The decision last Friday by Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus to name the newest littoral combat ship the USS Gabrielle Giffords was met with widespread opposition, and active duty service members, retirees, and even civilians have not been shy in voicing their discontent. Upon closer inspection, however, much of this displeasure appears unjustified.

First, detractors claim Secretary Mabus’s decision to name a ship after Congresswoman Giffords was unabashedly political and, therefore, inappropriate. The authority to name Navy ships traditionally rests exclusively with the Navy Secretary, who acts as a representative of the President and within the boundaries legislated by Congress. Like nearly all decisions made inside the Beltway, this process can be influenced by sensitive—but palpable—political considerations. As a political appointee, it is not unreasonable to expect the Secretary to weigh political ramifications in his decision-making (though, in this instance, there is no proof such an analysis took place).

Even if this decision was made based on politics alone, it would not be without precedent: Other ships which commemorate congressmen with military ties include Carl Vinson (“father of the two-ocean navy”), John Stennis (“father of the modern American Navy”), and John Murtha (longtime House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee Chairman) to name a few. In the 1960s, the politically savvy Admiral Hyman Rickover even persuaded the Secretary to name four submarines after congressmen who supported his nuclear program.

Second, opponents argue Congresswoman Giffords had no association with the Navy and is, therefore, undeserving of such an honor. This argument is specious for several reasons: Rep. Giffords’s husband is a career Naval Officer and astronaut; she was the only sitting Member of Congress whose spouse was serving on active duty, earning her a de facto place in the Navy family; and she served on the House Armed Services Committee, where she was a consistent and steadfast supporter of the military—and the Navy in particular. During her tenure, she introduced pioneering legislation aimed at expanding mental health services for veterans; requiring the military to cut its dependence on fossil fuels; and relieving housing financial pressures for service-members.

Third, some note that the namesake does not fit the naming convention for the ship’s class (other littoral ships are named for moderately-sized cities) and that ships are not typically named after living people. Both arguments hold merit; however, the littoral ship class’s naming convention was already disjointed (the first ship is called the Freedom). Moreover, it is not the first class of ships to have non-uniformed naming: Ticonderoga-class cruisers were named for famous battles (except the USS Thomas Gates) and Ohio-class submarines were named for states (except the USS Henry M. Jackson). Additionally, the USS Giffords will not be the first ship named for a living person: Active ships in the naval register include the USS George H. W. Bush, Jimmy Carter, and John Warner, and many other ships were named or christened for individuals who were, at the time, alive.

Finally, and perhaps most troubling, critics claim that Rep. Giffords was a “victim” and not a “hero” and that, consequently, her case does not pass a phantom ship naming litmus test. To be sure, defining a “hero” is difficult and subjective. The sad reality is that after a decade of war, there are far more military heroes deserving of such recognition than there are ships awaiting a namesake. However, the decision to name a ship after Rep. Giffords was likely less about memorializing the victims of the violence in Tucson than it was about acknowledging the fundamentally democratic activity in which she and her constituents were participating when she was attacked. For a profession whose leaders swear to support and defend the Constitution, what better way to commemorate the set of cherished principles that are at the core of our democracy than to honor a courageous and persevering public servant who personified them?

The name also honors the indomitable spirit and grace that Rep. Giffords has displayed in her remarkable comeback. USS Giffords will carry this sense of purpose with her wherever she sails and the ship will stand ready to guard the principles of liberty—at any cost.

Though the decision to name the newest littoral combat ship after Gabrielle Giffords was not without controversy, it is an appropriate way to honor a strong supporter of the United States Navy and is a fitting tribute to the ideals that make our imperfect democracy the world’s standard-bearer. Indeed, we should take care to heed Abraham Lincoln’s patriotic warning: “A nation that does not honor its heroes will not long endure.”




Posted by LT Doug Robb, USN in History, Navy


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  • http://snafu_blogspot@yahoo.com solomon

    wow.

    i would respond but it would not be appreciated.

  • Norman Lampton

    Representative Giffords and I differ on many political points. However after the shooting I was at a prayer vigil for her and the other victims; liberal – conservative; democrat – republican we gathered before the Lord and prayed for her and all of the victims. I am distressed that the simple kind act of her country naming a Naval Vessel for her would cause such a reaction. When I served in the Navy understanding and kindness were an essential element of 3,000+ men serving on the USS Midway together in the most trying of times. When we lost a pilot we all stopped but for a moment to offer a prayer for him.

