2 weeks ago

Guest: The SHIPYARD Act will help South Alabama

A bipartisan bill in Washington could bring a welcome influx of cash and resources to South Alabama’s shipbuilding industry. Senators and representatives from Mississippi, Virginia, Maine, New Hampshire and Wisconsin have introduced the Supplying Help to Infrastructure in Ports, Yards, and America’s Repair Docks (SHIPYARD) Act, which would appropriate $25 billion toward shipyard infrastructure improvements (you can always count on Congress to fit a tongue-tying, mouthful of a bill title into a catchy acronym).

While the lion’s share of the dollars would go to public shipyards outside of Alabama, $4 billion is reserved for work at private new construction and repair shipyards. Austal’s shipyard in Mobile and the Ingalls facility in Mississippi — which employs scores of Alabamians — fall into both of those categories.

The measure comes amid efforts within Congress and the Pentagon to grow the U.S. Navy as a response to the growth of China’s military power. In 2020, the U.S. Navy released its 30-year shipbuilding plan, which aims to grow its current fleet of fewer than 300 ships to a whopping 546 ships by 2050. Doing so will require an estimated $25.6 billion per year over that period.

While that growth seems sharp and expensive, for Washington seapower advocates, the Navy cannot grow fast enough. In 2017, Congress passed, and President Donald Trump signed, a bill stating that established a U.S. policy to achieve a 355-ship Navy. Under the Navy’s plan, the U.S. will not hit that mark until the mid-2030s.

As the Navy and Congress seek an increased fleet, private and public shipyards will need to grow their footprints to keep up with the demand. In late March, Austal, one of only seven private new construction shipyards in the U.S., took a major step towards increasing output by breaking ground on a production line for steel-hulled ships. The new line will enable Austal to compete for more Navy contracts, as Austal currently is only able to build aluminum-hulled ships.

The SHIPYARD Act, according to a white paper released by the bill’s sponsors, would subsidize efforts like Austal’s production line expansion, calling private shipyards the “lifeblood of our Navy.”

For nearly two decades, Austal has been providing the Navy with small surface combatant ships, namely the littoral combat ship (LCS). While the LCS program has faced harsh criticism for cost overruns and underperformance, most problematic LCS platforms originate from the Marinette Marine facility in Wisconsin, which produces a separate variant of the LCS.

During a late April hearing on Capitol Hill, the Navy’s leadership, Admiral Mike Gilday and acting Navy Secretary Thomas Harker, praised the performance of Austal-built LCS platforms conducting freedom of navigation operations in the South Pacific and counter narcotics missions Latin America. Gilday also testified that the Navy plans to further invest in the operational LCS fleet by outfitting the ships with Naval Strike Missiles. The move will add needed firepower to ships at the forefront of the U.S. effort to combat increasing Chinese aggression in the South China Sea.

So, what is next for the SHIPYARD Act?

Most of the bill’s key sponsors, including U.S. Senators Roger Wicker (R-MS), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Angus King (I-ME) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), are all members of the Senate Armed Services Committee and its Subcommittee on Seapower. While they will likely work to get some policy provisions of the bill into the committee’s upcoming mark-up of the National Defense Authorization Act, the committee and NDAA can only authorize spending rather than actually appropriate dollars.

For appropriations, the bill will need approval of the Senate Appropriations Committee, where U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) is the ranking Republican; he is also the top Republican on Appropriations’ Subcommittee on Defense. Shelby has been a champion for South Alabama’s shipbuilding industry, overseeing appropriations for 20 Austal-built LCS and 15 Expeditionary Fast Transports ships, another platform produced by Austal for the Navy. Shelby has announced that he will retire at the end of his current term but will assuredly be laser-focused on supporting Alabama’s defense industry until his final day in office.

While no Alabama representatives are initial sponsors or cosponsors of the SHIPYARD Act, there will be plenty of opportunities for Shelby, along with U.S. Senator Tommy Tuberville (R-AL), Representative Jerry Carl (AL-01), Representative Robert Aderholt (AL-04) and Representative Mike Rogers (AL-03), to support the bill. Tuberville, Carl and Rogers all sit on the Armed Services Committee of their respective chambers, with Rogers serving as the lead House Republican on Armed Services; meanwhile, Aderholt is a senior Republican on the House Appropriations Committee and its Subcommittee on Defense.

