This blog was written by Rear Adm. John Kirby, the U.S. Navy’s Chief of Information:
I’ve been in the job a little more than a month and already seen up close and personal some of the concerns Sailors have out in the Fleet. At the top of the list are manning and optempo. Morale is high, to be sure, but Sailors and families are anxious about the future, their time away from home and their prospects within their ratings.
I understand the angst. I really do. It comes as no surprise to me, given the change swirling around us. We’re a busy, relevant Navy supporting operations all over the world. At the same time, we have faced a series of difficult manpower decisions, not all of which are easy to comprehend.
So, I’d like to take a moment to try to put it in perspective, not because I have all the answers, but because I think we need to do a better job explaining “in plain English” where we are going and what we are doing.
Restoring Predictability and Balance
First, how did we get here?
Since the mid-1990s, the number of Sailors in the Navy decreased by more than 70,000 people. Some of this reduction was simply because we have fewer ships and aircraft today. But, we also built ships and platforms that required fewer people to man, and we adopted some efficiencies in manning those ships and our shore establishment. These changes compelled us to reduce the number of Sailors in the Navy more quickly than the retirement of ships.
Right now, the principle challenge we face is something called “fit” — getting enough Sailors in the right rating and the right seniority with the right NEC to the right billet. Sounds like a slogan, but it’s not. It’s hard work, made all the more so by an imbalance in manning across ratings.
As the Navy’s manning became smaller and retention remained at historically-high levels, we had difficulty preventing some ratings from becoming overmanned. This created imbalance, where some ratings had too many Sailors and others had too few.
We’ve used several different tools to help bring things back into balance. You are probably most familiar with Perform-to-Serve, which helps maintain the right number of people in each rating by managing the number of reenlistments in each one and offering Sailors alternatives in other, undermanned, ratings.
But PTS is not designed to make large “muscle movement” changes in manning. Because we had an imbalance, reenlistment approvals in these overmanned ratings had dropped significantly. More than 30 of our 84 ratings were overmanned this year, some to more than 120 percent. As a result, only about four of ten PTS requests were being approved Navy-wide and advancements had stagnated or were decreasing. PTS was basically “overloaded.”
Last year, to get our manning back in balance and restore promotions and reenlistments to where they needed to be, we implemented an Enlisted Retention Board (ERB). After long and detailed review, the ERB selected about 3,000 Sailors in overmanned ratings to leave the Navy. About 10 percent of these Sailors were able to retire early at 15 years, under authority given to us by Congress. The rest are receiving separation pay and assistance with training and finding new jobs.
Implementing ERB was one of the toughest manpower decisions our leaders have had to make in recent years. But it achieved the results we needed. Today, only about 10 ratings are overmanned, about eight to nine out of ten PTS requests are being approved, and promotions are rising and returning to normal. In the last promotion cycle, E-4, E-5, and E-6 promotions were up; Chief selections went up for the first time since 2006 and Senior Chief selections were above average.
Predictability and balance are beginning to return.
We are now using much better predictive tools to administer manning, tools which allow us to look over the long term when making manpower decisions. For example, we now determine PTS quotas (or the number of reenlistments allowed per rating and level of seniority) over a three-year projection, as opposed to year-by-year. This prevents having “zero quotas” for PTS requests.
Bottom line: We do not expect to conduct another ERB.
Getting leadership and critical ratings back to sea
The other area where we need to restore balance is in sea vs. shore manning. This year, we added about 2,000 billets to ships to correct reductions where our efficiencies had cut too deep in previous years. We will be adding more sea billets and ashore billets in critical ratings in the coming years. For now, we have to get Sailors into these and other sea billets that are unfilled.
Hopefully, our Sailors have seen some of the new policies we’ve put in place to do this. Links to the relevant NAVADMINs are below. Most of these policies are voluntary and some even involve financial incentives. We are interested in Sailor feedback, of course, and encourage people to let us know what they think. For our part, we’ll obviously watch these policies closely in execution and adjust as necessary.
Getting at-sea manning right is absolutely vital. Despite all our efforts to build a sustainable Fleet Readiness and Training Plan, world events still get a vote. Our high operational tempo will continue through next spring as we keep two carrier strike groups in the Middle East, and roughly 100 ships deployed worldwide.
Because of these demands on the fleet — remember how busy we are — carrier, cruiser, destroyer and amphibious ship deployments will average six to eight months in duration for 2013, longer than the historical average. Attack submarines will continue with five to six month deployments for 2013, while ballistic missile defense ships will average seven to eight months per deployment. Of course, even when ships and squadrons are home, they are busy training, completing certifications or conducting maintenance — all the more reason to make sure we have manning in a good place at sea.
Though we don’t anticipate deployment lengths changing much more in the near-term, we do know that this tempo comes at a cost to Sailors and families. That’s never far from our minds as we make new decisions, and it’s never lost on us that each one affects lives and careers and unit readiness.
Not all of the decisions we’ve had to make have been easy. Not all of them have been popular. And we know we haven’t always done our best to communicate them to you. But we are committed — all of us in leadership positions — to keeping people better informed as we go forward. And we’re going to work to do that clearly and concisely.
We know that if a policy makes enough sense to adopt, it ought to make enough sense to explain.
To our talented workforce, military and civilian, I say this: You, your shipmates, and your families remain the lifeblood of this Navy. YOU make us great. YOU make us proud. Now, please help make ALL of us better at making these decisions known to you. Tell us what you think right here online. We’re listening.
Thank you for your service.
Rear Adm. John Kirby, USN
Chief of Information
- VOLUNTARY SEA DUTY PROGRAM UPDATE TWO (NAVADMIN 229/12)
- LIMITED DIRECTED DETAILING FOR ENLISTED SAILORS (NAVADMIN 227/12)
- CHANGES IN ENLISTED DISTRIBUTION TO IMPROVE SEA DUTY MANNING (NAVADMIN 226/12)
- VOLUNTARY SEA DUTY PROGRAM UPDATE (NAVADMIN 205/12)
- VOLUNTARY SEA DUTY PROGRAM (NAVADMIN 043/12)