    Whenever the Giffords stops in a foreign port it will send a strong but silent message that Americans rise above tragedy to continue our quest for understanding and freedom. Sail on O ship of state.

    And I wish the USS Giffords fair winds and following seas.

  • Old Dragon Whale

    And just how again is she a hero? I do not remember ever hearing her name prior to an insane man shooting her. She is no more or less heroic than any other victim who recovers from being injured, but does that merit ignoring the long, long line of bonafide heroes waiting to have a ship named after them?

    Defining heroes is not nearly as difficult as LT Robb pleads – an easy starting point is with the list of Medal of Honor and Navy Cross awardees. Ships have been named after Presidents and legislators with decades of service, but with the Murtha and Giffords we have entered a new era altogether.

    Have we really run out of actual heroes? Robb’s apology is truly thin soup when you have to work this hard to keep the fig leaf in place.

  • Peterk

    Pretty weak justification for what was clearly a political decision

  • BJ Armstrong

    While I disagree with LT Robb on the analysis here, and this other Dragon Whale would like to see a MoH or other historically relevant name on the hull of the next LCS, just as ODW would, I think we need to be careful. There’s nothing factually inaccurate in what LT Robb wrote, and the piece is thoughtful and well written.

    While I may not agree with his analysis in the end, I have great respect for the fact that LT Robb has jumped into the arena of ideas. Canoe U grads all memorized TR’s “Man in the Arena” during Plebe Summer for a reason, but some forget its true meaning. Too often the caustic zero defect mentality in the military translates to people who refuse to acknowledge ideas or opinions that differ from their own. The only thing is…that’s how innovation and new solutions come about. Good on this JO for having the guts to put his opinion out there in the public eye. I look forward to reading more from him in the future.

  • UltimaRatioReg

    Lieutenant Robb,

    Welcome to the blogging community and for your comments. Stand by for heavy weather. Comes with the territory.

    Your straining of credibility with your argument for naming a US Navy ship USS Gabrielle Giffords snaps completely when you use the term “appropriate”. The contrary is most definitely the case. The action by SECNAV in naming this vessel is the very definition of INappropriate.

    I agree wholeheartedly with the comment above that defining heroes is not a difficult task after ten years of war. There are Medals of Honor and Navy Crosses aplenty to choose from. They, especially those of them who gave their lives in combat with the enemy, are recognized heroes.

    They are each worthy of being honored with the naming of a United States Warship. Ms. Giffords is not. She was the victim of a criminal act on the part of a mentally ill man. However inspiring the story of her recovery is, the VA hospitals around the country are filled with similar ones, the stories of service men and women badly wounded in combat against this nation’s enemies. I do hope you can see the difference, for if you cannot, you need to take a hard look at yourself.

    The slippery slope of naming warships after politicians makes conditions rife for such mischief as the USS Gabrielle Giffords. The political mischief that gave us USS Giffords also gave us USS Cesar Chavez, and USS John Murtha, two names that are repugnant to many and show blatant disregard for the traditions of our Navy.

    That said, many of the people who voiced their displeasure with the name of USS Gabrielle Giffords also disapproved of USS Harry Truman, USS John Stennis, USS Jimmy Carter, USS George HW Bush, USS Gerald Ford, and yes, even USS Ronald Reagan. All were political and none were appropriate, nor in keeping with the traditions of the United States Navy.

    Tradition and honor are crucial to a military service, as they define the identity and legacy of those who came before us. That there is not a USS Ernest Evans, nor a USS Dorie Miller in commission is a sad indicator of the lack of importance placed on that tradition and honor. To have a USS Gabrielle Giffords commissioned instead is unconscionable. And entirely inappropriate.

  • Byron

    [First sentence edited by admin] Sorry, can’t, won’t agree with you. Not when we’re naming carriers after politicians when so many other names of great history are out there: Yorktown; Saratoga; Constellation; Ranger; Essex… Tell me why we named a warship after a politician whose only connection to the Navy is her husband….the astronaut. I respectfully suggest you spend some time reading Naval History…about the great ships and great men that sailed and fought on great ships. Then come back and try to justify this naming.

