy currently has 15 ships with the designation T-AO, numbered 187–189 and 193–204.  190 was sold to Chile. 191 and 192 were cancelled.  This number is easily findable on the bow (“front”) of the ship from a distance.
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USS Denver (LPD 9), my old digs, prepares to receive fuel from USNS John Ericsson (T-AO 194).  I was onboard the Denver at this time.

The heart of the oiler’s mission is underway replenishment.  In short, this involves the two ships driving between 160 and 200 feet away from each other (depending on the type of ship receiving the fuel), attaching a tensioned line, and then bringing a fuel hose from the oiler to the receiving ship.  As you can imagine, this is extremely dangerous and important work.  Behind this high risk is the need to keep our ships fueled and ready for missions.

Ship naming controversies are nothing new

The Secretary of the Navy, currently Ray Mabus, implicitly holds the authority to name new ships .  Constitutionally, he is appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate.  As you probably expected, Mabus is a longtime Democrat.  He served as Governor of Mississippi before becoming Ambassador to Saudi Arabia under President Clinton.  President Obama appointed Mabus as Secretary of the Navy in 2009.  Since Mabus is appointed by President Obama and works at the President’s pleasure, you should not pretend that President Obama did not see this coming, let alone nudge or direct such ship naming.

Mabus has come under fire already for questionable ship naming decisions.  These include the names:

  • USNS Medgar Evers (T-AKE 13), for the civil rights activist.
  • USNS Cesar Chavez (T-AKE 14), for the farm labor leader.
  • USNS John Lewis (T-AO 205), a civil rights icon but also a sitting Democratic congressman.
  • USS Lyndon B. Johnson (DDG 1002), which Democrats protested because Presidential names typically (not always) go on aircraft carriers.
  • USS Gabrielle Giffords (LCS 10), for the Democratic congresswoman who survived a gun attack in Tucson, Arizona.
  • USS John P. Murtha (LPD 26), for the Marine veteran and Democratic congressman who came under fire for falsely accusing Marines in Iraq of war crimes.  Other ships in this class by convention are named for cities or regions, e.g. San AntonioNew OrleansMesa VerdeGreen Bay.

But Mabus is also not alone among Secretaries of the Navy.  Consider these relatively recent names that were deemed overly political.

  • USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) and USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76), apparently a brokered deal between Democrats and Republicans.
  • USS George H. W. Bush (CVN 77).  Though the elder Bush flew 58 combat missions during World War II, the ship name was decided during the younger Bush’s administration.
  • USS John Warner (SSN 785), for the longtime Republican senator.  This also broke with previous naming conventions for attack submarines.

While ship naming controversies are not unique to Mabus, it is fair to say that Mabus (read “Obama” here if you wish) might be unique in advancing a certain liberal social agenda with naming decisions.

This isn’t quite what the congressman ordered

San Diego LGBT Weekly reported in 2012 that Democratic Congressman Bob Filner had requested a ship be named after Harvey Milk, but Filner made a high bid.

The GLBT Historic Task Force (the Task Force) of San Diego County sent a letter to Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, last week, requesting that Harvey Milk be considered as the namesake of a naval submarine, carrier or other vessel named “in his honor and memory.”

[…]

Acting at the behest of the Task Force, Rep. Filner urged top military officials to support the naming of a naval vessel in honor of Milk. In letters to Secretary Mabus and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Filner wrote, “I … urge the Dept. of the Navy to name the next appropriate ship after Harvey Milk.”

I reiterate: the preference was for a USS Harvey Milk as a submarine or carrier, and that is not what occurred, however much credit or lack thereof may be due to Mabus.

Why Harvey Milk, why?

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Proposed computer model of USNS John Lewis (T-AO 205).  If accepted, Harvey Milk will look like this, but the number on the bow (photo right) will be 206.

Because it’s a social agenda. Duh.  It’s Romans 1:18–32 in action.

But you should also know that Harvey Milk isn’t the only name coming out of this announcement.  The rest of the John Lewis class will be named for civil rights icons.  Sojourner Truth is especially appropriate.

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What to say and not to say as a discerning Christian

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Destroyers are named for deceased individuals of the sea services. USS Donald Cook (DDG 75), another one of my old ships, is named for a Vietnam-era Medal of Honor recipient.

Bad arguments against Harvey Milk

Harvey Milk is undoubtedly not worthy of a ship named in his honor.  However, there are some potential arguments for this position that do not make sense. Here are a few.

BAD: “This name is a waste. You should have named it after [insert deceased combat hero here]!”

Destroyers in general are already often named after Medal of Honor and Navy Cross recipients.  Naming an oiler after a deceased combat hero would actually be considered a slight against the namesake.  Cruisers are named for historical battles and thus honor those who sacrificed in such battles.

BAD: “Harvey Milk is a wimpy name for a WAR ship!”

Harvey Milk will be manned by a civilian crew and probably a very small contingent of Navy (military) personnel.  It may be armed enough to defend itself against basic attacks, but it will not sink other ships (unless it runs into one!), bombard the coastline, or launch Marines at the beach.

BAD: Any sexual joke, especially those pertaining to the delivery of fuel or the overdone submarine pun

I’ve already noticed one.  This is below our calling.  No further explanation of details will be offered.

Good arguments

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Why not USNS Booker T. Washington (T-AO 206)?

The name Harvey Milk dishonors real, actual civil rights leaders

Harvey Milk’s name does not belong listed among Earl Warren, Robert F. Kennedy, Lucy Stone, and Sojourner Truth.  There are many others who sacrificed for civil rights who deserve the honor more than Harvey Milk. Try on some worthy names. Booker T. Washington. Elie Wiesel (recently deceased). Harriet Tubman.  

The name Harvey Milk will cause logistical issues with nations that oppose homosexuality

The liberal, God-blaspheming social agenda behind this naming is obvious and just part of a long track record by both the Obama administration.  Within the political arena, here’s an argument you also might not have considered.  Our allies in the Middle East are all against homosexuality, often to the point of the death penalty.  Even outside of that, there is scarcely a nation that ostensibly tolerates pedophilia.

U.S. supply ships don’t just travel from the United States to some area where supplies are needed.  They also purchase supplies from countries near where our commissioned warships are operating in order to keep them fueled and well-fed.  Asking other countries that have stricter laws against homosexuality to sell fuel to the Harvey Milk could cause serious issues.

Conclusion

Ultimately, the liberal social agenda behind the naming of Harvey Milk is our nation’s abandonment of God and His corresponding wrath of abandonment towards us.  What do we do?  Keep praying for the Lord to grant this nation repentance, keep sharing the gospel, keep making disciples.  Don’t be afraid to say it like it is, but always in grace and always in truth, both biblical truth and in a true understanding of these earthly events.

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.

And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.

Romans 1:18–32 ESV

Addendum: There was an incorrect link in this article when initially published.  Prior to this news, USNI published a list of 26 controversial ship names that provide some more historical perspective.