Navy Secretary Ray Mabus spent about five minutes with Stephen Colbert on Thursday, but the two entertainment icons — one’s taking over for David Letterman next year, the other had a role in “Battleship” — packed a lot of big issues into one quick interview. A sampling:
- Post-service careers: Colbert asked Mabus, who left uniformed Navy service as a lieutenant junior grade, whether he ever wished he could go back in time to his former self and say, “Hang in their, buddy — you get to boss these people around later.”
- Recruiting and retention: Mabus offered his favorite recruiting poster tagline, which appears under a photo of a fighter-filled aircraft carrier: “Sometimes we follow the storm to the shore, sometimes we are the storm.” (We think he meant this one.) Colbert, who hosted Mabus as part of New York’s Fleet Week celebration, deemed the slogan “a great pick-up line” for sailors visiting the Big Apple.
- Force structure: No stranger to stirring up controversy among Washington elite, Colbert asked Mabus the question Pentagon budget-watchers dare not ask: “Do we need the other branches of the military, or can the Navy just handle all of it?” Mabus was quick to loop the Marine Corps into the discussion, calling the sea services “the greatest fighting force the world has ever known.” He laughed off a follow-up question by Colbert: “How does the Army feel about that?”
- Climate change: While Mabus stressed the increased worldwide instability that could be brought about by global warming, Colbert cut right to the point, noting that higher sea levels will mean “more ocean for you to Navy in.”
- Ship naming: Colbert’s name already appears on a treadmill aboard the International Space Station and almost appeared on a Hungarian bridge after that country, perhaps unwisely, opened the naming rights up to an online vote. The host suggested a USS Stephen Colbert, but Mabus pointed out a snag that also helped cost Colbert the bridge — he’d have to be dead first. Colbert immediately channeled his inner “Princess Bride” and asked if you had to be “super-dead, or just a little dead?” Mabus promised that exceptions to could be made, which most everybody had already figured out.
Watch the full episode, including Colbert’s take on the ongoing Veterans Affairs Department scandal, here.