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Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday, Sen. Susan Collins, and Sen. Maggie Hassan hold a media availability at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine, April 24.
ADMIRAL MICHAEL M. GILDAY: Thanks for joining us this afternoon. It really is a privilege to be back, particularly with Senators Collins and Hassan. So this is the Navy’s oldest shipyard, the nation’s oldest shipyard. And we are doing not only once in a generation, but once in a century work to revitalize the drydocks that are so absolutely critical to maintain and sustain our most lethal and survivable element of the joint force, and that’s our submarine force.
And so the throughput through this shipyard will be absolutely critical in the years ahead as we grow the force and need to sustain it. There are some 7(,000) to 8,000 patriots that work at this facility from across New Hampshire and the state of Maine. We’re grateful to them and their families for what they do day-in and day-out to keep our submarines operational, and a frontline force, and truly the envy of the world.
So with that I thank you. And I’d ask the senators if they’d like to make any comments.
SENATOR SUSAN COLLINS (R-Maine): I just want to thank the chief of naval operations for coming to the shipyard today. It is a great honor to have him here and for us to be able to get an update on the – what we call the SIOP program of investment in the drydocks. This investment is absolutely critical in order for the shipyard to efficiently overhaul, refuel, and service the class of – Virginia-class of submarines. They are bigger than the old Los Angeles-class submarines. And this shipyard’s role in keeping them able to go to sea, join our fleet, is absolutely essential.
Many of you may remember years ago when this shipyard unbelievably was being considered for closure. That would have been an absolute disaster. And I think it’s telling that the commission, the BRAC commission, that evaluated this shipyard said that it was the gold standard of shipyards. We have four public shipyards. I have no doubt that the commissioner was correct when he said that Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine, does set the gold standard. It was that way then, and it’s that way now.
This is an extraordinary, complex overhaul of the drydocks. And I want to thank the CNO for doubling down on his commitment. The budget that is before us now is $1.8 billion for repairs of submarines and upgrading our shipyards. So again, the CNO, I thank you for being here today for supporting the gold standard of the shipyards. As the vice chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee and as the ranking Republican on the Defense Subcommittee of that committee, I am committed to working with my colleagues in the rest of the Maine delegation and New Hampshire. New Hampshire and Maine may disagree on some issues, but on this one we act as one. Thank you.
SENATOR MAGGIE HASSAN (D-N.H.): Well, thank you, Senator Collins. And I, too, want to just offer my thanks to the admiral for being here, and for his leadership and commitment when it comes to strengthening and modernizing the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. And, to Senator Collins’ point, yeah, we have a friendly rivalry about the shipyard’s name being Portsmouth and its location, but we are united as a seacoast community, because we all understand that this oldest continually used shipyard has evolved over time, always to be leading – to lead our country and our naval fleet in the necessary changes, so that we can be at the cutting edge and keep our country safe, secure, and free.
So I’m really, really grateful to the admiral for making time for this visit today. I’m grateful to Senator Collins and our partners, Senator Shaheen and Senator King, for the ongoing work that we are all doing together to make sure that this shipyard, and all of our country’s shipyards, have the kind of resources they need so that we are the self-sufficient envy of the world when it comes to being ready to fight wherever we need to fight and to keep our country safe and free.
The other thing we talked about here, which I know is of great interest to my constituents, and I know to Senator Collins’ as well and to the Navy, is the work that the shipyard does in building up the workforce for the next generation. The apprenticeship program here is second to none. It’s critically, critically important as we make these changes in technology and in capacity, to know that this generation of naval shipyard workers can be passing on their knowledge and skill base, and helping prepare the next generation to learn whatever they need to learn to build these extraordinary submarines that are so important to our national security.
So it was also a really nice way to touch base about that, and about the other needs that the workforce has, as we continue to support the shipyard. Thanks.
MODERATOR: Okay, the CNO and the senators will take some questions. Ian?
Q: Yeah. So I’m just wondering, were you briefed at all on the shipyard’s current hiring numbers and where that stands?
SEN. COLLINS: Yes, we were. And, obviously, it is highly competitive. I did have some shipyard workers express the need for higher wages. But one thing, to build on Senator Hassan’s comments, this shipyard, it’s very fortunate to have had an apprenticeship program for many, many years. And with language that we put into the appropriations bill every year, the shipyard brings in 100 new apprentices. It has about 900 in the apprenticeship program. I had the honor of speaking at the graduation of the apprenticeship program’s graduates two years ago, during COVID. They had to have it at a drive-in movie theater and people came in in cars and listened to me talk with these speakers. It was sort of a flashback to the 1960s.
But the apprenticeship program, on the other hand, is very much 21st century. It is a terrific program, and it’s one that I strongly support. It is one reason that the shipyard, while it is facing some challenges in hiring, is not as challenged as some large employers are, because of the steady flow of apprentices coming in, and its partnership with community colleges in both Maine and New Hampshire, and the incredibly skilled people who are teaching the new apprentices right here on the base. So I think we’re very fortunate that that apprenticeship program is so well established and well regarded.
SEN. HASSAN: Yeah. And I’d just add, the other thing we talked about was in order to make sure that we are not only training up the next generation but recruiting people to come to this area, to be this extraordinarily skilled workforce of patriots, we talked about some of the other challenges we have. Like the housing challenge here on the seacoast and throughout New Hampshire, to be sure about things we can do to make sure that as we recruit workers to this area they can afford a place to here too.
Q: Do you talk about any solutions in terms of housing?
SEN. COLLINS: The CNO actually has a wonderful program that I’d love for him to talk about.
ADM. GILDAY: So, first of all, for parents, for coaches, for school administrators, for teachers, and for young people who might be tuning into your broadcast this evening, work at this shipyard is all about opportunity. And so there are generations of families who have worked here and served here. They’ve been able to send their children through college. They’ve been able to provide a home and live a very comfortable – live a very comfortable life for them and their families. So this is a wonderful opportunity for great work with promotions and so forth, and stability.
As you’re probably aware, the demand signal for new production of submarines is at least two attack boats and one ballistic missile submarine up through 2040. That means that there’s plenty of repair work for shipyards like Portsmouth for the long haul. And so the outlook is very, very bright for Portsmouth in terms of the throughput.
In terms of the housing piece, I would just say that for landlords out there that are looking for reliable, responsible tenants, the folks – whether they’re in uniform or they’re civilians – that work here would be wonderful tenants for your properties, that you can rely on to pay on time, to treat your properties right, and to maintain steady occupancy in those facilities. I also think that we could potentially look at public-private partnerships. There’s perhaps excess capacity with respect to buildings here on the base that we can look at, potential projects that we might be able to invest in together. Ands o I think there’s opportunity there as well.
SEN. COLLINS: Thank you, everybody.
Q: Thank you.
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