The Navy’s poor poker face on manpower issues

It’s not often I get immediate verification of something I blog about. For example, I wrote about how we’re going to have to accept that Russia will in fact win in Ukraine, and at first that prediction looked incorrect, but as the conflict grinds on, its becoming more obvious that Russia can’t afford to lose, even at a terrible cost. I could be wrong, maybe Ukraine will pull out a big “W” in the end, but I still think its unlikely.

But the Navy’s manpower crisis…wow. That’s a gift that keeps on giving. Since the last article, Navy has released three more NAVADMIN messages that prove the Navy is in a middle-management manpower crunch.

The first is NAVADMIN 176/22, which seems like a mundane update to retirement policy. The second paragraph is most interesting:

2.  Reference (c) modified the service-in-grade (SIG) (also known as time-in-grade) requirements for O-4s.  Specifically, reference (c) modified reference (d) to require 3-years SIG for voluntary regular retirement eligibility. 
NAVADMIN 176/22

Normally you can retire as an O-4 after only two years. This isn’t a huge change, however, it might push more people to stay an extra year.

But then NAVADMIN 177/22 came out, talking about incentive pay for submarine commanding officer special mission billets. There is plenty of competition to become a submarine CO, so many good people don’t select for submarine command. They can select for CO Special Mission, which is basically a way of saying “we need you to stay in the Navy to fill billets at higher levels” because so many submarine O-5’s retire at 20 years. It’s a problem that has waxed and waned over the years, but is now becoming increasingly difficult to manage.

The NAVADMIN allocates a bonus of $20,000 annually for members that sign a 3-5 year commitment. That is an awful lot of money, especially considering an O-5 submariner is likely making over $150K a year anyway. The eligibility requirements make it very obvious what problem they are solving:

    b.  Have completed at least 19 years of Active Duty Commissioned Service (ADCS) and not more than 25 years of ADCS at the start of the period of additional obligated service. 
NAVADMIN 177/22

Which really means “prevent people from retiring right at 20 years and keep them in a bit longer by throwing $20K a year at them.”

Essentially, these two officer-related NAVADMINs are trying to stem the departure of mid-grade Naval Officers. Gee, I wonder why mid-grade Naval Officers would be leaving in the first place? I’ll let you debate that in the comments.

So are there applicable actions on the enlisted Sailor side? You betcha! The most interesting is NAVADMIN 178/22. The first two paragraphs lay it out pretty well:

1.  This NAVADMIN announces a pilot program for Senior Enlisted Advance to Position (SEA2P) designed to keep deploying units mission-ready by aggressively filling critical at-sea leadership billets.  The pilot program will convene a billet selection board consisting of senior representatives from Fleet and participating type commander (TYCOM) staffs to select those Sailors who are best and fully qualified to advance and fill specific priority sea billets.  The pilot includes the Nimitz Strike Group on the West Coast and the Bataan Amphibious Ready Group on the East Coast. Additionally, the pilot will include USS GEORGE WASHINGTON (CVN 73). Factors for consideration in determining best and fully qualified applicants include sustained superior performance, documented qualifications, platform experience, and potential to succeed in the billet.  Sailors selected must obligate service (OBLISERV) to complete 36 months in the SEA2P billet and will be permanently advanced upon reporting to their ultimate duty station.  This pilot will be limited to critical E8 and E9 sea billets and is 
separate from reference (a). 
 
2.  To be eligible for SEA2P, Sailors must have been selected or screened as a non-select for advancement to E8 or E9 by the respective fiscal year (FY) 2023 selection boards, or be advancement-eligible for the respective FY-24 boards in line with reference (b).  Time-in-rate (TIR) waivers will be approved for FY-24 advancement-eligible Sailors who are selected for SEA2P.  All Sailors selected for SEA2P billets should expect to receive permanent change of station (PCS) orders with a transfer date as early as  30-45 days after selection. 
NAVADMIN 178/22

In one long sentence this says: “We are critically undermanned at sea in senior enlisted positions, yet somehow we have lots of people that haven’t selected for advancement to these senior enlisted positions, so now they can apply to fill this position and get permanently promoted when they finish the tour.”

Now, my first question is: if we don’t have enough senior people to fill these jobs, but we have people that aren’t selecting for senior positions, why don’t we just select more people? Enlisted management sits almost entirely in the Department of the Navy’s purview, unlike Naval Officers that face considerable Congressional oversight as to their selection and promotion. The DoN doesn’t appear to be upping the selection rate, and is instead opting for a tightly controlled board that meets in relative secrecy to pick people for specific jobs. There are advantages to this, since you can force someone to take sea-duty orders, but you could do that anyway (to an extent), so I’m not sure why they are opting for this method.

These NAVADMINs, coming on the heels of the messages I previously talked about, are just another indicator that the Navy is experiencing a massive flight of talent that is really getting senior leadership concerned. I think they would be far better off addressing the real concerns of junior officers and junior enlisted, and to be fair, Navy Sailors get plenty of surveys about the health of the force, but then the Navy doesn’t appear to act on any of these issues. Just like the suicide crisis on the USS GEORGE WASHINGTON, Navy has all the data, but isn’t choosing to solve the correct problem.

