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Top Sea Service Enlisted Leaders Stress Importance of Sleep, Balanced Schedules

A Marine sleeps during training at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms, California in Feb. 16, 2017. US Marine Corps Photo

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — Among the most important lessons learned from the deadly ship collisions in the Pacific, aviation crashes and training accidents ashore came down to lack of sleep, the sea services top enlisted leaders told attendees at the Navy League’s 2018 Sea Air Space exposition on Wednesday. 

Without proper rest, safety slipped and performance dropped.

Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Steven Giordano said, sailors “talk about working hours” and how they need time for rest in addition to the times set aside for the mission, training and themselves. The idea now is to implement better schedules because they have got to have the certainty of sleep. When sailors are rested, they perform better, he said.

Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps  Ronald Green said when talking about sleep and scheduling, “we’re going to talk about the most important thing … the human being,” he said.
Don’t forget, “they drive the stuff.”

Rest and better scheduling builds readiness in the individual, the unit and the family. “It’s like a three-legged stool” that needs to remain balanced.

“We’re straight up and to the point” in telling leaders what they need to know about what is happening in their units, including scheduling, Green added.

Using the long hours of work the Coast Guard was performing during this hurricane season from Puerto Rico to Texas, Master Chief Petty Officer Steven Cantrell said members of his service sometimes refer to the loss of balance between the mission and their personal lives as “the curse of Semper Paratus.”

He said this is very real factor because “they joined a humanitarian service; they want to be there” when needed in those kinds of emergencies. But service members also need to realize they have to keep that in balance with their own needs and their family needs.

“We talk about risk assessment a lot more,” he said. That includes bringing into the discussion sleep, fitness, training and “overall resiliency.”

Cantrell, who will be retiring next month, said, chiefs “put pressure on ourselves and our leaders not to let those things go.”

When a Naval Academy midshipman asked the panel their advice for junior officers, Giordano said, “Don’t take [the enlisted ranks] for granted. Go listen to them [and] know their skills. You’ve got to know them as people.”

“You should be a frequent visitor in the chief’s mess,” Cantrell said.
“If you’re not a frequent visitor [to the chiefs’ mess], you’re missing a golden opportunity.”

Green said, “You’ve got to get past the fear” of ordering someone to do something; and yes, there are consequences for those orders. He said, “Every headstone [in a cemetery] has a story” about that person’s life and how it ended. “Always think about them [the individual in the command]” But in the military, “we’re always going to take risks.”

“Remember, you’re the decision-maker at the end of the day,” Giordano said.

  • Ed L

    Having done long deployments 4 or 6 months without any port visits is exhausting. Morale suffers, tempers are short, the daily grind week in and out was just terrible. I stop putting people on report for things that I normally would run them into the brig. Instead we would sit and talk it out. You never seem to get enough sleep or privacy. After my last Indian Ocean cruise in 81. I talked to my Uncle who was on destroyers in WW2. He told me that some days there were times when the gun crew wanted to murder the new division officer who just got onboard. From middle of 43 to end of the Pacfic War he believes they got 5 port visits which average about 5 days, where they actually got to go ashore and drink and chase woman. if they need repairs or fixing they would visit a tender and go into a floating drydock. Having a Sunday every week is not possible. A steel beach picnic about once a month was okay.

    • publius_maximus_III

      Dad once recounted one of the few casualties on his DD in the Pacific in WW-II. The Japs were notorious for attacking right at sunrise, so his ship would routinely sound GQ at that time regardless. One such morning, one of their 5″ gunners fell asleep at his post, with one of his feet propped on the breach. When the fire control suddenly switched all guns over to automatic, I assume for better AA coverage, the gun lurched and chopped half of his foot off, clean as a whistle. You can maybe burn both ends of the candle for a little while, but it eventually catches up with you.

  • JohnByron


  • BillyP

    Any space in this recipe for recovery to address the collapse in basic seamanship, ship handling, collision avoidance, and on … and on …
    Despite all these ‘Apple Pie and Motherhood” statements about the need for rest (= port visits and the opportunity to chase women, apparently), how do these proposals prevent three out of the four (4!) lookouts on the FITZGERALD congregating on the non-danger side of the bridge – where, strangely, they didn’t see anything (well they didn’t report anything).This wasn’t a tiredness thing, but much, MUCH more basic – and replicated all over the FITZ and MCCAIN incidents (and across the surface fleet in general?). Nobody seems to have the necessary appendages to address these issues – for shame!