Additionally, Representative Mo Brooks (AL-05), who is widely viewed as the current front-runner to replace Shelby in the Senate, also sits on the House Armed Services Committee and will be seeking the support of South Alabamians, including from Austal and Ingalls workers, for his campaign.

Outside of the defense committees, Congress is preparing to debate and consider President Joe Biden’s $2 trillion American Rescue Plan, pitched as a move to overhaul U.S. infrastructure. SHIPYARD Act supporters are certain to push for the bill to be included in the legislation, arguing doing so would enable the economic and national security benefits of growing U.S. shipbuilding infrastructure.

Regardless of the vehicle for advancing the SHIPYARD Act, movement of a measure to assist U.S. shipyards is welcome news for the industry. While this bill alone will not be enough to ensure shipyards are ready to build the 355-ship navy, it shows that lawmakers on Capitol Hill are aware of the issue and want to act on it. And, as anyone who has worked in Washington can tell you, getting an issue on the table for discussion can be half the battle.

Jake Proctor is a former intelligence officer at the Defense Intelligence Agency and previously held staff and defense policy positions for U.S. Senators Jeff Sessions (R-AL), Luther Strange (R-AL), and Joni Ernst (R-IA). He currently works in business development at a software company in Washington, D.C., focusing on the company’s intelligence community and defense work. He is a Birmingham native and graduate of the University of Alabama and the U.S. Air Command and Staff College.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of Defense or the U.S. Government.

24 mins ago

The Saddle Guy carries on a family tradition of saddle making in Alabama

Kevin Parrish is a craftsman by birthright. At the age of 13, his father took him into the family garage workshop and started relaying the ins and outs of leather working and saddle making.

“I remember I was watching Saturday morning cartoons and he came and said, ‘Come on, it’s time to go to work,’ and from that point on, some nights during the week and every Saturday I would work with him, kicking and screaming the whole way.”

Luckily, Parrish, who owns The Saddle Guy—a saddle making and repair shop in Baldwin County, Alabama—eventually developed a passion for the talent. After attending college for a couple of years at Auburn, he returned home to Montgomery to once again work in his father’s saddle shop. This time, though, something was different. “It just kind of clicked for me,” he remembers.

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Finally seeing a future in saddle making, Parrish spearheaded an expansion of his father’s homegrown business, renting a space in the Montgomery stockyards and slowly growing the business for the next three years. When his father passed away in 1999, he held on for a few years before closing down the shop and moving to Memphis to work at Tucker Saddlery. A short time later, Tucker Saddlery was bought by Circle Y out of Texas, and Parrish moved west.

“It was kind of like saddle college,” Parrish says. “I got to learn a lot about making techniques and work with a bunch of talented saddle makers and designers.”

When Parrish decided it was time to move home, the natural thing to do was reopen shop. He repeated history by first operating out of his garage. Once business picked up, her rented a space. In 2017, Parrish moved his business to Robertsdale, where he resides today.

There, Parrish and his team of five focus on three main areas of business: saddle making, saddle repair, and creating horse tack like bridles and breast straps. Over the years, business has steadily grown. Last year, the team produced 147 saddles, the year before it was 89, then 69, 33, and 13. This year, The Saddle Guy already has orders for 114 saddles from all over the country and expects to build around 224 total before December ends.

One of the Parrish’s main goals with The Saddle Guy is to uphold the integrity of craftsmanship his father created in their family name. He often gets saddles into the shop for repairs that he can tell his father worked on just by the quality of stitching. With every saddle or accessory his shop works on, Parrish says it’s not about perfection but rather about making something beautiful and durable out of the materials he has to work with.

“There’s just something about starting out with a table covered in material—hardware, a hide of leather, a piece of tree—and then taking all those components and fitting them together. It’s kind of like creating something out of nothing—or not nothing, but something complicated out of something simple.”

Thinking back on how he got to be “The Saddle Guy,” Parrish says, “It’s funny how things work out. I ended up following his footsteps and carrying on what he began, but it was never really intentional. So now we’re building a nice company that’s trying to keep that tradition, not only of my family but the tradition of saddle building and leather crafting, alive.”

