Home » Military Personnel » Navy Increases Tour Lengths for First Time Forward Deployed Sailors

Navy Increases Tour Lengths for First Time Forward Deployed Sailors

Sailors man the rails aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp (LHD-1) as the ship returns to Sasebo, Japan on April 26, 2018. US Navy Photo

THE PENTAGON — The Navy is extending initial tour lengths for forward deployed enlisted sailors in an attempt to cut down on the constant churn of personnel passing through ships based overseas.

First-term sailors being sent to sea duty billets in forward deployed locations – Japan, Guam, and Spain – will be assigned to tours of up to 4 years if accompanied or unaccompanied. If a sailor’s family is not given command sponsorship, a maximum of two years unaccompanied orders will be issued, according to a Navy announcement released Tuesday.

Previously, sailors assigned to these locations during their first commitment received 3-year orders to their duty station, according to the stated policy of the Navy Personnel Command.

This policy change appears designed to provide some continuity of service aboard forward-deployed ships and address the Navy’s pressing need for more sailors serving on ships.

“The discussion among senior Navy leaders about extending FDNF sea duty tour lengths started in September 2017,” said Lt. Rick Moore, a spokesman for Chief of Naval Personnel.

The formal exception to policy request was submitted in November. Staffing shortages were cited as a contributing factor leading to the series of deadly 2017 ship collisions in the Pacific, according to the Comprehensive Review ordered by Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson, and released in November.

The Comprehensive Review found manning levels had been declining aboard forward-deployed ships for years. The problem was caused by a variety of factors, the review found, including, “by underfunded manpower total ownership costs, a high number of apprentice level enlisted rolling ashore after increased manning of sea duty assignments in 2013-2014, a lower number of accessions in 2016 (and for all FDNF-Japan, Rota, and Bahrain ships) due to unaccompanied/accompanied tour length policies and sea duty and overseas screening processes.”

Another problem was commanders pulled sailors from other duties to temporarily fill open billets aboard ships. Doing so allowed sailors to gain proficiency at sea but came at a cost.

“This practice can also impact the temporarily assigned sailor by reducing the opportunity to complete school or training while in port. Additionally, this practice reduces the overall number of sailors remaining on the in-port ship to complete daily tasks while in maintenance and places additional stress on affected sailors and families,” the Comprehensive Review stated.

The Navy is already facing a tough recruiting and retainment environment and is currently short the number of sailors it says are needed to properly staff ships, as previously reported by USNI News.

The service is about 11,000 sailors short of its near-term required manpower level, based on a USNI News analysis of stated Navy recruiting, retainment, and staffing needs. As the Navy seeks to increase the size of its fleet, up to a proposed 355 ships, the need for more sailors at sea will only increase.

Extending the length of initial overseas tours is only the latest policy change designed to keep sailors onboard longer. During the past several months, the Navy has canceled early retirement programs and changed its Physical Readiness Program separation policies. Sailors who fail their physical readiness tests can remain in the Navy but will not be able to advance in rank until they pass the test, or their commitment is over.

The Navy also sweetened the pot to encourage sailors already forward deployed to extend their tours up to four years. In February, the Navy announced sailors who volunteer to extend their overseas tours to at least 4 years will have any remaining sea time left on their prescribed sea tour waived and be allowed to rotate to shore duty for their next assigned tour. Sailors extending their tours by at least 12 months will receive preferential consideration for announced billets during detailing.

“Our goal is to reward those Sailors who volunteer to extend to meet the demands from the fleet,” said a release from Rear Adm. John Meier, the director of the Career Management Department in Millington, Tenn., when the incentives were unveiled.

  • PolicyWonk

    And this will help recruiting efforts how?

    • Scott Ferguson

      Guess the USN didn’t chat with the RN about their manning crisis and what NOT to do.

      • D. Jones

        ~ Yo ho ho, 48 months on an LCS ~

        • PolicyWonk

          48 months tied to a pier? How miserable that experience is would depend on where the pier is located…

          • TransformerSWO

            Singapore is a great port visit – but no place you’d want to be homeported as a young sailor.

        • USNVO

          I guess reading comprehension is dead. Since no LCS is FDNF, no one will be ordered to an LCS under this program. Maybe we should start calling it LDS instead of TDS (although the Mormons may take exception to that).

