Navy Community Outreach for 2023…fail or success?

First, Merry Christmas everyone! I’m writing this early in the morning while the family is sleeping on vacation. I hope all you wonderful readers are enjoying some much needed time off with your families!

I was going to write something fun and positive, but you know, the Navy had to go and release a whole bunch of juicy NAVADMINs that just show how desperate it truly is to retain talent, and in a few cases, how it very much is not acknowledging the reasons it is losing that talent. Remember in my previous posts how I said we’ll see a lowering of standards to bring people in, more monetary incentives to stay and eventually a total relaxing of rules on getting out, followed by forcing people to stay? Well, we’re probably almost at the forcing part. I have one aviator friend that had his retirement denied because the Coast Guard (not the Navy, but facing the same issues as the Navy) simply couldn’t afford to let him go. Thankfully he’s approved now for 2023, but he learned the definition of “orders” real fast. He won’t be the last.

Big Navy has accepted that 2023 is going to suck, bigly, and is pulling out all the stops to bring in enlisted talent. This week we got not one, or two, or even three NAVADMINs, but FOUR NAVADMINs related to retention in some way.

NAVADMIN 287/22 – NAVY COMMUNITY OUTREACH PLAN

NAVADMIN 288/22 – HIGH YEAR TENURE PLUS PILOT

NAVADMIN 289/22 – BASIC NEEDS ALLOWANCE

NAVADMIN 290/22 – EVERY SAILOR IS A RECRUITER

I’m going to break this into multiple posts, so we’re only focused on 287/22 for this post. Since none of these address officer retention, we’ll stay focused on our enlisted Sailors.

As background, for any organization, people come and go for a variety of reasons, but the ease of recruiting talent boils down to a few key things:

  1. Do you pay well?
  2. Do people believe in your mission?
  3. Do people believe in your leadership?

If you get those three things right, for the most part, you can compete for talent. The Navy doesn’t do any of these very well at this moment. Enlisted pay and benefits were always low, made worse by changes to the Basic Housing Allowance and retirement made years ago. While the Navy has a really important mission, it did a terrible job emphasizing this during the Iraq/Afghanistan years, and thus it absorbed part of the blame when we pulled out surrendered to the Taliban. In terms of leadership, well, it tends to be focused on making annual uniform changes rather than producing ships, submarines and aircraft on-time and on-budget that can fight our nations wars. Heck, it took Elon Musk to bring down the cost of satellite launches such that we have even a small chance of regaining our space dominance. It’s too bad he’s not in ship building, because we desperately need someone with his business expertise in that particular area.

With that in mind, let’s look at the long NAVADMIN about Community Outreach. I’m not kidding about long, its wordy even for me. It starts off with the normal fluffy garbage that all these messages tend to use, but then in section three it gets pretty blunt, pretty fast:

  1. Data
    a. Today, 26 percent of Americans consider the Navy as the most important service to our country’s national security, trailing only the Air Force’s 27 percent. This is a 14 percent increase since 2009 and a 1 percent increase from 2021.
    b. While the Navy continues to be viewed very favorably by the public, each of the services have experienced at least a 10 percent decrease in favorability during the past six years. In 2016, 82 percent of the country viewed the Navy favorably. Today, that number is 70 percent.
    c. In 2011, 57 percent of Americans said they would recommend joining the Navy. Today, 43 percent say they would.
    d. Three quarters of U.S. adults under 25 say they are not interested at all in joining any branch of the military.
    e. The percentage of Americans between the ages of 16 and 21 who say they will either definitely or probably join the military has fallen to 9 percent. The lowest point since 2007.

I mean, dang. That’s like the beginning to the movie Up! level of smack-you-in-the-face. To which I say “Damn right!” You have to start by acknowledging the problem you have.

Unfortunately, we get it wrong almost immediately in section five:

  1. Objectives
    a. Ensure 50 percent of all in-person community outreach engagements focus on 13-29 year-olds and 50 percent of all engagements within this age group focus on 13-29 year-old women.
    b. Increase the number of women under 30 who view the Navy favorably from 46 percent to 49 percent.
    c. Increase the number of African Americans who view the Navy as most important to national security from 17 percent to 24 percent.
    d. Increase the number of Hispanic Americans who view the Navy as the most important to national security from 24 percent to 28 percent.
    e. Increase the number of Americans over 25 who recommend joining the Navy from 43 percent to 48 percent.
    f. Increase the number of Americans under 25 who are considering joining the Navy from 12 percent to 15 percent.

Quotas anyone? Listing women and minorities right at the top isn’t a good look. You could have hidden that away, or at least said something like “We are America’s Navy, and we will increase all American’s trust in our Navy. We will also work particularly closely with some communities, such as African Americans, that have a markedly lower trust in our Navy than the average population.”