  • http://www.usni.org admin

    I will remind everyone here that there will be no ad hominem attacks against the LT who dared to project his idea, however unfavorable to the readership. This is a discussion of ideas and missives, not personal background. That may play an important part in his viewpoint, but you all know ad hominem is not our thing, that we encourage the discussion and especially encourage the junior voice.

  • http://snafu_blogspot@yahoo.com solomon

    This article is pure dee nonsense. A week or so ago, someone wrote an article here decrying the fact that some Marines embraced the martial history of other nations and not our own.

    Its obvious by this article that the problem is more widespread than we thought and takes place in many ways.

    A squad of Marine Snipers chose to pose in front of a flag with Nazi SS lettering on it. Lt Robb did by writing this article defending the indefensible.

    But we shouldn’t be surprised. The culture of the Naval Services has been weakened by a decade of combat. Perhaps this is the time to focus less on vehicle/ship procurement and focus more on rebuilding the culture of the Sea Services.

    Oh and maybe we need to take a good look at the way we teach naval history.

  • Jay

    Very interesting remarks, LT Robb, a different perspective that I hadn’t considered previously, thanks!

  • Diogenes of NJ

    The first piece of legislation Congresswoman Gifford introduced was to declare a national day to commemorate cowboys. She also asked in a HASC hearing what the military was doing to decrease their carbon foot print in Afghanistan.

    The Secretary of the Navy can do better. Here’s a suggestion:
    http://hamptonroads.com/2010/04/downed-navy-pilot-honored-norfolk-sacrifice

    Grandpa Bluewater should be along any time to impart his wisdom to the fair Lt. (who will doubtlessly become flag material by Grandpa’s prescription).

    In the mean time let me say this regarding honor. Those of us who can call ourselves shipmates understand that honor is imparted from the sentiments of the sailors, marines, soldiers and airmen who have served with us similar circumstances, now and in decades past. It is all we have ever needed.

    We all know where the sentiment lies with regard to naming this ship. As for the corrupt administration, politicians and political appointees up and down the line – you have no honor and are therefore incapable of rendering such by way of your vicissitudes, mutterings and self-aggrandizing posturing. Any honor that may befall this least capable ship will be the consequence of the actions of the people who sail in her worthy of being called shipmates, and least of all those who have chosen her name.

    – Kyon

  • W.M. Truesdell

    Just because there is precedent, we should not name a ship for a living person. Let us see the whole life, not just one part, especially the current example. Some heroes end badly.

    I did not like it when the Republicans did it, nor now, when the Democrats do the same. It is arrogant, divisive, blatantly political and belittles the ship and its crew. They are not toys for politicians to play with.

    The writer made a good argument, but it could be made for many heroes who fight adversity. They are all around us.

    More important, it fails the political smell test.

    W.M. Truesdell

  • Benjamin Walthrop

    Soloman’s characterization of this article as equivalent to the SS flag incident is nonsense. Naming of ships is always political (as the article notes). If you don’t like the current trend, we have a process to change it. Sadly, no “side” of the political spectrum is immune from this sort of action.

    On the upside, once SECNAV names a ship it’s pretty unlikely to not make it to the fleet. We are coming up on some pretty heavy budget headwinds, and that is going to happen even if the sequestration process is somehow avoided. The USN is going to need every ship it can get, and I’ll welcome the USS Giffords to the waterfront.

    BZ for another writer and thinker willing to put their ideas out at USNI.

  • USNVO

    While ships have been named after living people, and even people who did not serve in the Naval Services, naming a ship after Representative Giffords is really a stretch. A stretch that is perfectly within the bounds of the SECNAV to do, but still a stretch.

    Generally, living people (and dead ones for that matter) that have a ship named after them have a few common traits. Foremost is long and distinguished service to their country and/or navy. Reagan, Bush, Carter (OK, I disagree with my own criteria on this but at least he was a nuclear submariner besides being president), Burke (who protested the ship being named after him), etc. Representative Giffords, not so much. Even Representative Murtha served as a Marine and Ceasar Chavez served as a Sailor, the only connection Representative Giffords has to the military, outside her husband (who was serving as an Astronaut when they were married so don’t even try to claim being a military spouse), is she served on the Armed Forces Committee.

