by Captain John Konrad (gCaptain) In the grand tapestry of American history, the narrative of industry and manufacturing has often been the undercurrent that propelled the nation to the forefront of global power. However, that undercurrent has seen a steady ebb. Today, the United States finds itself in the valley of an alarming industrial decline. Our shipyards, once the envy of the world, struggle to remain profitable. Naval shipbuilding, a cornerstone of American defense, has been beleaguered by failures and delays, and – as War in Ukraine highlights – our military’s munitions stockpile and industrial capacity have dwindled dangerously.
These issues are, surprisingly, not new. As historian Arthur Herman reminds us in his insightful book, “Freedom’s Forge,” these are echoes of challenges faced by America during the Second World War. Then, the nation rallied around a remarkable figure, William “Big Bill” Knudsen, a civilian manufacturing maestro deputized with the rank of a three-star General who investigated and solved America’s industrial problems and orchestrated America’s WWII industrial might. Fast forward to the present, and we find a similar effort with the appointment of retired four-star General Stephen Lyons as White House Port Envoy.
These two appointments, separated by many decades, indicate a pattern, a realization that during times of industrial crisis, appointing a senior flag officer to a critical post can go a long way towards cutting government red tape. Today, as we grapple with our own crisis, the time is ripe for the appointment of a new figure: a 4-star manufacturing envoy.
4 Star Industry Envoy
The US Military already has active duty four stars in charge of cyber and transportation, so this idea is not without precedence, the appointment of a manufacturing czar holds the potential to revitalize the American industrial and defense manufacturing sector including shipbuilding. With his direct oversight, this office could orchestrate an industrial renaissance, optimizing the use of resources, fostering innovation, and streamlining production processes.
This role could extend beyond mere oversight. A senior flag officer with acumen could reform current practices, infusing new life into the American shipbuilding industry, among others. He could implement measures to foster competition, which would spur innovation and efficiency while enhancing the quality of the end products. He could engage the best economists to work on financial engineering to assure that capital flows into shipbuilding. He could cut Navy NAVSEA red tape. He could fix the Navy’s “badger problem“.
Moreover, his experience in defense makes him acutely aware of the necessity of a robust munitions stockpile. Through strategic planning and capacity building, An industrial envoy could ensure that America not only maintains a healthy reserve of munitions but also possesses the industrial capacity to replenish it as needed.
But who would be appointed as Industrial Envoy? During WWII a civilian was given three stars but that would be difficult under today’s laws and the failures of industry executives in the military during the Vietnam war cast a dark shadow. We probably need a current four Star and in the vast pantheon of potential candidates, one name stands out – General David H. Berger.
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General Berger, the 38th Commandant of the United States Marine Corps, is no stranger to the rigors of leadership. His tenure has been marked by a fervor for shipbuilding, as he battles with vigor to get his marines the 31 amphibious ships they need to fight in the Pacific. Under his guidance, the Force Design 2030, a strategic blueprint for modernizing the Marine Corps, has seen remarkable success. More importantly, General Berger possesses a sense of urgency, an understanding that the clock is ticking, and America’s industrial revival cannot wait.
Berger will soon retire from service but his appointment of a manufacturing czar could allow him to continue to support the efforts he has championed.
Now Is The Time To Lean In
War in Ukraine has shown the need to resupply stockpiles and our inability to build the amphibious ships Berger so very much needs shows the importance of shipbuilding. The appointment of a manufacturing czar is not a simple bureaucratic reshuffling; it is an urgent necessity. America’s industrial base, much like a lighthouse, has guided the nation through periods of uncertainty and conflict. Its decline signals a weakening of our defensive capabilities and, by extension, our national security.
General Berger, given his passion, expertise, and track record, seems an ideal candidate for this role. His appointment could ignite a renaissance in American manufacturing, much like Knudsen’s did in the crucible of World War II. It would symbolize a renewed commitment to our industrial heritage and a determination to ensure America remains a beacon of power and resilience in the 21st century.
General Berger has earned his retirement and nobody would blame him for saying no but he’s not the only possible candidate. It would be possible to bring someone into a 4 Star billet via other means like the NOAA officer corps or the US Merchant Service. Details need to be worked out but facts are clear: America’s industrial decline needs to be arrested, and the appointment of a manufacturing czar is a step in the right direction. In General Berger, we have a leader who can navigate this challenging journey, and in his potential appointment, we see the promise of a story of resurgence waiting to be told.
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