    • charels

      When you are sufficently tired, you have POOR decision making skills, like being drunk. Thats why sleep deprivation is such a good interigation method.
      Camanders get awards and the crew gets the brig, remember the EXCUSSES the Navy made when the TURRENT blew on the USS IOWA?
      Turns out the were going for a RECORD.

  • Duane

    It often comes down to individual COs, and circumstances, whether the crew gets enough sleep or not. It’s good for Navy leadership to lay down some rules, though. Though COs will ignore rules sometimes.

    On my SSN back in the 70s, we had a very aggressive, and very successful skipper who eventually made flag rank. It usually worked out well for us that he was a hard charger. But on one transit out to the west Pacific on a 60-day spec op, he insisted on running virtually constant all ships drills (fire, flooding, steam leak, etc.), on the theory that once we were on station tracking a Rooskie boomer and running silent, we wouldn’t be able to run those drills, so needed extra practice.

    The problem is that with 3 section duty (port and starboard for a few of us where qualified watchstanders were below normal complement), 6 hours on watch/12 hrs off, plus PMs, studying and testing for quals (submarine, watchstanding, etc), plus field day … and then on top of that the CO also runs two or three ship’s drills every watch, then over the course of a week, the entire crew are getting little to no sleep for days on end.

    It got so bad on this transit that eventually on one drill, about half the off-watch crew failed to climb out of the sack during a fire drill. The skipper was very PO’d, obviously, at that result, such that he personally went into the crew berth in the bow compartment and rousted exhausted sailors out of their racks! We thought there were going to be a bunch of courts martialed crew, or at the least a bunch of Captain’s Masts and demotions.

    However, not a word was ever said about the “sleep mutiny”, then or thereafter. And that CO never again called so many drills that his crew could barely function. He learned a lesson.

    btw – we earned a MUC on that run, setting the all time record to that date for longest continuous tail on a Soviet boomer in the open mid-Pacific. The following year under the same CO we picked up an NUC for setting the alltime record for continuous number of days under the polar ice cap (42), plus were awarded Battle and Engineering Es both years, and passed ORSE with flying colors, so to speak.

    So it’s not as if our crew were a bunch of slackers. But there is clearly such a thing as driving a crew too hard.

    • charels

      As a VIETNAM Era maint tech. I have pulled many 18hr duty shifts on the flightlineworking the BUFF’S AND RB66’S, with no down time. I HAVE FOUND THAT AFTER 12 HR EFFICIANTCY DROPS WAY OFF, after 18 you just dont much care anymore.
      The argument was always, we cant stop the war JUST BECAUSE YOU ARE TIRED.

  • BillyP

    I hate to bring this up -yes, AGAIn – but back in the days of sail, two watch systems (at least on RN ships) were normal, and blockade patrols were maintained without interruption for months and months: no port visits, no run ashore chasing women, no sleeping while on watch – and you could get called out while off-watch for an All Hands manoeuvre. When going aloft to wrestle with wet canvas there was no opportunity to go all limp-wristed and start crying about being too tired: being 50+ feet up the mast meant you had to be on top line mentally, and physically – or your seagoing career was likely to be short.
    What has gone wrong? I know I sound like an old curmudgeon (or worse), but the reality is that The Emperor Has No Clothes. The sooner someone wakes up the better. Us fellow citizens of the Free World are relying on Service excellence, not this.

    • charels

      The issue was you didnt have to THINK, just do. The common seamen spent most of his time with his HOLY STONE, he likely couldnt read OR wright, his tests amounted to how fast he could get ALOFT and rig or shortquarter the sails OR, the guncrews beat to quarters. the MIDSHIPMEN and leutenants on the other hand were constantly studying tactics and seamenship
      Back then they didnt even know that to double the power of BLACK POWDER, soak it then mill the block, they thought WET powder was ruined.

  • jack anderson

    in “X” division we always used to say;”sleep is a weapon”.