    Representative Giffords may have an inspirational story, but it is more an inspiration for the incredible medical advances that were made, not for anything she did. She didn’t bravely speak despite a threat of violence, she didn’t throw herself into the line of fire to save someone else, or refuse treatment while aiding other victims. Nothing heroic, she was just shot by a crazy person during a meeting with the electorate.

    Finally, to answer the rhetorical question “For a profession whose leaders swear to support and defend the Constitution, what better way to commemorate the set of cherished principles that are at the core of our democracy than to honor a courageous and persevering public servant who personified them?”

    How about a USS CONSTITUTION? Or a USS THOMAS JEFFERSON, USS ARBRAHAM LINCOLN, or USS GEORGE WASHINGTON (Oh wait, we did those!).

    I would have had far more sympathy for her if she had politely turned down the honor as undeserved. That would have truly demonstrated grace and inspiration, just like President Obama turned down the Nobel Peace prize (oh wait, scratch that last).

  • Robert White

    Good Morning!

    First, I want to agree with many on here that naming Naval warships for politicians is not something we should be doing. Unfortunately, as the Lieutenant points out, we have already crossed that line. My own alma mater, the smallest but oldest continuing maritime service, the Coast Guard did it some years back with the Secretary-class High Endurance Cutter, named after Secretaries of the Treasury. I get it that the Navy, like every other military service, has to play the political game. It stinks, but welcome to the world of realpolitik.

    I dont know if we will ever be able to put the genie back in the bottle on this one. In this particular case, I am less annoyed with the choice of Cong. Giffords, mostly for the reasons the Lieutenant cited. In terms of other politicos out there who we could potentially name warships after, at least she has been a Navy supporter as both a wife and Congresswoman. We could have done worse.

    Secondly, the only way that we might, and that is a thin might, prevent this in the future is to let the current occupants of the Congress know that this doesn’t work. As W.M. Truesdell points out: “They are not toys for politicians to play with.” My only concern is that we could beat this one back for now only to have it reappear later on down the road. But we can only do our best to stop silliness like this, we have men and women for whom hero is a true definition and certainly more deserving of an honor such as this.

    Finally, Bravo Zulu to Lieutenant Robb. I may not agree with you, but at least you should that there are still officers out there who are willing to put an opinion out and then defend it. That is a vanishingly rare breed in these times and still the mark of a leader.

    Semper Paratus,

    Robert White, ex-Coastie
    Lieutenant, FDNY EMS

  • Byron

    The consistent explanation seems to be “well, politicians get us the funding and we already started doing it, so….”. This is wrong. We have turned our backs on a long and proud history and have decided to do away with powerful names that ring of the proud accomplishments and battles won, of officers and enlisted who made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of liberty and for the brothers in arms, to finally admitting that it isn’t whether or not that we want the ships, just a matter of what kind of honor and heritage we are willing to pay for them.

  • http://CGBlog.org Chuck Hill

    I could perhaps see naming an auxiliary after her. Look at the names we have given T-AKEs. It might have even been seen as “consistent.”

    If you are going to use the names of people, men-of-war should be named after men (or women) of war (Something of a stretch for LCS I know).

    Despite what has been said, the previous naming convention for LCS did reflect historical precedence. Gunboats and the patrol frigates of WWII were named after cities and towns.

    Note, lately the Coast Guard has been doing it right. They have reserved the naming of the new class of patrol craft for enlisted heroes.
    http://cgblog.org/2010/11/22/the-final-three-of-fourteen-heroes/

  • TheMightyQ

    Byron’s most recent comment hits the nail on the head.

    In his argument the LT is mistaking precedent with an ideal. In each of those situations, Carl Vinson, John Stennis, John Murtha, the ship was named outside of the convention of the class and for people she/it should not have been. I could list precedents for selling one’s peers and subordinates up the river to protect one’s career, but that doesn’t mean that sort of behavior should be held up as one to practice. This sort of sycophantic argument is typical of those with no martial spirit. This choice of ship name is a deliberate slap in the face to those of us who still wish to remember that we are a military whose job it is to fight and win wars, not hold hands, and who like to honor our heroes who have given their all in sacrifice. Unfortunately, this sort of limp-wristed, bunny-hugging attitude seems to be pervasive among higher-ups in the Naval Service. Only an individual bereft of the concept of honor would wish to name a ship after a horrible, unfortunate accident rather than recall the scads of heroes to which we can point as a source of emulation.