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. If you enjoyed this article, please like it, share it on social media, and send a tip to Peter in DaTipJar. You can also buy one of my books for yourself or a friend to help me out.

Starry perks and suicide

Easy to miss in the midst of the Ukraine Conflict and Supreme Court leaks is the fact that the Navy is dealing, poorly, with a suicide epidemic (at the time of this article we’re up to 7 Sailors) onboard the USS George Washington (CVN-73). Now, you might think “Is the George Washington underway on another long, stressful deployment?” That would be an intelligent question to ask, and sadly the answer is “no.” George Washington is in the shipyard in Newport News, VA.

Now, why would Navy Sailors be so stressed out that they would end their lives if they are home and not deployed underway? Well, because shipyard life is pretty tough, according to the dad of one of the Sailors:

“He loved his job. He did his 12-hour shifts. And how do you sleep on an aircraft carrier with jackhammering and smoke and smells during the day? So, he would sleep in his car,” John Sandor said about his son, who was 19. “It is just awful. No sailor should even have been living on that ship in those conditions.”

-John Sandor

You might be wondering if these poor conditions are something new, to which I will sadly tell you…nope. I had the same issues at the same shipyard 16 years ago. The 45 minute walks to get to work…that’s a thing, because the Navy never built enough parking or bus options. The article didn’t mention many other stressors, such as the rampant car break-ins, since most of the parking lots are located off the secure facility and aren’t patrolled. For female Sailors, I’ve had more than a few tell me shipyard workers regularly get away with overt catcalling during the day.

Shipyard life, with its long days and crappy working conditions, sucks.

Instead of trying to fix the housing situation, or the driving situation, or the working conditions, Big Navy’s response is…suck it up!

“What you’re not doing is sleeping in a foxhole like a Marine might be doing,” he said, adding that much of the crew goes home each night, something that can’t be said for a deployed carrier.

-Master Chief Russell Smith

I can’t make that up, go listen to the audio at the link. I give Master Chief credit, he’s not yelling at the crew, but as a senior leader, you have to know that trying to minimize the issue isn’t ever going to look good.

The Commanding Officer seems to have taken matters into his own hands, and moved 200 Sailors off the ship. Keep in mind, there are still 2,700 Sailors onboard, and if you move off, you still have the long walk and long drive to get to work. So its a catch-22: move off the ship and you add a long drive and walk to work, stay on and your sleep and off-time is horrible.

It’s also not the Commanding Officer’s job to build sufficient rooms at the shipyard. A better advocate for that would be the admiral in charge of Naval Aviation, in this case Vice Admiral Kenneth Whitesell. So where has he been?

Watching Top Gun.

VADM Whitesell with Tom Cruise

Yup, can’t make that up either. While the George Washington is suffering, VADM Whitesell spent this weekend watching the premiere of the new Top Gun movie with Tom Cruise. Now, I’m not knocking on Tom Cruise, because he spent part of the time talking with Sailors onboard the carrier Carl Vinson. But for VADM Whitesell, its not the best look.

Tom Cruise onboard the USS Carl Vinson

OK, so the immediate response doesn’t look very good, but maybe Big Navy put together a more comprehensive response?

The Navy plans to host a day of team-building activities and has asked each department to submit ideas for how crew members could interact off the ship, according to Lt. Cmdr. Robert Myers, a Navy spokesman. “It could be anything,” Myers said. A Super Smash Bros. video game competition and a soccer tournament are some of the suggestions that have been floated, according to one George Washington sailor, who asked to remain anonymous out of fear of retaliation.

NBC News

Super Smash Brothers! That’ll cheer them up! They’ll stop killing themselves if they just get to play video games!

However, that sailor doubted whether such events would fix what appears to be a mental health crisis on the ship. The sailors spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the press and feared retaliation.

– NBC News

Ya think?

This whole thing makes me cry. We have Sailors in the United States that should be working in decent conditions and building themselves into warriors, and instead the conditions are so bad that they are taking their own lives. Then we have leaders that care more about the perks they get with the stars on their shoulders than about the young men and women entrusted in their care. But to top it all off, we have a Navy bureaucracy that is focused on running some morale events to patch the problem.

Nobody in this entire situation is giving us answers on how to build more housing, build a better transit service or fix the onboard sleeping conditions.

Since you’ve made it this far, do me a favor and email your Congressman. Tell him or her that if Congress can make millions of dollars go to Ukraine, it could spend a bit of money to fix glaring errors at our nations shipyards.

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, because those agencies would have you believe video games and soccer tournaments will suddenly fix years of neglect to our Sailors and the infrastructure they work on. If you enjoyed this article, please consider purchasing a book by the author or donating to this blog.