(Courtesy of SoulGrown)

1 hour ago

Alabama softball wins 2021 SEC Tournament

The University of Alabama shut out top-seeded Florida on Saturday night to win the 2021 SEC Softball Tournament Championship at Rhoads Stadium.

The 4-0 victory secured the sixth tournament title in program history and its first since 2012. The Crimson Tide remain the only program to win an SEC Tournament on its home field, now having done so this year and its previous title.

The latest win was the Bama softball’s 44th victory in an SEC Tournament, tying LSU for the most of any team all-time. Alabama achieved its shut-out behind another masterful performance from pitcher Montana Fouts (22-3), who went the distance with 11 strikeouts. The complete-game shutout is the first since Tennessee’s Monica Abbott in 2006. Fouts was named the SEC Tournament MVP, striking out a tournament-record 39 batters over her three appearances.

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“Winning the tournament at home means everything after all the adversity we’ve faced and the injuries we’ve overcome this year,” she commented. “To us, this win signifies that anything is possible and that we can accomplish anything. It feels great to be a part of this university and for our team to contribute our own SEC championship, but we aren’t done yet and we have bigger dreams.”

In addition to Fouts, Bailey Hemphill, Alexis Mack and Taylor Clark earned SEC All-Tournament accolades.

Alabama, ranked No. 3 nationally, is now 45-7 on the season and awaits is postseason draw with the NCAA Tournament selection show Sunday at 8:00 p.m. CT on ESPN2.

“The SEC was tough this year,” stated head coach Patrick Murphy. “I think everyone will realize just how great the SEC and the level of talent is when the All-American list gets released in a few weeks. There are so many great athletes throughout the SEC and in softball, specifically. I think softball, if not number one, is the second-best sport in the SEC. The championship tradition and coaches here at Alabama are a great fraternity to be in. I heard from so many other coaches last night wishing us good luck. It is a difficult job and we wanted to do the same thing and add to the success of our other sports. That’s why I love being a spring sport, it gives me an opportunity to learn from the fall and winter coaches. This team had grit and resiliency and it’s been a fun group to coach.”

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

2 hours ago

ADOL Secretary Washington applauds Gov. Ivey for opting out of pandemic compensation programs; Credits her for brisk recovery

Earlier this week, Gov. Kay Ivey announced the state would end its participation in federal pandemic employment compensation programs effective June 19, 2021.

The announcement was welcomed by Alabama business owners who have been grappling with labor shortages, which some blame on the generous federal benefits doled out in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

During an appearance on Mobile’s “The Jeff Poor Show” on FM Talk 106.5, Department of Labor Secretary Fitzgerald Washington applauded Ivey for her decision not to continue those benefits.

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“On Monday, Gov. Kay Ivey announced Alabama would opt out of its participation in the federally funded pandemic unemployment compensation program,” Washington said. “There are four programs that make up those federal benefits. One program is called the federal pandemic unemployment compensation program, which provides an additional $300 weekly payment to recipients of unemployment compensation. The second program is the pandemic unemployment assistance program, which provides benefits for those who would not usually qualify — as such as self-employed, gig-economy workers and part-time workers. The third program pandemic emergency unemployment compensation program, which provides an additional extension of benefits once regular benefits have been exhausted. And then the final program is called the mixed-earner unemployment compensation program, which provides an additional $100 benefit for certain people with mixed incomes.”

“So, it was announced by Gov. Kay Ivey that we would be opting out of those programs,” he continued. “I certainly applaud the Governor for being the fourth governor out of 16 states to make this decision. Again, this decision was made in an effort to speed up economic recovery and get more Alabamians back to work.”

Washington also credited the Governor for the expeditious recovery, which has exceeded expectations and the pace of neighboring states.

“We’re really encouraged how our economy is turning in the right direction,” he said. “As mentioned, our state unemployment rate for March is at 3.8% compared to the national rate, which is 6.1%. And, in fact, Alabama has the lowest unemployment rate for two consecutive months — more than the neighboring southeastern states.”

“I attributed that to Governor Ivey and our administration,” Washington said. “I think she has a really good strong plan in terms of rallying everybody together and having everybody sing off of one accord in terms of what the opportunities are for people to wrap up our economy.”