    To make myself clear, this is not an attack on Representative Giffords. What happened to her is deplorable. However, being a victim of a horrible attack does not warrant a ship being named for someone. SECNAV is pandering to a fickle crowd in the hopes that he will make some people “feel better.”

    I cannot disagree more strongly with this LT’s argument, and more specifically what it represents. Each time I read through it I am infuriated anew. I cannot write any more on this without resorting to attacking the author.

    Fair winds.

  • Nick

    My issue isn’t with naming a United States Ship after Representative Giffords in particular, but rather the overall dismal state of naming warships in the fleet. So many of our greatest warship names in the history of the United States Navy continue to go unused or forgotten. Even worse, the arguably most famous name in the fleet, ENTERPRISE, is a year away from decommissioning and we have no replacement on the horizon for her.

  • Byron

    Lt., please don’t get me wrong. I’m not attacking Ms. Giffords. I would feel the same about any warship named for a politician who hasn’t been dead for at least 100 years…and even then I’d have to be really picky. Washington is a good one, since he is the Father of the Navy. So is Teddy Roosevelt, he drug the US Navy kicking and screaming from the early 19th century into the 20th. One of my favorite recent presidents is Ronald Reagan…and I’d rather see the ship named, “Saratoga” or better yet, “Enterprise” One was a critical battle of the Revolution, the other a name carried in the Navy since the Revolutionary Navy. These names are IMPORTANT. Could you ever say, “The Giffords really kicked butt at Midway”? Or would you rather say, “The Big E kicked butt!”? Worse, do you even know the war record of CV-6, the Enterprise? If you don’t, you should. What the Navy did in the past, going back to 1783, defines you as an officer today. How do you want to define the Navy of 2112?

  • Benjamin Walthrop

    The MightyQ says:

    ” I could list precedents for selling one’s peers and subordinates up the river to protect one’s career, but that doesn’t mean that sort of behavior should be held up as one to practice. This sort of sycophantic argument is typical of those with no martial spirit.”

    Admin:

    How is this not an ad hominem attack. MightyQ better damn well be able to back up his own lofty (implied) claims of martial spirit.

    This is exactly why you don’t have JO involvement in USNI. The old retirees and admirals (and some others) think they have a monopoly on the truth and shut down the debate.

    **************
    Admin Update: It was an ad hominen attack and from MightyQ and he has policed that fact.

  • TheMightyQ

    Mr. Walthrop,

    You are correct. That second sentence you highlighted probably was an ad hominem attack. I was angry when I wrote it. However, you are incorrect when you assume that I am not a fellow JO. This is why I am so particularly incensed. I have heard seniors toe the party line on varied subjects, and heard enough platitudes to make my head explode. However, it is particularly galling to hear or read it from a peer.

    As for martial spirit, it is best instilled by a close reading of what heroes have done before, which breeds a desire to emulate them. What better opportunity does the Navy have to instill this spirit into its Sailors and officers than when it names a ship after a person? I see the the choice of Representative Giffords to have a ship named after her as a rejection of so many heroes of the Navy and Marine Corps, whose names should have gone before hers. As such, a defense of this choice I also find to be a rejection of those heroes, and resultantly, a rejection of the martial spirit which is supposed to drive us to train and to fight.

    ****************
    Admin update: thank you for policing your comments.

  • Diogenes of NJ

    When the Navy stopped naming submarines after sea creatures, they went ahead and named a boomer after General Robert E. Lee (SSBN-601). I say that the Navy should do that again.

    Save your Confederate money, ’cause the South gonna rise again.

    – Kyon

  • Paul P

    While I disagree with what the good LT has to say about this matter, as Voltaire said, “I’ll defend to to the death his right to say it…”

    What we need here is some action. The naming of a warship should not be a light action seen through a political eye, but one that takes into account the history of the Navy, the other services and the history of the United States.

    Some lawyer type here needs to draft some kind of legislation that defines how ships should be named, submit it to their congressperson for the process to begin.

