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Navy Sees ‘Difficult Times’ With Recruiting Goals for Nuclear, Cyber Sailors

Sailors stand watch in the Fleet Operations Center at the headquarters of U.S. Fleet Cyber Command/U.S. 10th Fleet.

A previous version of this post contained a story that had previously run in USNI News last month. It now contains the correct story from the Feb. 14 hearing before the Senate Armed Services personnel subcommittee.

Having struggled last year to meet its recruiting goals, the Navy’s personnel chief sees “difficult times ahead” in attracting and keeping sailors and officers as the sea service expands the fleet in the coming years.

Testifying Wednesday before the Senate Armed Services personnel subcommittee Wednesday, Vice Adm. Robert Burke said, “Certain fields are in short supply” — specifically citing nuclear, advanced electronics, aviation and cyber.

In budget documents released early this week, the Navy is expected to add 7,500 more sailors than it did last year to bring end-strength to 335,400 and projected to have an end-strength of 344,800 by 2023. The anticipated manpower growth is to fill billets in the increased number of ships coming into the fleet.

The situation in recruiting and retention “requires close attention.”

Steps the Navy is taking to spur recruiting and improve retention are both monetary and non-monetary, he said.

In the Fiscal Year 2019 budget request, there is an across-the-board military pay increase of 2.6 percent. In addition, the service is requesting $318 million for retention bonuses, up from $254 million two years before and $92.2 million in recruiting bonuses, up from $23.4 million two years before.

There were also requests for higher flying duty and at-sea pays for FY 2019.

On the non-monetary side, Burke told the panel that the incentives offered through the Sailor 2025 is having a positive effect on retention. Marketplace detailing, for example, has been used increasingly by sailors to keep their families at the same homeport for their next assignment, helping spousal employment. It also allows sailor career progression in the Navy and meets service manpower needs.

Burke compares this detailing to finding a job on LinkedIn.

“Constant rotation … causes stress on the force,” Robert Wilkie, undersecretary of Defense for personnel and readiness, said. In addition to the constant moving affecting spousal employment, it also takes a toll on unit cohesion, he said later in answer to a question. He added he has been tasked by Defense Secretary James Mattis to review personnel policies in infantry units in the Marines and Army that affect cohesion. “Family stability is key to cohesion,” he added, earlier noting 70 percent of the force is married.

For the Marine Corps, Lt. Gen. Michael Rocco, deputy commandant for manpower and reserve affairs, said the Marines take the family’s situation into account before making a permanent change of station move.

Looking at the Marines overall personnel picture, Rocco told the panel that quality recruiting remains very high, as does retention, but did ask the committee to look at “lineal list flexibility” to reward talented officers in promotions.

On other ways to improve retention, Burke and the other service personnel chiefs said they are looking at “up-and-return” policies for members who want or require a break in active service.

“The Navy thinks it has a lot potential,” Burke said. He added the service has been “filling hundreds of gaps at sea on the enlisted side” through such a program. For the officers, it is more difficult because of service needs and restrictions built into the Defense Department’s officer management program.

He said the Navy is prepared to pilot initiatives in this area.

Mentioned by the chiefs during the hearing to help “up-and-return” rather than “up-and-out” were longer careers — 40 years instead of 30, not as sharp a rank pyramid to allow longer careers and lateral transfers, more effective and different use of the reserve component including changes in Titles 10 [covering active force and those reservists and guardsmen on federal active service] and 32 [covering National Guard on state service].

An immediate personnel problem is the large number of non-deployable members on active service, the Pentagon’s personnel chief said.

To ensure the men and women the services are recruiting and are now in the ranks can be sent overseas, Robert Wilkie, undersecretary of Defense for personnel and readiness, said he is issuing a directive this week to get at the “staggering number” of non-deployables.

“Thirteen to 14 percent of the force is medically unable to deploy” for 12 months, Wilkie said, putting some of the blame on the department itself. Internal reasons include dental care and previous medical waivers for enlistment to meet the manpower requirements of the “surge” in Iraq in 2007-2008. He said the number of non-deployables exceeds 240,000 members on active duty and in the reserve components.

He added the new policy will not apply to pregnant or post-partum service members, and medical review boards will be in place for recovering wounded members.

  • HMSLion

    Is there a reason for using uniformed personnel for these roles? If they aren’t in the chain of command, it might be more effective to make them Civil Service positions.

    • airider

      If the focus is just $, using civil service doesn’t provide much more incentive. If folks are in it only for the money, they aren’t the caliber of individual the Nation needs.

      DoD marketing should focus on the idea more than the money. People gravitate to ideas and leadership and will forsake monetary gains if they are onboard with the idea. I’d recommend an ad campaign that focus’s on having immediate relevance in you job (not climbing the corporate ladder slowly), job and position security, opportunities to travel globally, seeing the results of your work directly….daily, and knowing you’re going after threats to you nation on a battlefield few see, but is as real as any other.

