Navy Calling Up 1,600 Reservists to Fill in For Shipyard Workers Out for COVID-19

June 11, 2020 2:29 PM - Updated: June 12, 2020 11:45 AM
Norfolk Naval Shipyard workers prepare to install a 2400-pound pilgrim nut on a propeller of the aircraft carrier USS George H. W. Bush (CVN 77) on Feb. 12, 2020. George H.W. Bush is currently in Norfolk Naval Shipyard for its Docking Planned Incremental Availability (DPIA). US Navy photo.

The Navy is activating 1,629 reservists to help reduce a carrier and submarine maintenance backlog at its public shipyards that is exacerbated by COVID-19, according to Naval Sea Systems Command.

Nearly a quarter of the production workforce at the Navy’s four public shipyards are unable to come in to work due to being deemed “high risk” for catching COVID-19, NAVSEA said in a news release. Virus mitigation efforts include expanded safety leave for those who are high risk, which keeps the workforce healthy but slows the rate of production at the yards.

The reservists sent to work at the shipyards will start arriving in July and will have one-year orders, which can be adjusted if needed. They are part of the Navy’s Surge Maintenance program, established in 2005, and will supplement current civilian shipyard staff. This is the SurgeMain program’s largest reservist mobilization.

“Our sailors are electricians, pipefitters, sheet metal workers, plumbers, hydraulic technicians, mechanics, machinists, carpenters, welders and more,” Capt. Michael MacLellan, the national director of SurgeMain, said in the NAVSEA statement. “Many of our people have prior experience at the shipyard where they’re being sent, down to the specific shop where they will be working alongside the shipyard’s organic civilian workforce.”

SurgeMain reservists will start arriving in phases at the following shipyards:

  • Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine, will receive 267 reservists.
  • Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth, Va., will receive 486 reservists.
  • Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance Facility in Bremerton, Wash., will receive 676 reservists.
  • Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance Facility at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, will receive 200 reservists.

Before COVID-19, the Navy struggled for years to reduce the number of days ships and submarines have to wait for space at the service’s four shipyards. Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday set the goal of eliminating maintenance time lost due to shipyard availability by the start of Fiscal Year 2021 when he issued an update in December to the Navy’s “A Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority 2.0.”

“As we have learned over the past decade, it is cheaper to maintain readiness than to buy it back. Our toughest near-term challenge is reversing the trend of delivering only 40 percent of our ships form maintenance on time.” Gilday wrote in the update. “Our goal is to improve productivity, reduce lost days through depot availability extensions by 80 percent in FY20 compared with FY19, and eliminate lost days through depot extensions by the end of FY21.”

The Navy has focused this year on improving the way it planned for and scheduled maintenance, Vice Adm. Tom Moore, the commander of NAVSEA, previously told USNI News. The current mobilization of reservists is intended to prevent the Navy from losing any of the gains made in reducing maintenance backlogs.

“We have been methodical in how we planned this mobilization,” Moore said in the NAVSEA statement. “We did not mobilize anyone who already works in the ship maintenance or construction field, and we worked to place people into shipyards where they have previously drilled so there was a built-in comfort factor for both the reservist and the shipyard personnel.”

Ben Werner

Ben Werner

Ben Werner is a staff writer for USNI News. He has worked as a freelance writer in Busan, South Korea, and as a staff writer covering education and publicly traded companies for The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Va., The State newspaper in Columbia, S.C., Savannah Morning News in Savannah, Ga., and Baltimore Business Journal. He earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Maryland and a master’s degree from New York University.

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