On Monday, President Donald J. Trump will sign an executive order to help sea veterans seamlessly transition into the United States Merchant Marine. By simultaneously expanding veteran opportunities for great jobs at great wages while strengthening our Merchant Marine, this action embodies a key principle of the Trump administration: economic security is national security.

The civilian men and women of the United States Merchant Marine who pilot sealift vessels represent a mission-critical component of United States military readiness. During times of conflict, these mariners transport military goods such as tanks, helicopters, or even troops – often in hostile waters and at great personal risk.


In World War II alone, nearly 10,000 merchant mariners were killed by enemy fire and died at a rate of 1 in 26 – a casualty rate higher than any branch of the United States military. Their willingness to serve and their sacrifice continue to play a vital role in America’s defense.

Full container cargo ship sailing out of San Francisco bay under the Golden gate bridge and heading out into the Pacific Ocean in the late afternoon

President Trump’s latest executive order will help sea veterans, in services ranging from the Coast Guard and Marines to the Army and Navy, transition into the civilian workforce as mariners in several ways. First, the United States government will help pay various fees associated with merchant mariner credentialing and licensing, which can exceed a thousand dollars.

Second, and of even greater value, ­­President Trump’s executive order helps enable veterans apply their education and experience on military ships toward the mariner credentialing curriculum, thereby removing other costly barriers to entry. For example, mid-career seamen, 1st mates, and engineers will no longer be forced to re-enroll in basic maritime classes, the costs of which are estimated anecdotally by veterans to be as high as $25,000. As part of this effort, the United States government will further develop online resources to help veterans navigate the process of becoming a merchant mariner.

On the economic security front, the executive order will help American veterans more quickly find high-paying jobs worthy of their skill sets. On average, water transportation workers earn $65,720 every year, well above the national occupational average of $50,620. Workers in the merchant mariner categories routinely earn even more.

This administration will always have the backs of veterans, from their days in uniform to their years in the civilian workforce.

On the national security front, this executive order will help address a significant merchant mariner shortfall. In the past several decades, the number of United States merchant mariners with unlimited oceangoing credentials who have sailed in the last 18 months has dropped below 12,000. According to estimates from the Department of Transportation, if the United States entered into a large-scale conflict that required the military’s full mobilization, we could fall short of the number of mariners needed to sustain contingency operations. In other words, after six months the most powerful country in the world could find itself challenged to supply its overseas military personnel.

On the chessboard of Trump administration workforce strategy, this executive order is part of a broader effort to assist our veterans and their spouses in their transition to the civilian workforce. For example, on May 5, 2017, President Trump signed into law the “Honoring Investments in Recruiting and Employing American Military Veterans Act of 2017.” It requires the Secretary of Labor to establish a program that recognizes, and thereby incentivizes, employer efforts to recruit, employ, and retain veterans.

The Department of Defense, through the Military-to-Mariner Transition Program, has been actively working to remove barriers to employment by aligning Personnel Qualification Standards with requirements for merchant mariner qualifications, through the United Services Military Apprenticeship Program, and funding the attainment of credentials through the Credentialing Opportunities On-Line program. This executive order will further develop those online resources.


On May 9, 2018, the president also signed the executive order on “Enhancing Noncompetitive Civil Service Appointment of Military Spouses.” This order directs federal agencies to remove barriers to spouse employment, “actively advertise and promote the military spouse hiring authority and actively solicit applications from military spouses for posted and other agency positions.” The Department of Labor is currently accepting applications until April 30, 2019 for the 2019 award year, and more information can be found at hirevets.gov.

With the signing of Monday’s executive order, President Donald J. Trump both salutes our sea veterans and celebrates our merchant mariners. The message should be clear:  this administration will always have the backs of veterans, from their days in uniform to their years in the civilian workforce.