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University and the University of South Alabama, the editor of Breitbart TV, a columnist for Mobile’s Lagniappe Weekly, and host of Mobile’s “The Jeff Poor Show” from 9 a.m.-12 p.m. on FM Talk 106.5.

2 hours ago

UAH alumna Dr. Kimberly Robinson named U.S. Space & Rocket Center CEO

Dr. Kimberly Robinson, an alumna of The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH), part of The University of Alabama System, has been named Executive Director and CEO of the U.S. Space & Rocket Center (USSRC). The hiring was announced by the Alabama Space Science Exhibition Commission, which oversees the operation of the center.

Dr. Robinson earned her M.S. and Ph.D. from UAH in Engineering Management and Systems Engineering and is a 31-year veteran of NASA. She is also the recipient of numerous NASA performance awards, including an Exceptional Achievement Medal and the Silver Snoopy.

She began her career at Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) in 1989 as a Project Engineer in the Propulsion Laboratory, became an astronaut trainer, served as an Executive Intern to the Center Director, was the Project Integration Manager for the Ares 1-X test flight, served as the Payload Mission Manager for Artemis 1 (the first integrated flight test of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket with the Orion spacecraft) and most recently led Utilization for all Artemis missions for NASA HQs/Advanced Exploration Systems.

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Needless to say, the decision to make such a pivotal move at this time in her career is an intriguing one, fraught with change and challenges. “This was a major change to my life plan,” she says, smiling. “I had never planned to leave NASA prior to retirement and wasn’t sure if it was the right thing to do while I was still building my NASA career. But now that it’s happened, it totally makes sense to me.”

One only needs to spend a few minutes with Dr. Robinson to feel the energy, enthusiasm and drive she is ready to throw at any obstacle in her way. “I know that I have a lot to learn, and I’m very upfront about that,” she says. “It goes beyond STEM education and space exploration. There are other roles that come along with this position: we run a museum, gift shop, restaurants and a large number of camp programs under Space Camp. Those areas are all new for me, and it’s fun for me to learn.”

Dr. Robinson’s background makes her particularly well-suited for her new role in ways beyond her technical qualifications. The alumna is fully versed in sharing the future of human space exploration with the public through her work in various NASA posts, such as SLS Strategic Communications Manager at MSFC.

“You have to be able to communicate, talk to the public and your team, explain where we are going, and how we will get there,” she says.

It doesn’t take complicated analysis to determine the source of many of the challenges she is facing. “The Center came to a screeching halt due to the pandemic,” notes Pat Ammons, the Senior Director of Communications at USSRC. But Dr. Robinson is walking into this job with her eyes wide open and a finely honed sense of how to help an organization surmount the difficulties it is facing to get back on track.

The most pressing need to be addressed would almost certainly be the financial impact brought about by the COVID-19 crisis.

“It would have been easier to step into this role had the Rocket Center been in a better financial situation rather than in a recovery mode after the pandemic,” the new CEO says. “But it wouldn’t have appealed to the part of me that enjoys the challenge. I had a mentor at NASA who said if you want to be valuable to an organization, you go to where they need you. You don’t go where you want to go or go for the best pay or the best title; you go where someone needs you, and do the best job that you can – that’s how you prove your value.”

Officially on the job since February 15, Dr. Robinson has hit the ground running, anxious to put her personal philosophy to work reshaping USSRC operations.

“At NASA I learned important lessons, like how to manage risk and how to make decisions with people’s lives depending on it. Here we are having to adjust and adapt and assess as the situations unfold. For example, we made a decision that we would only operate Space Camp at 50% capacity this summer to safely maintain distance and follow the health guidelines. We had to make that decision early on in order to stabilize our planning. To try to switch on a dime would not provide the quality experience that we want to give our visitors here.”

Dr. Robinson is quick to point out that one of the most important factors in supporting her vision for the Center is the people behind it all. “It’s mostly about team building. That’s what I enjoy, and what I did at NASA – developing a plan, executing the plan, keeping the team safe and secure, motivated and challenged. I believe I can do almost anything with the right motivated team, solve any problem, move any mountain. That’s how we landed on the Moon!”

