By Richard Pera
Dean of the School of Security and Global Studies at American Military University
Major news organizations like CNN and Fox News recently reported the story of the venerable aircraft carrier, USS Saratoga (CV-60) (known affectionately as “Sara”), which the U.S. Navy sold to ESCO Marine, a scrap metal and recycling company, for one cent. You heard right: a single penny. I found this story fascinating on multiple levels.
Right off the bat, I asked myself: Will ESCO really cut a check for $.01? Will the U.S. government really cash a check for $.01? Given how the bureaucracy works, it probably costs $100 to cash such a check, making it a better deal for taxpayers not to cash it. But, then again, not cashing the check would force some civil servant bean counter to scour accounts receivable to reconcile the penny – and that truly would cost a boat load.
On another level, I found it amazing that something – anything – that is more than 1,000 feet long and weighs tens of thousands of tons could cost one cent. Ironically, this is the only “item” I know that actually costs one cent. Even a single candy next to the cash register at CVS or Walgreens costs more. Can you name anything that costs one cent?
Of course, this is all about business: profit and loss. The government already profited enormously from Sara, which produced 38 years-worth of national security (admittedly, national security is a difficult product to quantify). Sara was decommissioned in 1994, and has passed the last decade rusting away at Newport Naval Base in Rhode Island. No arrangement could be made to turn the ship into a museum, as sometimes happens with decommissioned vessels (I guess, Saratoga, New York couldn’t come up with the cash to tow the ship up the Hudson River). Nor will the ship intentionally be sunk to create a man-made reef, teeming with aquatic life.
Instead, the government opted to give Sara away to ESCO, which will invest a hefty sum to tow the vessel to Brownsville, Texas for scrapping. ESCO hopes to profit by selling the scrap to companies that produce metal products. Someday, part of USS Saratoga may be inside a steel-reinforced highway bridge or part of your Chevy. Years from now, when Sara’s sailors are asked what became of their ship, they may answer with a common Navy expression: “Gillette – I’m shaving with it.”
But, there is a more profound angle on this story. Undoubtedly, thousands of former Sara sailors are recalling vivid memories of their youth, when they answered their country’s call to serve: bombing North Vietnam, bombing Qaddafi’s Libya on orders from President Reagan, bombing Iraq during Operation Desert Storm, lonely months at sea, or maybe a fantastic port visit to Hong Kong or Spain. Some sailors undoubtedly will have difficulty equating those valuable memories with the one cent sale price. After all, for a time, Sara was their home, their work, and the one thing on which they depended constantly to keep them alive.
While Sara’s “final arrangements” may sound unfortunate, if not ignominious, in the end, sailors, not metal, made Sara special. Farewell USS Saratoga, and thanks to all who served aboard this special ship.