At-Sea Billet Gaps Rise to 22,000 for E1-E4 Sailors, CNP Says

January 10, 2024 6:37 PM - Updated: January 10, 2024 7:04 PM
Chief of Naval Personnel Vice Adm. Rick Cheeseman responds to a Sailor’s question during an all-hands call with the crew of the guided-missile cruiser USS Chosin (CG-65) at Naval Station Everett. US Navy Photo

ARLINGTON, Va. – The Navy currently has 22,000 gaps in at-sea billets for ranks E1-E4, an issue compounded by the Navy’s failure to meet its 2023 recruiting goals, the sea service’s chief personnel officer said Wednesday.

Overall, the Navy has 21,000 gaps in at-sea fill billets, Vice Adm. Richard Cheeseman told an audience at the Surface Navy Association Wednesday. Overall at-sea fill gaps are lower than those in apprentice manning because some at-sea billets for ranks E-5 and above are overmanned, Lt. Lewis Aldridge, a spokesman with the chief of naval personnel, clarified after the speech.

While the Fiscal Year 2023 recruiting numbers prolonged the problem with gaps in at-sea billets, the deficit traces back to 2016, when the Navy struggled to send people to bootcamp, Cheeseman said. Since 2016, at-sea gaps have been at least 10,000 each year.

One reason for the increase is the addition of 13,000 at-sea billets without the addition of the necessary training billets, Cheeseman said.

The chief of naval personnel told reporters after his speech that he’s confident fleet commanders are not deploying anyone who is not certified. But the gaps at sea have an effect on a sailor’s quality of life. In order to man the Navy, some sailors might move to billets they were not assigned to so a ship can deploy.

The Navy will look at what it needs to operate, Cheeseman said. There are opportunities for manning changes, including looking at what staffing levels are required for a ship in an extended maintenance period.

“All these studies are ongoing. It’d be evolutionary. It’ll keep evolving over time,” Cheeseman said.

The Navy is likely to miss its recruiting goals again in the current fiscal year. Cheeseman noted that while the Navy missed them in Fiscal Year 2023, it do so by less than what was predicted throughout the year.

Instead of looking at the recruiting numbers, Cheeseman is focusing on net contracts, which can be contracts for people who enter the delayed entry program or go into bootcamp. His goal is 40,000. The Navy nearly depleted its delayed entry program as one way to account for fewer recruits.

The Navy can absorb a bad recruiting year, but two means it needs to make changes. The Navy cannot rely on retention to make up for the lack of new sailors.

In the first quarter of Fiscal Year 2024, the Navy recruited 11,282 future sailors. December contract attainment in 2023 was better than the Decembers of the past five years, Cheeseman said.

When it comes to contracts, there’s a steep drop off between the number of interested people by the time it gets to sailors aboard ships. About 10 percent of those who schedule recruiting appointments become sailors, according to a slide Cheeseman presented.

In FY 2023, there were 1,230 people with scheduled appointments on average, daily. Of that, 879 showed up for the interview. That drops down to 366 for those who are qualified and interested, with the number going down even more once people are sent to processing centers, where they take aptitude tests and have a physical.

Future sailors onboard was 140, on average, daily. About 120 recruits will go to the delayed entry program, where sailors await bootcamp.

To meet the FY 2024 goal, the Navy needs 175 people to join the Navy per day, according to the slide.

Cheeseman said contract conversion is where both active-duty and retired Navy personnel come in. While the contract conversion rate is 10:1 on average, that rate increase to 7:1 when someone receives mentoring, and 5:1 when someone associated with the Navy does the mentoring, Cheeseman said.

“So please get out your phones,” he said. “Take your selfies, take your pictures, share your stories this week. It’s really important.”

Heather Mongilio

Heather Mongilio

Heather Mongilio is a reporter with USNI News. She has a master’s degree in science journalism and has covered local courts, crime, health, military affairs and the Naval Academy.
Follow @hmongilio

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