      The Marines most recent ad did a great job of this.

  • Ed L

    This has been done in the past. During WW2 experts in certain fields were given commissions are 0-3 and higher depending on the level of their experience. I believe this also applies to NCO’s. my father was one of those. In civilian life prior to Pearl Harbor, he was responsible for ordering and keeping track of material used in large construction projects as well as keeping track of workers timecards. After basic training, he went to school to learn the military system and some kind of SGT school he was award the rank of E-5. within one year he advance two more paygrades. My cousin a accomplish steelworker join the Navy and after boot camp was made 2nd class.

  • publius_maximus_III

    “He said the number of non-deployables exceeds 240,000 members on active duty and in the reserve components.”

    Wow, that’s a lot of bad teeth.

    • Marc Apter

      non-deployables include Boots, those in School, those in change-of-station moving, recruiting duty, Medical not on a ship, Instructor Duty, Shore Staffs, etc

  • William Blankinship

    No to civil service. Now we may have to up the pro pay as it was called in the Navy for these critical positions.

    • Marc Apter

      I’m retired Civil Service, and I agree, no to Civil Service, unless it is the NSA Model. And absolutely no contractors doing this Government function.

      • William Blankinship

        I agree with you positions.

  • Bo

    In the nuclear pipeline, there appears to be a serious morale problem. Look at the suicide rates. There ought to be “zero defect” when it comes to working with and operating nuclear spaces, but it ought not extend to hammering every perceived slight with Captain’s Mast.

    • Louann Flauto

      Can tell you the mm nukes are promised the world but reality is they work longer hours. Hours before ship/sub leaves and hours after return due to shutting down reactors. Work more shifts due to not enough trained and or those with actual quals. No reserve duty for them either.

  • RobM1981

    The gap between civilian life and military duty has rarely, if ever, been higher than it is now. The gap in compensation probably isn’t the biggest it’s ever been, but the gap in lifestyle and comfort is.

    People join the military for a lot of different reasons.

    Duty is one of them. Some people “hear the call.”

    Compensation is another one. Whether it’s the free tuition of the Academies or ROTC, or the training offered to enlisted personnel, the military has always offered citizens with a means of accomplishing life goals that go beyond duty.

    Lastly there are lifestyle gaps. There was a time when living on a steam ship provided better conditions than living in Appalachia. Your ship was heated and had flush toilets. “Three hots and a cot” was more than just a saying.

    But what of these, now?

    The call of duty is lessened in times of peace in general. It is further lessened in times of quasi-wars, like we are in now. What is the threat? Afghanistan? Syria? Are the citizens of the USA calling for protection, there, or is the perception different?

    Who wants to fight, or send their child to fight, in one of these low-intensity conflicts?

    Compensation gaps are probably no larger than they have been in the past, but the lifestyle gaps are likely the largest they have ever been.

    Twenty-year-old US Citizens have a softer life than their predecessors. You can argue about this, but it is a fact – technology and productivity has made life softer. This is generally a good thing, until it’s contrasted to military life. Military life demands sacrifice that goes far beyond civilian life, and I believe that this gap is the largest it has ever been.

    Sleep deprivation, following orders, a deeply curtailed social life, etc. Plus: even lower income youth can scrape up the money to see the world these days, so that magic incentive is also gone.

    The Navy is fighting a seriously uphill battle here.

  • derricklau

    There’s always the option of compulsory service for new immigrants…perhaps as a fast track path to citizenship? How about automatic citizenship for dreamers that serve for two years?

    • derricklau

      But watch them. They need to prove their allegiance…last thing you want are ISIS fighters in your midst.

  • MDK187

    “Certain fields are in short supply” — specifically citing nuclear, advanced electronics, aviation and cyber…
    Whowouddafigured? Why should anybody with actual skills sign up? To be subjected to a bunch of social-engineering diversity and sensitivity bullschit? Only the medically-nondeployable safe-space-craving ritalin-fed millenial momma’s boys/boygirls/feminist-activists sign up so as to experience self-actualization by forcing the training standards lowered for them. Give it a few more years as the remaining true-believer old-timers get gone and what’s left after that won’t be worth having as a service.

  • fcrowder1949

    What needs to happen is for all the armed services is ask those who have retired to return to active duty. For those who are unable to be placed in combatant roles or ship board commands, place them in shore commands and send those who they replace to the commands that need the younger military member. I can tell you as a Retired Navy Chief, I know several and I mean SEVERAL retirees who would volunteer in a heart beat to come back in BECAUSE they miss the service they were in.