As the Navy tries ensuring COVID-19-related restrictions don’t hollow out the force, active-duty enlisted sailors with vital skills can now delay their high-year tenure separations for up to 24 months and sailors can reenlist up to a year before their contracts end.
The Navy extended by two years the high-year tenure waiver available for rates seaman, petty officer third class and petty officer second class, E3 through E5. This affects sailors who are facing mandatory separation dates because of the number of years they’ve served at their rate without advancing.
At the same time, the Navy is encouraging sailors considering reenlisting to sign up earlier, up to a year before the end of their contracts. The Navy also increased the reenlistment bonuses for several critical-need skill sets.
“Navy is implementing additional personnel policy actions necessary to maintain our maritime superiority,” reads a statement from Vice Adm. John Nowell, the chief of naval personnel. “These efforts mitigate the effects of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and maintain operational, sailor and family readiness.”
The updated policy does not apply to any sailor with a pending mandatory separation or retirement because of misconduct, or anyone already approved for disability separation or retirement.
In March, the Navy started offering one-year high-year tenure waivers for sailors in critical-need billets. Since then, the Navy approved nearly 700 one-year waivers. Already, the Navy Personnel Command reports 565 enlisted sailors are currently serving on high-year tenure waivers. The billets split between sea duty and shore duty, with 269 sailors at sea and 265 sailors at operational shore duty units.
Meanwhile, approximately 1,470 sailors up to petty officer first class are coming into their high-year tenure window, according to Personnel Command. By expanding the high-year tenure waiver by an additional 12 months, the Navy is offering sailors more of a cushion before they leave the service for an uncertain job market.
In March, as COVID-19 shutdowns were just starting, the national unemployment rate in the U.S. increased to 4.4 percent, a significant jump from the 3.5 percent unemployment rate reported a month earlier, according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics. April’s employment statistics are scheduled for release later this week, and several news outlets have reported that experts are predicting a double-digit unemployment rate of between 10 percent and 15 percent, according to a post by CNBC.
However, the Navy needs experienced sailors to remain on board. The Navy is authorized to increase the size of its force to 340,500 active-duty officers and enlisted personnel during Fiscal Year 2020. The Navy’s target for the year is to bring in 40,000 new sailors. Navy officials frequently explain hitting the end-strength goal and ensuring fleet readiness also requires retaining experienced sailors.