    For starters:
    CVN’s– non-living President’s (with the exception of Enterprise)
    LHA/D’s— previous famous carriers/ships
    CG’s— Battles
    DD/DDG’s– Naval heroes
    FFG’s— Naval heroes
    SSN/SSBN’s– states on a rotating basis (no doubles unless all 50 states have been named)
    LCS— Rivers to reflect their mission
    LPD’s– cities

  • Diogenes of NJ

    Byron,

    Although I may reside in NJ, my sympathies are for the victims of the War of Northern aggression – or perhaps it may have been a veiled allusion to the current general state of affairs.

    No matter, I’ve taken the liberty to supply a link to a picture of a place of honor:

    http://www.ssbn601.com/images/bl_crewsmess.jpg

    I understand that the LCS is a rather small ship. I wonder if they would have the room for something similar.

    – Kyon

  • REP

    My first ship was named after SoT Taney, a scumbag of the first order. Fantastic ship, lousy name. Those that end of serving on the Gifford will probably end up thanking their stars they are not on the Murtha.

    re Paul P’s list…let’s include Hornet, Wasp etc as good carrier names.

  • James

    Dio the LCS is not a small ship. There are two different designs.

    The smallest the Freedom class is almost 400ft long.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freedom_class_littoral_combat_ship

    The largest Independence is over 400ft long and is over 100ft wide.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Independence_class_littoral_combat_ship

    They both are terrible and a complete waste of money in both the long and short run.

  • Pops

    As a non-naval citizen and taxpayer, I have the utmost respect for the honor and achievements of our Navy. All Americans should be proud of our sea services. I resent the trend in ship naming nomenclature which smacks of political favoritism and partisanship, done at the expense of truly worthy historical names. Names of great ships, such as Lexington, Saratoga, Ranger, Yorktown, Hornet and soon Enterprise are sadly lacking. These names celebrate American history, which all Americans can identify with. There are ample naval heroes to commemorate, whom all Americans should be proud of. The political pork-barrel names are embarrassing at best. Who paid (off) whom to get some of these names? As a citizen and taxpayer I resent the abuse of our nation’s history, heroes and accomplishments as seen in this naming mess. Can’t we do any better than this?

  • Diogenes of NJ

    James –

    Perhaps I meant “small” in a different way.

    Then there is the capacity to achieve greatness.

    In my opinion the boomers accomplished their mission, strategic deterrence, by relentlessly demonstrating the United States resolve to visit unspeakable devastation on any and all enemies who would dare to attack us. The namesakes of these great ships (even though submariners complain) were chosen from Americans of the past who’s greatness lived up to the mission intended for the boomers.

    In those days we had “41 for Freedom”. Today we have 14 boomers and if some of the plans currently discussed are implemented we won’t have enough warheads for those missiles. 41 vs 14 – just about every aspect of the modern Navy seems to be reversing itself.

    – Kyon

    BTW – I need no explanation as to the accuracy of the D5. Our enemies are not fool enough to take on our most capable weapon systems directly. They attack by other means.

  • Byron

    Kyon, nice to see a picture of Bobby Lee aboard a Navy ship. I’m sure he’d be irritated to see his picture there as he was a devout Christian and was modest to a fault.

  • Benjamin Walthrop

    To Admin and MightyQ…Fair enough.

    Martial spirit is best instilled by going to war. Preparing for war counts to a degree, but seeing the results and participating in the conflict count higher in my book. Thanks to MightyQ for his response and his argument.

  • Matt C.

    I think LT Robb missed the point of what this naming controversey is really about. If the SECNAV really admired Gabriel Giffords, he could’ve chosen to name a T-AKE or even a DDG after her. Why did he chose a Littoral Combat Ship (LCS)?

    This was a pure political move on the part of SECNAV to maintain support for what is an extremely flawed and failing class of ships. From an acquition and operational standpoint, the LCS has never been able to stand on its own merits.

    SECNAV Mabus must’ve realized this and thus took decision to name it after a popular political figure. Who in Congress would have the temerity to cancel a ship named after a popular former congresswoman?

    In a way it is a very cunning move, since it seems like people are talking more about what the next LCS should be named rather than whether or not we even need this essentially worthless class of ships. If you don’t like the way an argument is going – change the subject.

  • http://www.sandiegohomeinspect.com/ Deloras Dudek

    I think this is a real great post.

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