One important part of leading is helping the team define and share a vision. To this end, Dr. Robinson is working with the Executive Team to develop a Strategic Plan for the Space & Rocket Center to outline the strategic goals of the Center for the next three to five years.

Originally from Birmingham, Dr. Robinson has always been fascinated by the space program. “I loved the space program, airplanes and space ships – but I never knew that was anything I could be a part of. That was for test pilots and German rocket scientists. It wasn’t until I received an award from the Society of Women Engineers presented to me by a female NASA astronaut that I learned it was something I could do too. It felt like the world opened up to me.”

In what has become a kind of lifelong modus operandi for the UAH alumna, it soon became evident, however, that she would have to knock down quite a few barriers to accomplish her goals.

“From that time on, I wanted to work at NASA, wanted to be an engineer and preferably an astronaut. I was a senior in high school, and I started interviewing everywhere for scholarships. I sometimes had people say, ‘You’re a woman, you won’t last as an engineer!’ One interviewer questioned why I deserved a scholarship, when I would probably just get married and leave school after the first year! Well, I stayed with it and now I have a real passion for encouraging women to pursue a career in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). I want them to know that if it interests you, don’t let anyone tell you you don’t belong.”

The choice to come to UAH to further her education was an easy one. After receiving a Bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering at Vanderbilt University, Dr. Robinson moved to Huntsville to work at NASA while pursuing an advanced degree at night. “I took one class at UAH, loved it, and said this is the place for me! It’s a wonderful university,” she says.

Now that she has had time to settle in, how does she feel about her first six weeks as head of the U.S. Space & Rocket Center?

The alumna grins. “I must look like a drowned rat, because it’s like drinking from a firehose! But just coming in the door, it was love at first sight. The team is wonderful, the mission is solid and appealing, and everything about it has felt right. It’s rewarding, fulfilling, challenging and exhausting, all at the same time.”

Lastly, Dr. Robinson fully understands the importance of helping this cherished Huntsville landmark thrive once more.

“It is a solemn responsibility that I take seriously. It is human nature to explore the unknown and push the boundaries, and space exploration is one way we have done that to a magnificent degree. The U.S. Space & Rocket Center showcases those human achievements that have expanded technologies, opened new frontiers and discovered new worlds. The story itself is the compelling narrative, and we’re here to make sure it shines in a way that connects to each visitor who walks in the door.”

(Courtesy of The University of Alabama in Huntsville)

3 hours ago

Anglers are hooked on Smith Lake’s new weigh-in pavilion

Anglers, tournament staff and community leaders are thrilled with their new shaded place on Lewis Smith Lake in Walker County to host fishing tournament weigh-ins.

Many of them gathered May 8 to share their appreciation for the weigh-in pavilion during a dedication ceremony prior to weigh-in at the Basspro.com Bassmaster Open. The pavilion provides shade for fish-holding tanks during tournament weigh-ins, which reduces stress and increases survival rates of the fish.

“It’s particularly important for community events and smaller tournaments to provide better fish care,” said B.A.S.S. CEO Bruce Akin. “They’ll come in the pavilion, bring their fish, keep them in the shade, keep in the water until they weigh them. It provides a great way to take better care of the fish to get them back in the water so they can grow up and we can catch them a little bit bigger each time.”

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New weigh-in pavilion dedicated on Smith Lake from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

The pavilion, constructed in 2020, was funded through a partnership between B.A.S.S. and Alabama Power, built with the help of volunteers from the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance.

“It took some funds available, used some donated organized labor, and just came up with a great pavilion,” said Casey Shelton, business manager, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) System Council U-19. “This has been a great partnership to see come together and will benefit the local community for years to come.”

The new pavilion is the latest in a growing list of amenities offered at Alabama Power’s 65 public recreation sites. It is the second pavilion Alabama Power and B.A.S.S. have worked together to build. In 2014, B.A.S.S., Alabama Power, the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR), Shelby County and volunteers from Alabama B.A.S.S. Nation teamed to open a similar weigh-in pavilion at Beeswax Landing on Lay Lake.

“We are happy to be a part of this project and to continue to partner with B.A.S.S. and others to bring these tournaments to the communities we serve,” said Alabama Power Western Division Vice President Mark Crews. “These partnerships help enhance access points to the beautiful natural resources that our state has to offer.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)