The Navy owes more than a public apology

The Navy made news, in a bad way, with its plan to decommission 24 ships. If that sounds like a lot…it is. The idea is to decommission ships that cost a lot to maintain to free up money to build new ships. That makes a lot of sense for ships that are old, such as the cruisers that are over 30 years old. But many of these ships are Littoral Combat Ships, and less than 10 years old.

Representative Elain Luria, a former Naval Officer, was quoted as saying

“The Navy owes a public apology to American taxpayers for wasting tens of billions of dollars on ships they now say serve no purpose.”

Representative Elain Luria

With all due respect m’am, that is woefully insufficient.

The Littoral Combat ship was designed around speed. Everyone that talked positively about the ship said “Look, its really fast, like 50 knots fast!!” and “It’s so fast it can chase down pirates!!” The rest of us lower ranking and obviously uninformed people asked questions like:

“If we run fast all the time, doesn’t that use up a lot of gas?”

“Do we really need to drive fast if we have missiles or guns or helicopters, or other long range weapons?”

“Can it fight real enemies besides pirates?”

But these questions were low-browed. We, the dumb people, were told not to worry about this. Then, to nobody’s surprise, we found the LCS couldn’t fight in high end combat. Now, if we simply said “It wasn’t designed for that, that’s what destroyers and cruisers are for,” I could accept that line of logic. But nope! Instead we decided to put missiles and guns and more weapons on a platform that lacked the people and structural support for such weapon systems.

And now, again to nobody’s surprise, we want to decommission them.

In the mean time, no admiral or civilian in charge of LCS, or anyone that made the disastrous strategic decisions to build the ship in the first place, nor anyone in charge of the shipyards that built these ships, was fired, fined or jailed. In fact, the admirals got promoted, and their promotion was approved by Congress.

Worse still, when Congress actually tries to flex its authority and stop a promotion, such as the case with Admiral Losey, the Navy simply walks all over them and promotes the guy anyway.

So the Navy blows billions in ship building money, builds ships that we can’t use in a modern fight, and wants to decommission them so we can build other ships. Congress is MAD, and says they should apologize, but won’t actually punish anyone.

Want to bet that nothing will change? I sure am.

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. All those agencies want you to believe everything is great and you should continue to throw money at them without asking questions. By the way, if you liked this article, please consider purchasing one of my books for you or one of your friends.

The military never cared about your religion

While I don’t have a print subscription to the Military Times newspapers, I still get their morning email, and today’s headline featured the US Navy not accepting any religious exemptions for the COVID vaccine:

As the deadline for active-duty sailors to get the mandatory COVID-19 vaccine passed Monday, the sea service has yet to grant any vaccine exemptions on the basis of religious accommodation, according to figures released Tuesday.

As of Tuesday, 2,531 requests for exemption from the vaccine mandate had been filed by sailors on religious grounds, though officials could not say how many of those requests had been ruled upon.

Navy Times

I’m not surprised, because in my experience, the Navy (and most services) don’t really care about your religious beliefs. Never have, never will, because in today’s service, the service is the religion.

I noticed this trend when I first joined the Navy. I remember having to beg the Commanding Officer on my submarine to get a mere 45 minutes off on Sunday to hold Catholic services. Mind you, we weren’t on mission, at war, or even strapped for time, but he couldn’t be bothered, and it wasn’t until I talked with the squadron chaplain that I was grudgingly granted the time. This was despite the fact that there are plenty of instructions stating that time and space will be provided unless a submarine is on mission or executing critical duties. My Commanding Officer viewed my request as a nuisance, and he told me as much to my face.

It wasn’t just one CO though. At multiple duty stations, there would be this unwillingness to grant military members the time off to celebrate their faith, be it Christian, Jewish or anything else. In Bahrain, where Sunday is considered a workday, I essentially caused a small office revolt by going to noon Mass on Sunday and telling my boss I simply wasn’t going to work yet another 12 hour work day when we weren’t in crisis mode. I distinctly remember the Admiral there telling us at an all-hands call that he was expecting 6 day work weeks, and even most Saturday mornings, despite no apparent need to do so. It was like the Navy was his “god,” and he couldn’t pray enough while slogging through the mass of self-induced paperwork at his desk.

If the Navy can’t provide a simple hour for Mass once a week, its no surprise they won’t approve vaccine exemptions. Now, to be fair, I encourage people to vaccinate because I think its far better than catching COVID, but I also don’t really think its a hill worth dying on or kicking people out over, similar to why I don’t think we should be stopping everything to chase the extremely tiny number of extremists that might exist in the ranks.

Kicking people out over a COVID vaccine is just one more reason the Navy is going to be hurting for recruitment come 2024-2025. The lip service paid to everything from ship maintenance and strategy to human resources and bonuses is becoming more obvious every day. People are catching on that the Navy views itself as its own religion, and if you’re not willing to worship, then you’ll be shown the door.

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. If you liked this article, consider supporting the author by purchasing his book for either yourself or as a Christmas gift.