Marines storm the Hill seeking equal billing with Navy

Legislation would expand the name of the department and its secretary to the "Navy and Marine Corps."

A quiet, nine-year effort to give the Marine Corps equal billing in the Navy Department went high profile on Thursday with a Capitol Hill news conference featuring retired Marine generals, a wounded Marine, parents of Marines and a Hollywood star.

The event was aimed at giving momentum to a perennial effort by Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., to expand the name of the department and its secretary to the "Navy and Marine Corps."

Jones, whose district is home to two Marine Corps facilities, Camp Lejeune and the Cherry Point air station, has introduced legislation to change the department's name every year since 2001.

Although the proposal has been included in the House defense authorization bill every year, it has never been accepted by the Senate, largely because of the opposition of former Sen. John Warner, R-Va., a Marine Corps veteran and former Navy secretary who was Senate Armed Services chairman or ranking member for many years. With Warner retired, the main obstacle may be Senate Armed Services ranking member John McCain, R-Ariz., a retired Navy captain.

Jones is pushing a stand-alone bill this year, which he said has 368 co-sponsors. A companion bill has been introduced by Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., a Marine veteran. Asked about getting McCain's support, Roberts said McCain told him he had never been asked, an oversight Roberts plans to address.

Among the non-legislators showing support for Jones' measure were retired Marine Gens. Al Gray and Anthony Zinni, a former Marine Corps commandant and a past U.S. Central Command head, respectively; officials from the Marine Corps League and Marine Parents Association, and R. Lee Ermey, a Marine Corps veteran who played the drill instructor in the movie "Full Metal Jacket" and hosts the popular Military Channel TV shows, "Mail Call" and "Lock N Load."

Jones and the Marines all emphasized that the call to add Marine Corps to the department's title did not reflect any disrespect to their Navy comrades or an attempt to separate from the Navy.

Roberts noted that the Marines were recognized as a distinct service in the 1947 National Security Act. He said his father, who fought on Iwo Jima in 1945, and the Marines who are leading the fight today in Marjah, Afghanistan, "are equal partners" in the Navy-Marine Corps team.

"Is it too much to ask the civilian leading the department in which they serve to recognize that?" Roberts asked.

"We'll always be part of the Navy, but we'll always be Marines," said retired Marine Sgt. Eddie Wright, who lost both hands in Iraq. "We're out there fighting, putting our butts on the line. I don't see anything wrong with a little recognition."