Sheesh, maybe I should sit on these HR boards…wait, never mind.

The rest of the NAVADMIN lists a TON of programs, and I can’t do it justice with a summary, so I’ll list them here with a grade for effectiveness.

Fleet Weeks – A
Navy Weeks – B+
Media Production Visits – C-
Sailor recognition – B
Naval Aviation Outreach – A
Continental Port Visits – A
Executive Engagement – F
Namesake Visits – A
Navy Band Tours – B
Social Media – B-
Entertainment – A
NCAs – C

Fleet Weeks and Aviation Outreach is a solid A. Naval aviation does a great job making it look cool, and there are enough pilots of every color and gender that it has a pretty broad appeal no matter what. This is bolstered by good ties with the entertainment industry, so more Netflix and History Channel shows on Naval Aviation is just going to help recruitment efforts.

It’s good to see Continental Port visits on there, and we need to do MORE of these. Fleet Week is nice, but it is simply too big for most cities to handle. Destroyers, frigates and even landing craft can pull into smaller ports, and should be doing that on a near constant basis. Not only does it promote spending more time underway practicing basic seamanship, but the small towns tend to come out in droves to support Sailors. The best receptions I ever get are from small towns that normally don’t see Sailors in uniform, and I think the Navy should budget more time for these on a permanent basis.

The namesake visits are long overdue. We name vessels after states, cities, Naval heroes and corrupt politicians, but it seems only the last one ever makes the news. I’d be all about naming vessels, especially the new frigates, after cities with higher-than-normal Navy Sailors. Often times the namesake visits happen but are very underreported, so advertising them better would be nice.

The choice of cities for Navy Week is…interesting? Using Wikipedia to see gross demographic data, some of the choices are obvious. Others, like Tri-Cities, TN (which I didn’t know was a thing until now, sorry Tennessee!) don’t make much sense. Maybe the under-25 population is higher there? That would explain Lincoln, NE, a traditional college town. More importantly, why not Detroit, MI, or other cities the rust belt? I’m guessing some of it may relate to availability, since if the city doesn’t let you come in, you’re just going to look elsewhere.

Overall White/Black/Hispanic percentages

Miami, FL: 11/16/72
Tucson, AZ: 43/5/42
Shreveport, LA: 35/55/4
Tri-Cities, TN: 96/2/1
Wilmington, NC: 71/18/8
St. Louis, MO: 43/43/5
Oklahoma City, OK: 49/14/21
Milwaukee, WI: 32/38/20
Billings, MT: 90/1/1
Lincoln, NE: 85/4/7
Cleveland, OH: 32/47/13
Salt Lake City, UT: 63/3/21
Salem, OR: 79/1/20
Philadelphia, PA: 34/38/15
Indianapolis, IN: 50/27/13

Same goes for Navy Band tours. Canada? Puerto Rico? At least we had some band performances at Navy Weeks. I’ve already written about Navy’s Social Media, and I stand by my assessment that its not bad, but not great.

Navy recognition has been very, very underused, and often the only calls are “quota based.” I saw one recently asking specifically for stories about female Naval officer achievements. Uhm…OK? At a previous command, I regularly sent my Sailors awards (with their permission) to their hometown news program. That actually motivated many Sailors to stay in, since many small towns held them up on a big pedestal when they visited during the holidays. It’s good to see it expanded, but I don’t see command’s doing much with it.

Media production visits and NCAs gets a solid C from me. I’ve never heard of NCAs before, and reading more about it makes it sound like a lobbying agency. That’s fine, but its not going to inspire young people to think highly of the Navy. Same goes with more boring media about the “importance of the Ohio replacement program.” No young person is inspire by the “Ohio replacement program.” It’s lammmme. Call it the “Punch Putin into the Stone Age” submarine. Again, this is more lobbying, and more appropriate for a different NAVADMIN.

Executive engagement gets a solid F. Our Navy Executives have done a dismal job at…everything. They can’t build ships or submarines on time or on schedule. That can’t get Congress to build more shipyards. They can’t hold their own accountable when they violate the UCMJ. They make excuses for why the Navy has abysmal infrastructure that literally kills Sailors. To top it off, they then typically roll into jobs to work on the same programs they mismanaged in the first place.

Nobody is inspired by these people. The best thing they could do is simply retire and stay out of the way of more capable people. Authorizing more flag officer travel isn’t going to solve our community outreach issues.

I’d give this NAVADMIN a solid “B+”. It’s got some really good ideas, and it finally spells out in clear language many of the issues the Navy has. But it then delves into quotas and lobbying that won’t do anything, and I worry that the Navy will focus on authorizing more flag travel instead of authorizing more small port visits. Execution is key, so we’ll see how it plays out this coming year.

This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency.

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