      • RN solves part of it by asking the USCG for help.

        • Scott Ferguson

          Since when?

    • Paul 2

      This won’t adversely affect recruiting–most recruits are unaware of these types of issues. They’re still admiring the recruiting posters.

      Where this will burn like salt in a wound: re-enlistment rates will plummet.

      This ‘solution’ will actually amplify the original problem.

      • PolicyWonk

        They’re a lot more aware than you might think. Today’s young are pretty well connected overall.

        Regardless, we definitely agree that re-enlistments will suffer big-time.


        • Da Facts

          Where’s the beef? My sea-shore rotation in 1980’s was 5 years, and forward deployed to Sasebo. I would rather be forward deployed than stuck in say Norfolk for 5 years.

          • PolicyWonk

            Its great that you had a decent tour of duty.

            But being forward deployed and enjoying your tour of duty really depends on where you’re ordered to go, and with who you’re ordered to go with.

  • DaSaint

    Did these geniuses get the memo that there was a recruitment and retention problem? Oh yeah, let’s just extend your forward deployment. That will resonate with your friends when you tell them that you’ll be away for 4 years instead of 3. Lot’s of new recruits there…SMH.

    • Fred Gould

      Not just the USN. USAF is in a pilot retention problem. The US Army has a shortage of enlistees. People do not want to serve.

      • DaSaint

        You’re absolutely right.

  • DaSaint

    Seriously, the Navy needs a real marketing campaign. One that portrays the training and use of cutting-edge technologies and applications, like airborne and underwater drones, cyber-security and related applications, air defense scenarios, and special forces type operations.

    They need to hire Michael Bay, give him what he asks for, and tell him to just do it and come back with the finished product. You’ll have low flying Romeos, F-35 pulling Gs, boarding parties, and Last Ship type scenarios, and recruitment will go through the roof.

    • muzzleloader

      The Last Ship is probably the best recruiting tool the navy has right now.

  • Ed L

    I wish I could have stayed in the Med for 5 or 10 years instead of only getting to crossdeck twice (I only did 6 Med and 2 I.O. Deployments) but instead they kept keeping me stateside. Why did I want to spend that much time overseas. Well other than my brothers I service with. Civilians of my generation back home did not understand sailors, marines or soldiers.

    • Fred Gould

      Still don’t

  • Rob C.

    Many of those locations they want send people aren’t most ideal. I was assigned to Guam in the 1990s, that place was very barebones. After i had left it was going down hill outside of base, now island is getting crowd with people being reassigned from Japan. It’s not most ideal place.

    Japan is very nice, but it culturally challenging. Some sailors are well, not that adaptive to Japanese society, frankly society can be cold to US personnel, given some bad incidents. I enjoyed my time there, but i wasn’t assigned there but was there for extended periods due to yard work on the ship i was assigned to.

    Extended time there can make people there feel isolated. I know i felt that way when i was on Guam.

    I haven’t head much about Spain, so i can’t speak of it other than my brief passing through the country it was HOT.

    • muzzleloader

      My first duty station in 1975-76 was Guam, at the now gone NAS.
      At that time an unaccompanied (me) tour was 16 months and accompanied was 2 years.
      The married guys liked it because it counted as sea duty and they were still home every night.
      The single young bucks figured it was preferable to being haze grey and underway.
      I was a WW II history buff, so I was in nirvana. I visited Saipan, the Palau Island, and as a scuba diver I dived on or hiked some pretty awesome historical sites.
      I just made the most of my time there.
      That said, I don’t know what it would have been like to spend 4 years there.

    • pismopal

      Fact..Japan can be ok to a point because the Japanese can be polite..to a point. The Japanese are..and always will be benign racists. They are Japanese..you are not, There are places designed and designated for US servicemen and the Japanese don’t go there unless it is their job to do so. If a guy marries a Japanese woman it is because she knows that CONUS is her destination. The mixed couple will not be settling in Japan..obviously.

  • scotfahey

    if ever there was a crash and burn maneuver

  • pismopal

    The first enlistment sailors will not be discouraged but they will not reenlist after a long dose of sea duty and the promise of much more.

  • Ed L

    I don’t understand the fuss for decades. The navy would sent EM overseas where they spent there whole enlistment. Some reenlisted and stay overseas and retired there never coming home. sounds great to me.